How to do the Sleeper Hold

Even a novice outside the world of Martial Arts I expect has heard the term 'sleeper hold' mentioned sometime or the other on the television. Maybe they heard it mentioned in ‘wrestling bouts’ or action films and most certainly now in the UFC. But what is exactly is a ‘sleeper hold’? What is occurring to the body when the hold is being applied? How do you apply it correctly? What are the consequences of applying it?

This article will attempt to explain in detail the workings of the hold along with the important anatomy of the neck and throat area to understand exactly what you are doing.

The ‘sleeper’ is a stranglehold which slows the blood supply to the brain by applying pressure to the carotid arteries. If there is such a term as a ‘humane’ way to put another human being to sleep this is it. Once learnt you can put somebody to sleep faster than a mug of Ovaltine or a Coldplay record!

Seriously though this technique must only be used in a life threatening scenario and never played about with.
The hold is a prime weapon for the smaller person to have in his or her arsenal because you can restrain a big opponent quite easily with no strength involved.

The sleeper hold has been used by the American Police forces for decades for law enforcement and security personnel will also have been taught how to apply it whilst ‘working the doors ’.It has of course been practised in the realms of any grappling combat sport or Martial art for eternity. It has been highly effective in the sporting and street arena.

Law enforcement found it was a great 'equaliser' for the smaller male officer or female officer to control a larger and stronger attacker. Officers have reported in incidences against drug-crazed assailants where their bodies were immune to standard strikes and locks, the  'sleeper' hold proved successful.

The carotid strangle should be in the arsenal of every serious martial artist, but it should only be learned from a professional not some ‘would be ninja’ where more harm than good can be done. This hold must be trained with responsibility and respect. Most individuals will recover unscathed from the ‘sleeper’ if it is not held on to long. That they don’t have underlying heart or blood pressure issues or that their unconscious body isn’t unceremoniously dumped to the floor where they will crack their skull or become asphyxiated.

In plain terms don’t learn this move off fucking amateurs who have seen it on the UFC. Also have the first aid skills of resuscitation.

Gone hopefully are the days when a young and green boy walks into a judo or jujutsu class and is inducted into their world by being strangled unconscious as their rite of passage. (God I remember it well)!

It is not big or clever and you are literally taking that person’s life in your hands. This isn’t the James Bond movies where after being knocked out or choked out you are up running around after a few minutes saving the world and getting the girl. Even if you do jump up again you will need a change of pants. When you on unconscious your bodily functions will still function. That’s something they don’t show in the movies!

So let's first take a close look at the anatomy of the neck and how the vital arteries, veins etc. work.

Firstly the neck is the most 'vital point' on the body for attacking in serious combat. Any attack to the throat or neck will have a profound and immediate effect on your opponent.

The main area of concern for us in this article is the major arteries of the neck.  The aorta is the body’s main and largest artery rising from the heart. It starts the network of arteries for supplying blood all over the body.

As the aorta rises it gives off important branches to the neck, the most important are the common carotid arteries, and these run up either side of the neck close to the windpipe.
Put your fingers close to your windpipe and you will feel the pumping of the carotid pulse

sleeper hold

sleeper hold

As the carotid artery rises to the level of the Adam's apple (thyroid cartilage) it divides into the external and internal carotid arteries.The inner artery supplies blood to the brain and eyes, the outer to the face and scalp.

The point where these arteries originate from the common carotid is called the 'carotid sinus', this is a sheath which houses the important 'vagus nerve centre'.
The vagus nerve has a direct link to the heart and plays an important part in its functioning.

The carotid sinus is the point where we shall apply the sleeper.

It is incorrectly thought in a lot of Martial Arts circles that by squeezing the carotid sinus in the sleeper choke that it stops the flow of blood to the brain.  Even if you could stop the flow completely, running a little way from the carotid arteries are the vertebral arteries, these enter the brain through the base of the skull and continue the blood flow to the head.

