I Can’t Breathe

katahajime_180x210Training in the martial arts can be brutal. Olympian Syd Hoare felt this keenly when he moved from his home country of England to Japan to study judo with the very best. Wrenched knees, broken noses, dislocated shoulders, ripped-off toe nails – doesn’t matter. Stay calm, and carry on.

One of the more notorious training routines of judo (back in the day) was to purposely strangle someone to unconsciousness. This was partly done to teach the judoka how to revive the unconscious. It was also done to educate (to not get oneself in a position to be strangled, I suppose).

Hoare-Syd-A-slow-boat-to-Yokohama-a-Judo-odyssey1Hoare, who represented Great Britain at the 1964 Summer Games, wrote in his wonderful book, “A Slow Boat to Yokohama”, how his training in England included the “kata-hajime” strangle technique. Here is a somewhat chilling description.

“Then it was my turn to strangle my partner out but he was one of the fighters. Even as I was putting my hands in place for the kata-hajime strangle, he tensed his neck, preventing me from taking the full position. So, I softly started again, and then locked it on hard and quickly. Immediately he grabbed my hands and tried to tear them away from his throat, but the strangle was on securely. He began to flail around gagging and choking. At one point he arched violently

Syd Hoare, from his book, "A SLow Boat to Yokohama"
Syd Hoare, from his book, “A SLow Boat to Yokohama”
backwards into me and I was forced to wrap my legs around his trunk to control him better. Then, as the strangle began to bite, he quivered and jerked a few times and slumped, and fell still. He was out. Quickly I applied the revival techniques. The knee in the vertebrae had no apparent effect, so I switched quickly to the other one, which jerked my partner back to consciousness with a loud gasp.”

Hoare went on to explain that his Judo club in London employed this training until the end of the 1960s. He said that the Los Angeles Police Department too had used this particular strangle hold to immobilize people – a technique they called “The Sleeper”.

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