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Choke Holds

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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: air and blood.

  • The air choke is when someone is choked unconscious by cutting off their air supply. The air to the lungs is suspended. In fiction, the person chokes and flails in silence, and after maybe thirty seconds is rendered unconscious. In reality, cutting off someone's air supply would take several minutes and they'd be at full strength the whole time; a reasonably fit individual can hold their breath for up to a minute, so why should the choke be any different?

  • The blood choke is when someone is choked unconscious by cutting off the blood supply to their brain. 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. However, this method is easy to mess up, and messing up generally means accidentally killing the victim. Even trained individuals can accidentally kill with a blood choke, since the pressure on the arteries which chokes the victim can just as easily collapse the arteries, fatally disrupting blood flow. This is why cops are no longer supposed to employ "The Sleeper Hold"; it kills.

It's also possible for a karate chop to be a form of 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 that's intended to strike the vagus nerve, it's a Pressure Point strike. The typical depiction of a karate chop is a Tap on the Head.

Though it should go without saying, Do Not Try This at Home.

Instant Sedation 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.



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     Anime And Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Red Robin manages to escape from a choke hold by stabbing his attacker with the retractable blade hidden in his staff. His options for fighting back were incredibly limited as the attacker was using his other three arms to restrain him. Earlier as Robin Tim managed to escape when Azrael tried to choke him to death by quickly stabbing Az!Bats in the arm and fleeing.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: When Diana Prince tried to question Mephisto Saturno the man started choking her, which caused Diana to quickly slip out of his grip and surrender to try to avoid having him realize that squeezing both hands around her throat wasn't actually having an effect on her and blowing her secret identity.

    Fan Works 
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers fanfic Gankona, Unnachgiebig, Unità: The homophobe placed Italy in one. Let's just say Germany and Japan were not happy.
    And then they saw it; within a dark, secluded alley, a hulking, burly man stood over the quivering Italian, carelessly yanking him up by his tie before placing him in a choke hold, restricting all air flow as he was ruthlessly, maliciously mangled.
  • In Boldores And Boomsticks, when disarmed and held captive by a gang on Faba's payroll that had the remarkably bad idea of trying to steal Grimm, Blake Belladonna briefly considers using "sleeper holds" to take down the trainers one by one before they can bring their Pokémon to the fight. She didn't go through with it, mostly because the containment failure that ensued made the Grimm the priority targets.
  • In Dungeon Keeper Ami, Boris launched himself at a hostage Ami and had to be stopped from killing her by Jered by using one of these. It worked well enough to leave her the time to escape.
  • Alex is hesitant about the idea in The Secret Return of Alex Mack, but eventually gets backed into a corner by an opponent immune to electricity, and uses her telekinesis to pinch his carotid artery closed. It eventually becomes one of her standard takedown methods.

  • Deadpool 2 : During the playground fight scene, one of the thugs was able to put Deadpool in a chokehold only to be saved by Cable.
  • Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (2009) 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.
  • Star Wars: Darth Vader's Force Choke appears to be a long distance mystical air choke. Slow, unpleasant, unstoppable. Very dark-sidey. But apparently just non-lethal enough that it was okay for Luke to use it in Return of the Jedi as long as he didn't actually kill anyone.
    • 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.
  • Osmosis Jones: Nearby the end of the movie, Thrax attempts to strangle Ozzy with a DNA beads to death.
  • In Do the Right Thing, Radio Raheem dies from a police chokehold, sparking off a riot.
  • As this clip on YouTube shows, Haywire has several chokeholds, and they take an appropriately long time.
  • In The Purge: Anarchy, Leo uses a blood choke on a Purger that was about to discover his group's location. It takes a realistic amount of time for Leo to knock out the guy as well.
  • In Star Trek (2009), Kirk goads Spock into getting angry, leading to a brutal beatdown which culminates in Kirk getting a chokehold. Spock only stops when his father, Sarek, demands that he does so.
  • Several show up in Atomic Blonde all but one are air chokes and intended to be nonlethal. The exception is a fatal garroting.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Captain America: Winter Soldier : The famous elevator fight scene has a large mook restraining Captain America with a choke hold while other thugs electrocute him with stun batons.
    • Avengers: Infinity War: After Loki unsuccessfully attempts to attack Thanos, Thanos lifts him up by the throat with his gauntleted hand and strangles him for a while before eventually increasing the pressure and breaking his neck, killing him.
    • Avengers: Endgame: 2012 Steve Rogers puts present Steve Rogers in a chokehold, thinking that he is a disguised Loki. Present Steven Rogers manages to free himself by distracting his past self, saying that Bucky is still alive.

