Are Chokes More Dangerous for Older People Who Train BJJ?

Roger Gracie chokes Tarsis Humphreys
Roger Gracie sinking a choke against Tarsis Humphreys at the 2010 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Championship.

This week I received this email from Chris, one of the Mighty 600,000:

I’m a BJJ blue belt in my late 40’s and I train pretty hard, five or six days a week. My dad, who is a doctor, is concerned because he says that being choked unconscious can lead to a stroke in people over 40 years old. I’ve never been choked unconscious, although I’ve been choked woozy plenty of times. (I play it safe and tap early, unless it’s obvious the other guy doesn’t really have the choke.)

Nevertheless, I’m wondering if you guys have heard anything about choking being more dangerous to “older” participants. As far as I’m concerned, old guys rule in BJJ, but it would be good to know of any health concerns to watch out for.

Thanks,

Chris

Naturally the first thing we do here on The FightWorks Podcast in situations like this is to reach out to our chief medical expert Doc. Doc is an emergency medicine doctor here in San Diego, a training partner of mine, and JUST GOT HIS BLACK BELT ON SATURDAY! (way to go Doc!!!).

Doc wrote back promptly by email with this intel:

Interesting question and not an easy one to answer. Theoretically I would imagine there could be some truth to this. If an older person has atherosclerosis leading to obstruction of one or more of the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain, with compression of another vessel blood flow could be more compromised compare to if no such obstruction were present. Whether the brain itself would be more predisposed to the adverse consequences of ischemia (loss of oxygen via lack of blood flow) via a chokehold with advancing age I imagine is also theoretically possible. There is no magic to the age of 40 and when any of these things could occur though. The vessels themselves may be more at risk for damage from a chokehold with advancing age. There is not evidence of any of this that I am aware of although just because there is not does not preclude it from being true.

Hope that helps.

So it sounds like a good time to reinforce the most important rule of training Brazilian jiu-jitsu: tap early, tap often. In the case of older folks who train jiu-jitsu, it may be smart to tap even earlier.

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