Verne, brown belt under Eduardo Rocha, is funny.  Funny in a way that relaxes his audience just enough so that the lesson sinks in without diluting the teachable moment.  In comparing the hip movement needed for a bow-and-arrow choke, he promptly got on the mat and broke out some old school (and admittedly rusty) b-boying.  We all laughed.  But, when the laughing died down and I went back to perform more reps, voila – I understood the underlying hip movement. Verne is that kind of funny.

His best line came while teaching the basic lapel choke from the back.  A few reps into it, he could tell from our grimacing faces that many of us were applying the choke as a trachea choke.  In fact, had he not said anything, I never would have realized that the choke is actually meant to be a blood choke (or to be more precise, a strangulation.)  The casual practitioner might wonder, well, what’s the difference?  Both elicit the tap.  His answer was this: If you’re a choke snob, you best believe the difference matters. We all laughed some more, but then it made sense.

If jiujitsu is at the foremost about technique, then such a nuance matters deeply.  Case in point.

Verne told the story of some police officers he knew and trained with who had been practicing the rear naked choke as a restraining technique to use when confronted by belligerent drunks on the weekends.  Tragically, what was actually being practiced was a trachea choke where the forearm directly crosses the throat.  One weekend, an unfortunate fellow who couldn’t hold his liquor was picked up for disturbing the peace, and when he became aggressive with the cops, one officer used the technique he had learned to subdue him and promptly place him in the drunk tank.  Later, the man died.  He had suffered a damaged trachea from the choke, and it swelled and the man suffocated.  Nuances matter.  A seasoned jiujitsu practitioner with sound fundamentals presumably has the choice of applying the rear naked as a strangulation or as a trachea choke, depending on the severity and context of the situation.  An unschooled person, or a person not sufficiently schooled, does not.

In Rorion Gracie’s old Gracie Academy tapes, he asserts the power of jiujitsu to empower the practitioner with the choice of selecting the level of violence proportionate to the situation at hand.  While life isn’t always so cut and dry, it is for this reason that I’m choosing the path of being a choke snob.  In fact, I intend to be an arm bar snob, a leg lock snob, and an all around jiujitsu snob.  The small details really do matter.

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