Biomechanics: Chokes / Strangles

Physiology of Scarf Hold Chest Compression

If jiu jitsu is the ‘gentle art,’ catch wrestling is considered by many to be the ‘violent art.’ The scarf hold chest compression submission captures the essence of catch wrestling. This submission gained fame when Josh Barnett used it in Metamoris to submit Dean Lister, a grappler who at that time had not been submitted in competition for almost 15 years. This technique is unique and works by compressing the chest of your opponent, so they are unable to inhale enough oxygen.

There are several structures involved in the mechanics of breathing. Inspiration (inhaling) is when the ribs elevate, drawing oxygen into the lungs. Expiration (exhaling) is when the ribs depress as oxygen leaves the lungs. The diaphragm is the primary structure involved in breathing; the diaphgram contracts when inhalation occurs, assisted by the rows of muscles in between the ribs (external intercostals). In most cases, this is sufficient for resting breathing. During strenous activity, however, other muscles assist, including the sternocleidomastoid, scalenes (anterior, middle, posterior) and serratus anterior.

The mechanics of the scarf hold chest compression submission essentially make it too difficult for someone to drawn in a sufficient amount of oxygen. When the attacker locks in the position, the opponent’s head is elevated while their chest is compressed by the attacker’s body. Resting breathing mechanics are insufficient, so the accessory muscles will attempt to assist; however, these muscles were not designed to elevate the ribs with a body on top. As the defender tries to escape and defends neck cranks and/or arm locks, more oxygen will be required. This creates the sensation of drowning, as the body gradually becomes unable to inhale a sufficient amount of oxygen.

This is one of the most underrated technique in grappling, as it is incredibly miserable and demoralizing for your opponent. This technique is not seen often in sport jiu jitsu, as it takes time to cook your opponent and let them run out of oxygen. However, do not underestimate the vicious scarf hold chest choke!

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