On Being Choked Out
I remember two judo randoris clearly. During Judo practice when I was on the Judo team at San Jose State many years ago there was always a time devoted to randori, which is a nice way of saying the senior belts got to beat up on the junior belts for a while. The most commonly remembered one was when the senior belt decided he would practice his tio toshi on me. I forget his name at the moment, but tio toshi I will always remember. It is a hand technique that involves blocking one foot while you move the opponent’s body so he arcs gracefully over the foot in a classic throw–the kind you would like to photograph. This guy, who I think was still just a brown belt a the time, threw me again as quickly as I got up–over and over again. What I remember best is how often and hard I was hitting the mat without being hurt. I had only been in the class long enough to learn how to fall–about three weeks. But it had apparently been time well spent.
That is strange, when I think on it. That I remember this time better–or more often, really–than the other time. The other time was the only time I have ever been chocked out.
Makoto Obiashi was his name. He was a Japanese Judoka practicing at San Jose before the olympics or world campionships, I think. We just called him “Mako” and he barely spoke English.
Brown belts and earlier are not allowed to apply submission techniques such as arm bars, in Judo. They are, however, allowed to apply choke holds, and I was quite familiar with them by the randori in question. The thinking, I suspect, is that the penalty for an error on the part of the attacker is much less in the case of the choke hold than in the case of the submission holds. The latter is usually a broken or dislocated joint, while the former may be scarier, but an experienced referee or coach can usually save the victim from any long term damage.
In both cases the victim is to signal the referee when he is giving up. The referee is then tasked with the job of breaking up the fight and declaring the winner. In a practice session, the victim uses the same surrender sign–a repeated tapping of the attacker’s arm, or the mat, or whatever is in reach–until the attacker lets go, but the only witness and sole respondent is the attacker. Speaking is usually not an option, for air goes neither in nor out when a choke hold is properly applied.
Mako ignored my surrender signal even after the tapping had grown to a violent pounding.
When I realized he was doing so intentionally, there was no more I could do, so I just waited for whatever was going to happen. I don’t think I actually lost consciousness, but I’m not sure. I do know that it doesn’t take long without the ability to breathe that you do. At most, it is just a matter of seconds, not minutes.
Being choked out, which is what we called it when the victim does lose consciousness, is sort of a right of passage, and I suspect every black belt has been choked out many times. But I still hope it never happens to me again, whether it actually happened to me that once or not. I don’t think they had to revive me, or anything. But I’m not very sure of anything once I went limp.
I do remember the helpless feeling that came with realizing Mako had decided he was going to choke me as long as he wanted to. There was literally nothing I could do about it. Live or die, it was all beyond my control. As it always is, really. Neither you nor I will select our moment of death (barring suicide on one of our parts, I assume). It is just beyond us.
It’s a good thing to keep in mind.