To correctly apply the 'sleeper' we are going to stimulate the vagus nerve in the carotid sinus to perform a very clever manoeuvre.  We are going to disrupt the normal bodily functions of the blood flow.
By squeezing on the vagus nerve it will send a message to the brain telling it blood pressure is getting dangerously high.  So the brain sends a message via the vagus nerve to the heart telling it to slow the blood flow and reduce the pressure. Seeing this really is an incorrect function to take because of our disruption, when the heart slows the blood flow, the brain gets deprived of blood rich in oxygen so the person blacks out due to oxygen starvation.
You can now see why this is such a clever hold because you are fooling the body mechanisms. Regardless of your opponent’s size or bulk he cannot fight a natural bodily response. This is why the hold is so vital for the small man.

Now how do we actually get the hold on and apply it correctly?

Move behind your assailant. If you can't get to his neck with your arm, then try these following moves.  

Reach and grab a handful of hair and yank their head back and down, or stomp with the sole of your foot into the back of their knee, to fold it and bring them down to your height.  You can also drive an uppercut punch into one of the kidneys; this move will weaken the attacker and arch their body backwards. Alternatively drive a rising knee into the coccyx (spinal tailbone).

Now encircle his neck with your complete arm.  Make sure the bicep is on one side of the neck and the thumb side (radius bone) of the forearm is against the other.  The fold of your elbow should be in front of the aggressor’s windpipe but not crushing it or interfering with his breathing.

Now with your free hand grasp your strangling arms wrist in a tight grip and begin a scissors action with the forearm and bicep, so that you are squeezing the carotid arteries on either side of the neck.
As you do this turn your body away from your attacker, so that your hip pushes into his lower back, now step away so he is hanging by his neck in your grip.  This move totally reinforces the sleeper and stops him using any counter attacks. Also turn your face away in case his flailing hands might poke at your eyes.

C:\Users\Kevin O' Hagan\Pictures\2015-03-15 jujutsu photos new 2015\jujutsu photos new 2015 031.JPG
A bare handed Carotid strangle.

You now have the 'sleeper' on and it won't take long to take effect. Wait to the struggling ceases then take the attacker to the floor, the technique is completed.
This move can also be applied from the side and front of opponent but there is always a chance of being countered before you can effectively get the hold on.
Stick to the rear method and at anytime you find yourself behind the attacker you can move in for the 'sleeper'.

This method is known as a bare handed strangle or naked strangle. (Don’t worry you can keep your clothes on).The strangle can applied using the Gi or any clothing. It can also be applied by the legs and by weapons such as a stick, baton or flashlight.

C:\Users\Kevin O' Hagan\Pictures\2015-03-15 jujutsu photos new 2015\jujutsu photos new 2015 032.JPG
A collar assisted ‘One Wing Strangle’.

A word of warning: when you practice this move, you must do it carefully and sensibly.  Don't rush or jerk any movements and avoid pressing on the windpipe as you can easily rupture the hyoid or thyroid cartilage, which can be fatal.

C:\Users\Kevin O' Hagan\Pictures\2015-03-15 jujutsu photos new 2015\jujutsu photos new 2015 033.JPG
A rear collar assisted cross strangle

If you have to apply this hold in the street then keep it on no longer than necessary.  If you keep the hold on for 3 minutes or more the subject may die or have severe brain damage.
Remember if he 'blacks out' without prolonging the hold he should regain consciousness normally later. But if you are under a violent street attack then your priority is saving your skin, so just keep the hold on until he is physically subdued.

Once mastered you can affect this hold anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds, that is a very quick and effective technique! I have used this hold in training 1000's of times and 9 times out of 10 it has worked almost instantly. I have also used it in competition and on a few occasions on the street. I have also been on the receiving end of the 'sleeper' and can testify for its effectiveness!

Please read and study this article carefully you have at your hands information on one of the best combat moves ever invented!

If you enjoyed this article and you want to know more about my training or products i have for sale then please visit my website

About the Author:
Kevin O'Hagan has been training and teaching Martial Arts for 37 years at present. He holds the rank of 7th Dan Full Master’s level in Combat Ju Jutsu. He also holds black belt ranks in Japanese Jujutsu and Karate Jutsu.  

He is a senior self protection instructor with the British Combat Association and was recently inducted into Martial arts illustrated magazine ‘Hall of fame’.

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