How to Escape a Headlock in Street Self-Defense


A headlock is a fairly simple aggressive move in which to place an opponent. It can be the precursor to further attack, or an attack in and of itself. There are many ways to get out of headlocks according to standard Greco-Roman and mixed-martial-arts rules, but these methods ignore the possibility that your opponent is not following any rules of any sort and is simply try to hurt you. In this case, a headlock is definitely a step in the right direction for his purposes. He could apply pressure to the sides of the neck to pinch off the blood to the carotid arteries, causing you to pass out. He could cinch tightly against your throat and twist, in an attempt to break your neck. He could launch a mule kick into your knee and shatter it. Or he could simply flatten your nose with a free fist. Regardless of his exact intentions, you have one goal: getting out of that headlock as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Escaping a Headlock

  • Begin by allowing your opponent to stand by your side. He will wrap one arm around your neck and bring it down to his side, beneath the armpit. With the side of your neck in the crook of your elbow, your opponent will squeeze his elbow joint shut and grab his wrist with his other arm, pulling tightly to lock the hold shut. This will force you to bend forward to retain your stance; it's what gives the headlock its power, in that you are forward off balance. This hold does nothing at all to restrain your arms, however, and we will use that to your advantage. Realistically speaking, if someone were to attempt to put you in a headlock, you would probably end up being approached from behind and grabbed before you knew what was happening.

  • Turn your chin toward your opponent’s body to relieve the pressure on your neck. This will give you time to act without having to worry about passing out due to blood being cut off from the brain.

  • Reach up with the arm that's closest to your opponent’s body and wrap your hand around the side of her face. Specifically, you want to place your hand so that your middle finger is digging into the eyebrow. This is fine for practice, but in a real situation, all you would need to do is drop the finger 1/4 inch to dig into the pit of the attacker’s eye. This will make her force her head backward in an attempt to relieve the pressure, decreasing her ability to keep your neck and head in close to her body.

  • Step forward with one leg so that you are straddling your opponent’s leg, placing yourself perpendicular rather than parallel to his body. This will give you more leverage to use that same arm to pull his head back even farther, making him arch his spin and opening up a gap in the hold, allowing you to take a more comfortable standing position.

  • Pull back your free hand and slap it down hard, at full extension, into your opponent’s groin; whether you use a fist or open palm is up to you. If this is not sufficient to get your opponent to release you, follow with a straight punch into the base of his extended throat. It will be an easy target, given that his head will be thrown back. Be aware that this final strike has the capacity to crush the windpipe and kill an attacker, so you will have to use your own judgment as to whether you believe its use is warranted.

Tips & Warnings

  • Your sparring partner should probably be wearing a protective cup and pads when you practice this technique. If not, you will have no shortage of people trying to do you harm immediately after practice.

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