  • 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.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • 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 web serial novel Fishbowl, Sarah tries and fails to render Chelsea unconscious using a Psychic Strangle. The next day, she captures Chelsea by using a physical choke hold, saying that because her previous attempt failed, she would try choking her "the old fashioned way."
  • 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.
  • In Worm Grue instructs Taylor, who is restraining Leet, to pull the artery instead of the windpipe.
  • 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 Supersoldier) during his Trial of Bloodright in the BattleTech novel Lost 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. Notably, the Elemental does not realize what's happening until the last few seconds, thinking instead that Phelan is trying (and failing) to break his neck—fatal results in Trials of Bloodright are so common that it rarely occurs to contestants to prepare against nonlethal attacks. It's noted that the only reason it worked was because of the zero G environment, which prevented the Elemental from gaining enough leverage to use his superior strength and weight against Phelan. And it was still a close call

     Live Action TV 
  • 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 "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.
  • In episode 2.04 of Orphan Black, Prolethian daughter Gracie attempts to smother Helena with a pillow. Thinking she's succeeded, she walks away...only to have Helena lock her in a choke hold and whisper "Shhhh. Go to sleep."
  • This was a regular staple of Jack Bauer on 24 to the point of being something of a Signature Move and known in some circles as the "patented Jack Bauer sleeper hold." Notably, it was generally depicted realistically, as described in the trope description, rather than the "immediate unconsciousness" variant so often seen in television. The 24 wiki indicates that it was used a total of 13 times on the series, and this despite the fact that it didn't first appear until the third season. It even came with its own Catchphrase.
    Jack Bauer: Don't fight it.
  • In the first episode of GLOW (2017), one wrestler uses this technique to shut up her complaining sparring partner.
  • On Lost in Space (2018), John Robinson uses one to take out a guard in "Ninety-Seven," and takes out a bunch of others by good old-fashioned fisticuffs.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition had a wizard/sorcerer spell called Choke, which worked similarly to the Force Grip Darth Vader liked using in Star Wars. It was pathetically underpowered and useless.

    Video Games 
  • 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 Dishonored, the non-lethal means of taking down opponents up close is getting behind them and choking them out. The player can also find a Bone Charm that reduces the time it takes to choke someone unconscious.
  • In Kingdom Hearts II, Flotsam and Jetsam attempt to suffocate Sora by tightly wrapping their bodies around him. The trope is defied, thanks to Donald and Goofy.
  • This is a viable tactic in The Last of Us against human and recently-Infected enemies. It allows you to take a person down relatively silently, without alerting other enemies to your presence (unless they, you know, can see you choking their buddy). It is also depicted somewhat realistically: the choking process takes a good five seconds, the victim struggles hard during it, and is generally implied to be lethal, as the protagonists don't particularly care about not killing people.
  • In Spiderman Edgeof Time, regular mooks can do perform a chokehold to the titular superhero restraining his movements. It also drains Spiderman's health slowly as he is getting electrocuted at the same time while other mooks can provide additional damage with no problems.
  • In The Matrix: Path of Neo, chokeholds are possible if the enemy is surprised and then the holds are intentionally lethal.
  • The Redead from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is infamous for this, doubles as Nightmare Fuel by how they ride on Link's back and hump him to death.
  • In his appearances in the Street Fighter games, Alex's Headbutt changes to a Choke Hold after turning an opponent around with his Flash Chop. The attack doesn't do much damage but it swiftly fills up the stun meter.
  • ECHO lets you choke your "echoes" from behind to kill them silently. Be careful as you do this as after another blackout, not only they will get back up, they will be able to choke you, killing you from behind without a chance to break free.

  • In El Goonish Shive, sensei Greg teaches a blood choke to Grace, in order to sedate Dex, who is wreathed in flames.

    Western Animation 
  • Jonny Quest TOS episodes, "The Quetong Missile Mystery", Race Bannon uses a sleeper hold on a Mook guard.
  • Homer Simpson from The Simpsons has his infamous chokeholds on Bart, though there doesn't seem to be any ill effects on the part of Bart.
  • In the The Venture Bros. episode "Ghosts of the Sargasso", Brock teaches Hank, over a walkie-talkie, on how to perform a blood choke. He then uncannily instructs Hank to "let go of [his] own throat".

    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • Big cats (tigers, lions, etc.) kill this way. With small prey, they prefer to snap their necks, but obviously that's not possible with larger prey. Instead, their jaws basically cause a blood/air choke, closing around the victim's windpipe, limiting airflow and constricting the large blood vessels around it. In fact, that's why saber-toothed cats kept popping up in history; they needed those long teeth to choke really big prey. But those teeth were also fragile and prone to getting knocked out, so when big prey vanish, so do the saber-toothed cats.
  • As mentioned in the description, this was a police takedown tactic, but in light of such high profile deaths like that of Eric Garner, it's been phased out in many spots.


Video Example(s):


The Return of Count Yorga [Yorga Chokes Jason]

Scene from the 1971 movie, The Return of Count Yorga. Jason is lured to Yorga's manor in search for his missing fiancee, Ellen. However he finds that's she's now a vampire who laughs as he's jumped by her fellow vampire brides. Jason manages to escape them... only to encounter Yorga coming after him not a second after.

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