Bring ‘Em Back Alive: More On Recovering From Chokes

The last blog post (Choke Recovery in Grappling) prompted some lively discussion and debate when I posted it on the Sherdog Grappling Forum and on I also received a number of emails on the topic.

The most common question by far, was “what about lifting the unconscious person’s legs up into the air to bring blood into their brain.”

I’ve have seen the legs-in-the-air technique used to resuscitate unconscious grapplers. In fact, it’s even been used on me (I was 12 years old and got knocked out by a Judo throw in the adult class. I awoke with my legs in the air and a whole bunch of very concerned faces looking down at me)!

But I didn’t talk about it in my last newsletter for a simple reason – I’ve never seen any sort of research about the safety or efficacy of this resuscitation technique.

It seems fairly obvious that it ‘should’ bring more blood to the brain, and that it ‘should’ help people wake up faster. But that kind of thinking can be dangerous. Medical history is littered with techniques, procedures and drugs that ‘should’ have helped people, but instead caused grievous bodily harm.

A forum participant called “BJJ Medic” finally helped me out. He told me about some research on the so-called Trendelenburg postion. This head down, legs up position was used during and after World War 1 to help manage shock.

Recent research, however, indicates that this position does nothing to help with shock, and increases the risk of choking on your own tongue (which is, by the way, the most common cause for blocked airways in unconscious people). Click here to read The Myth of the Trendelenburg Position for yourself.

So until someone actually does proper research on the legs-in-the-air position, specifically with regard to waking up unconscious people, I’m NOT going to use it. The ‘treatment’ at this point only has risks, and no proven benefits.


If someone is unconscious from a choke you should check to see if they’re breathing. If they’re not breathing, then either move them to the recovery position (3/4 prone) OR start rescue breathing. Also check for a pulse!

These things are super important: you really want to be able to give a 911 dispatcher intelligent information, something along the lines of: “my buddy is unconscious but has a pulse and is breathing”. As firefighter myself I can promise you that if you tell a dispatcher someone isn’t breathing you’ll get their instant and undivided attention…

And of course every serious grappler or martial artist should have basic CPR and first aid training. If you know how to break things you should know how to put them back together too. After all, your training partner is your most important piece of gear: if you kill them off then you won’t be able to get better.

So take good care of those oh-so-important training partners!

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