Is it solely a matter of duration or not? Why is a pillow deadlier than a simple MMA choke (BJJ, whatever)? How does it work?

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    Side note, for people looking to more efficiently smother someone, pillows are a bad choice overall. It can take over three minutes because pillows are notably porous. Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 14:42

2 Answers 2


The two basic mechanisms when choking are blood and air. A skillful blood choke will knock someone out within seconds, say 2-20. A pillow choke blocks air, which takes much longer ~2? minutes. Death basically occurs when the brain has been deprived of oxygen for minutes. With a pillow, the person's brain is already oxygen starved when they pass out. If you hold a blood choke for minutes after the person goes unconscious, the expectation is this will result in death. This is why you let go. The person is still breathing with a heartbeat and will wake up.

As a martial matter, you always want to cut off blood. This will cause the opponent to go unconscious much faster than if you cut off air, when they will fight back with vigor to restore airflow.

  • I didn't understand this sentence: "With a pillow, the person's brain is already oxygen starved when they pass out". Doesn't a pillow kill, not just make someone 'pass out'? Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 6:37
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    @SergeyZolotarev It makes you pass out before it kills. If you let go the moment the person falls unconscious, there will be like 99.9% of cases where they wake up later. The notable exception being a heart attack due to panic. It takes about 90-120 seconds to kill a person by oxygen deprivation, that's when brain tissue - any tissue, actually - becomes necrotic (dies). People fall unconscious much earlier since the brain is the main consumer of oxygen in our body and does not tolerate low levels of oxygen well. Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 10:53
  • Is it possible to make someone pass out in just 2 seconds? Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 18:30
  • @SergeyZolotarev Yes. I have personally done it once but am not skilled enough to do it on command.
    – mattm
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 18:47
  • @SergeyZolotarev Empirical research is giving varying numbers which suggest between 6 and 14 seconds from application to falling unconscious. Faster effect may happen due to additional factors (heart, panic, hypoxia due to strain, ...), but is unusual and there is no reliable way to do this. Once released, people spontaneously regain consciousness after 10-20 seconds. Movies are notoriously bad at depicting how chokes take effect. Commented Feb 26, 2020 at 11:43

In MMA (any martial arts really), the method is the ONLY difference. In martial arts or competitions, you do not go in with intent of murder. Even in public if you’re trained, and are attacked, you would focus on a sleeper hold with the bend of your arm around their neck while using your other hand to the back of their head to hurry the process of making the opponent (or criminal) lose consciousness so you win (or make a get away and call authorities).

The sleeper hold cuts off blood to the brain and so the other man can not continue until blood is restored and can become oriented of his surroundings and able to recall what just happened. That’s a controlled attack on your opponent. You win or you get away.

When choking someone to kill them, normally you are on top of them on the ground face to face, and you’re using all the force of your body to your hands and especially thumbs, and you’re putting pressure on their jugular. This stops air flow to the brain and the person can’t get air either. Even if you intend to put them to sleep and not kill them, this is not the way, because most times the pressure applied will break bones in the neck and possibly bust their jugular, and as mentioned above, can cause the body to also have reactions that can kill them in the process of being choked out (heart attack, Etc.).

Long story short, learn to use a sleeper hold if you’re that interested. It’s an amazing technique and easy to apply, ESPECIALLY if some idiot is show boating and decides to push you. If you know what you’re doing, let them push you and do a couple quick maneuvers, apply the correct sleeper hold, and they’ll find themselves waking up wandering what the hell went wrong. And also deterring anyone from bothering you again.

  • From a martial artist perspective, I'd still follow mattm here: Even if the intent is to kill, it is much safer (and faster) to apply a blood choke and damage the trachea (or break the neck) when they are out. A person fighting for their life, even if much smaller, can produce insane amounts of strength. I wouldn't like to be in front of them wrestling with them for minutes, really. And that is what it realistically takes. Even if you directly smash the trachea (which is unlikely against a struggling person) it will still take a minute until they significantly lose strength. Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 6:32
  • Also, breaking bones in the neck from mount position seems very unlikely to me for any person that does not have severe osteoporosis. It is hard to damage the spine. Really hard. Sure, mount position is golden in martial arts. But someone with a "Fighting for LIFE" switch on is going to hurt me badly, cramping the biggest and strongest muscles in their body with much more force than consciously producable. You wont be able to hold balance and uphold pressure in that situation. Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 6:42

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