CHOKED TO DEATH
By George Demetriou
It truly saddens me to report that a Suffolk County Corrections Officer was killed last week when he was choked to death. No, the incident did not occur at the jail, but at the location of the officer's second job, a club in South Hampton. The officer, Andrew Reister, was employed as a bouncer.
The incident began when, according to the news, Reister told an unruly patron to stop dancing on the table. The patron, Anthony Oddone, apparently took offense to the request and a fight ensued. The incident ended with Oddone choking Reister, according to the news, for a minute. Other bouncers and Oddone's friends tried to pull Oddone off, but were unable to do so in time.
We don't know further details regarding the incident such as what type of choke was used exactly. We do attempt to learn from these incidents however.
Places that serve alcohol are mostly occupied by decent, law abiding people. Unfortunately they also attract individuals looking for release from their deep seated emotional issues. Some are very angry and occasionally they "erupt". We don't try to play psycho-analyst, but we do recognize that people with "issues" are out there walking around amongst us and that is reason enough to stay in good "fighting" shape as well as learn to protect ourselves.
It takes little skill to choke someone. One just need the will to fight and the will to do serious damage. It does not require special training or great strength. On the other hand, it takes a trained response to defend against a choke by a committed attacker.
A few years back a former Marine, vacationing in Costa Rica, was being robbed by an armed gunman fifty years his junior. The 71 year old man grabbed the robber in a choke hold and killed him. Of course, this was completely justified, but it does speak to the effectiveness of the choke.
Chokes are usually applied after initial contact. There is often scuffling, punching or some sort of grappling that occurs before the choke. This is where conditioning comes in. Real fights are relatively very short in duration. Between the exertion that takes place and the "hormonal" elevation of the heart rate caused by fear, the demands placed on the body and mind are intense. Not being in superb shape will cause one to to fatigue very quickly. