A technique often used in fiction by trained military or skilled freelancers is to apply a chokehold, usually by wrapping an arm around their neck from behind and applying pressure. The victim briefly struggles, but quickly passes out and is hidden from sight.
Of course, real life isn't as clean. There are two kinds of chokes: Blood and air.
The air choke is when someone is choked unconscious by cutting off his air supply. The air to the lungs is suspended. In fiction the person chokes and flails in silence, and after maybe thirty seconds he is rendered unconscious. In reality, cutting off someone's air supply would take several minutes and he'd be at full strength the whole time*
. Do not choke someone this way.
The blood choke is when someone is choked unconscious by cutting off his blood. The supply of blood to the brain is suspended. In fiction the person goes cross-eyed and immediately succumbs to unconsciousness. In reality, the process takes a few seconds and the victim understands what's happening and can protest, in the brief window available. Do choke someone this way, if you know what you're doing
. If you don't, you can kill someone. Even trained individuals can accidentally kill with a blood choke. The pressure on the arteries which chokes the victim can just as easily collapse the arteries, fatally disrupting blood flow. This is why cops no longer employ "The Sleeper Hold". It kills.
It's possible for a karate chop to be a form of a choke. If a blow to the neck is intended to hit the carotid artery and briefly interrupt blood flow it's a stunning blood choke. If it's a blow to the side of the neck it's intended to strike the vagus nerve and is a Pressure Point
strike. The typical depiction of a karate chop is a Tap on the Head
is very common. Compare Tap on the Head
where unconsciousness is rendered with a blow, The Paralyzer
(Vulcan nerve pinch
included). Also, the Vorpal Pillow
, where a choke hold causes instant death.
Note that this trope includes choking in most forms, not just sleeper holds.
Chokes in life and in fiction
Anime and Manga
- In Street Fighter II V, Bison does this to Chun Li, in the midst of a psycho power-fueled rage, but nearly goes too far.
- In Genshiken, Hato applies one on Kuchiki to prevent Kuchiki... eeer... molesting Madarame. Unfortunately for Hato, the shamelessly perverted Kuchiki suddenly discovers he has a fetish for it.
- In Berserk, during the love scene between Guts and Casca, Guts ends up having a flashback to his traumatic rape at the hands of Donovan, which nearly results in Casca getting strangled to death before he manages to snap out of it.
- Naruto has Tobi choking Konan in their battle.
- Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes features both chokes at the same time. A thug sneaking up on Holmes is put in a blood choke by Watson. To prevent the Mook from screaming, Holmes immediately pinches off his nose and mouth. They chat for a bit and, once the thug has passed out, move on. At the end of the film, a big mook has to be slowly air choked because he's just too darn big for anything else.
- Darth Vader's Force Choke appears to be a long distance mystical air choke. Slow, unpleasant, unstoppable. Very dark-sidey.
- The expanded universe explains that it actually collapses and crushes the windpipe, which explains, to a degree, why it works faster than normal.
- Two chokes appear in Never Say Never Again. James uses a sleeper hold on a Mook guard during Unwinnable Training Simulation opening and an assassin uses a sleeper hold on one of the attendants at Shrublands.
- In The Princess Bride, The Man in Black knocks out Fezzik with a blood choke. It takes several minutes and they have a rather cordial conversation all the while.
- In Sneakers Dick Gordon knocks out Bishop with a sleeper hold. In contrast to the repeated Tap on the Head he's been given up to this point, it's an act of mercy.
- Count Yorga: The titled character loves doing these when he can and its always fatal.
- In The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne does this to Harvey Dent.
- In Do the Right Thing, Radio Raheem dies from a police chokehold, sparking off a riot.
Live Action TV
- In The Bishop's Heir, Dhugal (who doesn't then know he's Deryni, never mind controlling his shields) reacts badly to the psychic energies unleashed at Duncan's consecration as bishop. Morgan uses a choke hold on Dhugal to get him away from the cathedral via Transfer Portal and avoid unwanted attention from potentially hostile clerics when Dhugal's shields prove impossible for Morgan to breach.
- A form of the "sleeper hold" variant comes up in Yoda: Dark Rendezvous. Weak, but Skilled Padawan Scout has a particular move where she can grab someone's throat, cut off the blood flow, and render them unconscious in seconds without permanently damaging them. She uses it in Jedi Initiate tournaments to great effect. Scout is herself grabbed and held up by the neck later in the novel, and later still is on the receiving end of a Force Choke, and in the narration we see her struggle to breathe and think past the reduced blood flow.
- Several people try this on Galaxy of Fear's Tash Arranda. She gets heartily sick of being grabbed by the throat.
