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Everyone can do a headlock and so it is in your best intreats to learn to escape a headlock. And when I say everyone I don’t mean every martial artist. I don’t mean every semi athletic male. I mean every person of every age with or without athletic ability can do a headlock. It doesn’t take practice. It’s encoded in every one of us. On a primal level when engaged in violent activity that we feel we can’t escape we all instinctively understand two things; Smash this guys head and squeeze this guys head until it squishes like an overripe tomato.

Anyone who is ever trained submission grappling with a beginner will attest to the truth off this. At some point, someone will squeeze your head with all their might. Thank goodness the majority of people don’t have the strength to cause significant damage with a headlock. In fact, in a purely sportive context, a headlock is seen primarily as a nuisance more than anything. In this article I’d like to take a look into how headlocks happen in the street and why it’s in you best interest to master an escape from this position.

If you are looking to discover even more escape techniques, check out this free video course on escaping bonds and handcuffs with ease.

Why Do People Get Headlocked in the Street So Much?

There are a few reasons headlocks are so ubiquitous in violent street altercations.

  • Proximity – Real fights happen up close. Forget about what Hollywood portrays as a “street fight”. There is no witty banter before opponents square off and agree to exchange blows. Male ritual violence is more like a shouting, posturing arms race with both sides escalating and building up steam until the right buttons are pushed. Those prone to engage in this sort of activity begin by stepping in and gaining territory in the form of invading the others personal space. In an effort to not show weakness the default is often to “stand your ground”. In the case of criminal goal oriented violence such as a mugging, violent actors often use subterfuge in the form of deceptive dialogue in an attempt to get past perimeter defenses. Those caught unaware are likely to fall for this and without a default system in place (see my previous article for more on this) it is very easy for the bad guy, or their accomplice, to get the jump on you.
  • The majority of people can’t fight – Once the fight is underway, adrenalin kicks in and what quickly ensues is often a whirlwind of fists and obscenities. To stabilize this situation many people grab on in an effort to establish some level of control. In a way, this actually works although momentarily as they are then faced with what philosophers often refer to as the “Oh S%&t…now what” conundrum. Here’s a humorous look at what we’re talking about. Although funny, as William Shakespeare said, “In jest, there is truth”

  • People don’t like being hit in the face – While many people will state that street violence is unpredictable, the one thing we know for certain is that we, as a species, don’t care for getting punched in the face. As such, we have a strong drive to avoid it at all costs. Many headlocks happen because in fights because at the first sign of threat people will grab onto whatever they can. Sometimes a headlock actually starts out as a haymaker and as the intended victim flinches and turns the punch misses and the puncher just grabs on.

What Is The Real Danger Of A Headlock?

With all the keystone cops cracks in this article you might think that a headlock is no big deal. After all, no self-respecting mixed martial artist would rely on it as there “go to” technique. In actuality there can be some grave problems that arise from being snagged in one. As we stated at the beginning, anyone can do it so if you get into a street altercation there is a high likelihood you’ll run into it. Once you are stuck you are now attached to this person and them having a hold of your head means that your vision and ability to see who and what is in your surroundings is greatly diminished. This also means that if they draw a weapon they will be able to get some stabs, bludgeons, or shots in before you disentangle yourself. When you add to this that you are at the mercy of any help they have nearby and you can see why this situation can get real serious real quick.

So What Do I Do If I’m Caught In a Headlock?

  • Don’t panic – This is not the time to burn energy on useless movement. Use your outside arm (the one furthest away from them) to stabilize the position. Use the arm closest to them to reach around their back. Grab onto their belt, waistline, or hip to stay close. You want to protect your airway and your neck from damage through thrashing about.
  • Secure a better position – Widen your stance and sit your weight down so that they don’t swing you around. Pull yourself behind them as much as possible.
  • Dump ’em – Block their far leg and pull back with the arm around their wast while dropping your weight to the floor. This downward spiral will end with them on the bottom and you on your knees. Sit your weight down low to avoid getting rolled to the bottom. This would be bad.
  • Disentangle yourself – We’re not out of the woods yet. If they still have a hold of your head, encourage them to rethink this in the form of blunt trauma using your forearm and/or anything within reach.

Once they let go get back to your feet, scan the immediate area for any threats and find an exit. After all of that you may have a desire to unload on them a bit. I advise against it. Besides the fact that there could be legal issues if you curb stomp them for their impudence, there is a chance they will grab on in an effort to protect themselves and we could end up in a ground grappling situation. If you’ve managed to escape the headlock and remove yourself from harms way, consider it a win and go about the rest of your day.

John Bishop

Category Tactical

Type article
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