How hard would it be for a 160 pound person to break a 200 pound person’s neck? How to do that?

  • 4
    I’m voting to close this question because it is asking how to kill someone. This knowledge has no practical value for either self defense or sports purposes so falls outside the scope of most martial arts. I don't have reason to believe this question is asked in good faith.
    – Huw Evans
    Feb 2 at 19:19
  • Hi @HuwEvans. I ask this because breaking someone's neck is not one of the things taught by Tim Larkin's Target Focus Training. That system is intended to be used against any attack Tim Larkin calls "asocial". An asocial predator is anyone that (in my own words) has decided he/she is going to kill you or rape you or any other severe life-damaging injuries. In the case of such an attack, the defender has been left to the absolute last resort, which is violence, in which case violence becomes the only resort. If there was another resort, then you would have that resort to choose.
    – daniel
    Feb 3 at 16:58
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    Breaking someone's neck is not likely to be considered "proportionate" use of force in a self defence plee in court. It can be done most easily if the attacker is no longer able to resist so in other words once you have already successfully defended yourself. You don't need to kill people to defend yourself. Even if you do you don't need to break the neck to do this. I don't know about Tim Larkin in particular but I would agree with him choosing not to teach this.
    – Huw Evans
    Feb 3 at 18:58
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    If you are in a position to intentionally break someone's neck, then you are the aggressor. You are no longer defending yourself. The first defense is running away. Maybe you can't, but other methods to subdue someone are easier than specifically breaking their neck. Feb 4 at 11:55

2 Answers 2


"Breaking the neck" (what people understand under the term) means breaking and dislocating the dens axis, a part of the second cervical bone that literally sticks up into the first cervical bone on which our skull rests. The stability of the bone there does not vary much between persons but it is well-protected by bones, ligaments, and muscles. Indeed, the ability to break it depends mostly on the tension of the person's neck muscles.

That's why within a fight and being faced with an active aggressor, breaking their neck against passive and reflexive muscle tension is nigh impossible. Considering it as a valid self-defence strategy would be delusional because

  • you can't train that realistically, for obvious reasons,
  • it's really hard to do in an ongoing struggle,
  • it's not reliable since there is not much of an effect without dislocation of the bone, and
  • if you aim to do that, and are successful, you probably had other, less drastic alternatives at your disposal, hence you may end up in legal trouble.

Generally, a broken neck does not mean death. You can break your neck and not even notice it. Given the dens axis gets dislocated, there is a high probability of complete paralysis though.


Throughout martial arts of various styles, there are either implied or stated neck breaking techniques. These are sometimes reserved for advanced students. Sometimes it's taught from very early on. It just depends on the martial art.

How realistic are these techniques? The answer is probably not very realistic. I'll explain.

Most martial arts that have explicit neck break techniques in them are conceptual martial arts. Or at least that part of their martial art is conceptual. And by conceptual, I mean that these are theoretical techniques. By their nature, these techniques can not be practiced in class even with very light force. They're for show only, with the "hope" that they'll work the way you think they'll work when you need to use them. But we know that techniques you don't practice realistically aren't generally reliable.

So while in theory a neck break is possible, in real world self-defense, it's probably not something you can rely on. You simply don't know if it will work or not. And you should probably stick with things that you know are effective.

That said, there are martial art sports where neck breaks have happened as a result of an accident. That would be arts like judo or wrestling, whereby an opponent is thrown onto their neck, resulting in a broken vertebrae.

I found this research paper documenting the statistics regarding neck breaks in judo competition:

"Catastrophic Head and Neck Injuries in Judo Players in Japan From 2003 to 2010" https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237840217_Catastrophic_Head_and_Neck_Injuries_in_Judo_Players_in_Japan_From_2003_to_2010

Citing from the paper:

A total of 72 judo injuries (30 head, 19 neck, and 23 other injuries) were reported between 2003 and 2010... Among neck injuries, 18 players were diagnosed with cervical spine injury, 11 of whom had fracture-dislocation of the cervical vertebra; there was also 1 case of atlantoaxial subluxation. The outcomes of neck injury were as follows: 7 players had complete paralysis, 7 had incomplete paralysis, and 5 had full recovery.

So you can see that, at least in arts like Judo which throw people, there is an accidental risk of neck injuries leading to paralysis. If there's an accidental risk of neck injury, it should be possible to use Judo techniques to deliberately target an opponent's neck, leading to a fracture of the vertebrae.

And as for the weight of one vs. the other, it really doesn't matter in this case. One of the things Judo players often say is that this is the art of throwing a planet at a person. You're essentially using someone's own weight against them, throwing them onto their head or neck in self-defense situations for the most devastating effect. This can be done against a 200 pound person by someone who weighs 80 pounds almost as easily as someone who weighs 160 pounds.

And this is not theoretical or conceptual. It has been observed actually happening for real in Judo competition, which involves a resisting, live opponent. That's as close as you can get to an actual fight. The techniques are reliable. They're being trained against a resisting, live opponent. It just takes intent to change the way an opponent is landed.

The other difference between Judo and a conceptual martial art is that in conceptual martial arts that explicitly try to perform a neck break, if the neck break doesn't work, there's no real back-up plan. But in Judo, if the throw doesn't result in a head or neck injury, that doesn't matter. They can easily follow up with a submission, or just run away. That's what they're trained to do, so it should be effective and reliable.

Judo itself is a sport that was never meant for this purpose, however. It trains students to take great care in making sure they control their opponent so that they don't land in a way that results in serious harm. But, if they wanted to in a real life self-defense situation, they can easily control a person in such a way that does result in that harm.

Hope that helps.

  • I don't know why you make the claim that styles at have a drill involving a 'neck break' techniques have no backup plans. Just like judo I would expect any style to have lots of backup techniques for if they for whatever reason fail to break the neck... Not that breaking the neck is hard by most accounts if you are already holding the head.
    – Huw Evans
    Feb 2 at 16:56
  • @HuwEvans It's because with Judo, the target isn't usually the neck. So when they happen to target the neck, if it doesn't work, they're just doing what they normally do. Whereas in other styles that explicitly target the neck, that IS the technique. There is no automatic backup. If it doesn't work, then you have to switch to something else on the fly. And that is inferior to what Judo does in many ways. Feb 2 at 20:46
  • There are plenty of "better" ways to defend yourself than trying to break the neck. This is a question specifically about breaking necks. The most straightforward way would be to curb stomp your enemy wearing big boots. As a backup plan you could kick their head. I don't really see your point but feel that this question should be closed as irrelevant anyway.
    – Huw Evans
    Feb 2 at 22:51
  • @HuwEvans My point was that if you're doing an uchi-mata nage in judo, for example, it will land him on his back. Then, a judoka would immediately follow him down to the ground with the throw to land in side control and do maybe yoko-shiho-gatame. From there, he can do any number of submissions. This is drilled in so much that it's completely automatic. Now, if he's on the street and wanted to land the guy on his head or neck, he can attempt that with the same motion. And he follows him just like before to the ground, if it worked or didn't. Nothing changes except the rotation the judoka ... Feb 3 at 2:47
  • @HuwEvans ... does to his opponent in the air while controlling his fall. If his opponent struggles and manages to not land on his head like the judoka wants, the judoka is already automatically in side control just like usual. Nothing changes. He doesn't need to make a decision about what to do if the neck break doesn't work. It happens automatically. No real thought involved. It's drilled into the judoka. Whereas if you have an explicit neck break technique like grabbing the head and twisting it suddenly, you got no automatic follow up for that. The judo technique will work even if... Feb 3 at 2:50

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