From the schoolyard to the barroom and just about anywhere else a fight erupts, one of the techniques you’re most likely to see is a headlock. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines headlock as “a wrestling hold in which one encircles the opponent’s head with one arm.” There are several types of headlocks but perhaps the most common is what’s often referred to as a “side headlock,” which is characterized by one combatant wrapping his arm around his opponent’s neck, with both combatants facing the same direction. The combatant applying the side headlock steps in front of his opponent’s legs to compromise his balance. The side headlock is often used to secure the victim’s head for a barrage of punches or to set up a takedown. Of course, anytime your opponent’s arm encases your neck, there’s a chance you could sustain injury to your larynx or trachea, which could have lethal consequences.

As with any hold, the sooner you respond, the better off you’ll be. Once the assailant joins his hands and squeezes your neck or connects with solid punches to your head, mounting an intelligent defense will be difficult. Fortunately, with a little practice, the side headlock is a relatively easy hold to escape.

Make A Turn

When you sense that your adversary is attempting to place you in a side headlock, immediately turn your head toward him. This will relieve some of the pressure on your neck, thus buying you valuable time to escape. Another benefit to turning your head into the assailant is that it makes your head a smaller target.

Some instructors advocate grabbing the assailant’s free arm to prevent him from punching. While this good in theory, actually trapping the arm is no easy task. Rather than struggling to secure his punching arm, why not focus your energy on actually escaping the hold?

Another commonly taught tactic is to strike the assailant’s groin to distract him and cause him to loosen his hold. This too could work, but while you’re striking his groin, he will probably be teeing off on your head. We all know being struck in the groin can be quite painful but being punched in the head could render you unconscious.
The two techniques presented below are not dependent on striking proficiency or athleticism. Instead, they are based on the premise that taking the assailant’s balance is the simplest, most efficient means of negating the side headlock and gaining the upper hand.

Nose Hook Escape

As soon as you find yourself in a side headlock, turn your head into the assailant and try to tuck your chin to your chest. This will help protect your airway and offer a degree of protection from incoming punches. You could also place your hand between your face and the assailant as an extra precaution. Reach over the assailant’s head and hook under his nose with one of your fingers. Then use his nose as a lever to force his head back.

There is a nerve cluster located just under the nose that inflicts significant pain to add to the leverage advantage you’ve attained. And because your legs are behind the assailant’s, he will be unable to step back to maintain his balance. As you’ll quickly discover in training, hooking the nose will reliably break the assailant’s grip.

Martial artists are familiar with the truism, “Where the head goes, the body follows.” Well, where the nose goes, the head also goes! In this case, hooking the nose enables you to tilt the assailant’s head back, then send him toppling backward, over your leg and onto his back. If you deem it necessary, deliver a strike with the bottom of your fist to the assailant’s chest to expedite his descent and make him think twice about getting up to attack you again.

Leg Lift Escape

When it comes to fighting, no technique is foolproof. If the assailant is much taller than you, if you have short “T-Rex” arms, or if the assailant’s head is positioned so that his face is not accessible, there’s another excellent way to escape the side headlock and turn the tables on the assailant. Of course, the first step is to protect your airway and head in the manner previously described.

To execute the Leg Lift Escape, simply wrap both arms around the assailant’s nearest leg. Lift his leg and drive him sideways. If there is a wall or other object nearby to send the assailant crashing into, by all means make it happen. If there’s nothing to ram him into, keep driving him sideways. Chances are after a few hops on one leg, he’ll drop with you on top of him. In either case, when the assailant’s balance is compromised, he will be unable to maintain the side headlock.

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