- In The Dresden Files Harry is grabbed by the skinwalker, and notes that there are two ways to choke someone into unconsciousness - the quick way, and the slow and painful way. Naturally, the skinwalker chooses the second one.
- In the Conan the Barbarian story "Man Eaters Of Zamboula", an executioner named Baal-pteor who kills the condemned by strangulation tries to do this to Conan, but his thick neck muscles prevent him. Conan then returns the favor and strangles Baal-pteor to death.
- The blood choke variant is how Phelan Kell wins a mutually unarmed zero-G duel against a Clan battle armor trooper (a so-called "Elemental", i.e. a significantly bigger and stronger genetically engineered super soldier) during his Trial of Bloodright in the BattleTech novel Dark Destiny. Even once the hold is established, he still has to hang on for dear life for quite a while and collect some bruises before his opponent finally succumbs.
- Burn Notice: Michael Westen is adept at the blood choke. His victims rarely cry out, but they rarely have time.
- Law & Order features a victim of a fatal blood choke. A military man upset at a Jerk Pacifist mocking his dead son employs a sleeper hold blood choke. It leaves telltale bruises over the victim's carotid arteries.
- Subverted by Angel. Someone tries to air choke the titular character only to learn, to his dismay, that that doesn't work on vampires.
- The demon tentacles one: "Yeah...vampire...strangling...not gonna happen." *Slashes tentacle with knife*
- On Sherlock, in the episode The Blind Banker, Sherlock is investigating Soo Lin's flat when he is grabbed from behind and air choked almost to unconciousness by an unknown assailant, who slips an origami flower into his coat pocket.
- While Dexter prefers to sedate his targets, he's been known to strangle them into unconsciousness. Acceptable, considering what he plans to do with them doesn't really require them to be in the best health anyway. His brother was considerably more fond of the sleeper hold, although his goals were basically the same.
- In an episode of NCIS, a sleeper hold accidentally kills someone.
- Ray Langston does it to a suspect on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation "Blood Moon", all the while going on with his doctor's expertise about what's it's doing to the guy.
- The patient of the week in one episode of House stymies the team until it turns out that he's a masochist whose sex-play includes being repeatedly choked by his Mistress. Among other things, this has caused damage to the arteries in his neck.
- Breaking Bad includes a rather brutal and realistic choke early in the series. It takes some time and the resulting corpse is quite unattractive.
- An air choke is a standard illegal manoeuvre. Double points if you're using the ring ropes to throttle the guy. Note: AIR choke is 'illegal'. This is also why you may see a referee administering an illegal hold count when The Big Guy is setting up a chokeslam; technically speaking (yeah, right), the 'choke' part is illegal.
- A blood choke is, however, perfectly fine in professional wrestling. Note how often 'sleeper hold' is mentioned in this article? That's the usual name given by wrestling fans. Another more popular name from mixed martial arts is 'rear naked choke', which is again a blood choke.
- Deus Ex Human Revolution - one of the non-lethal takedowns.
- Metal Gear Solid. Snake can sneak up on guards, grab them by the neck, and throttle them unconscious. When they wake up, they're perfectly fine. Handled slightly realistically in that Snake can kill a guard by throttling him until his neck breaks. In MGS3, if guards are hungry and weak, Snake can instantly knock them out with an Unnecessary Combat Roll.
- After beating Sniper Wolf for the first time, Snake himself got knocked out this way though.
- This is how Batman performs a Silent Takedown in Batman Arkham Asylum. He uses a blood choke to knock them out with a meaty paw over their airways to keep them from making noise.
- In some of the later Splinter Cell games, Sam uses a choke hold as a non-lethal takedown of enemies he has grabbed. The older games had him hit them on the head with his pistol.
- The Hitman series plays this in a realistic way with the fiber wire; granted, it's very quick and easy, but the fact that 47 suddenly crushes his victim's windpipe very forcibly means it's always fatal.
- Played somewhat straight in Absolution, which adds chokeholds; while mooks go down in about six seconds, the player must to surprise them, enemies always struggle and have to be wrestled, and 47 has to option of forcing too hard to kill by a neck break.
- In El Goonish Shive, sensei Greg teaches a blood choke to Grace, in order to sedate Dex who is wreathed in flames.
- Jonny Quest TOS episodes, "The Quetong Missile Mystery", Race Bannon uses a sleeper hold on a Mook guard.
- Of course, there's Homer Simpson and his infamous chokeholds on Bart, though there doesn't seem to be any ill effects on the part of Bart.
- Blood chokes are part and parcel of martial arts and MMA. If an MMA fighter taps out half a second after an arm goes 'round his neck, it's because he's about to pass out.
- Air chokes are, as has been noted, not very good for knocking people out — but the pressure they exert on the trachea can be extremely uncomfortable, and the person escaping the choke might still be coughing an hour after being released.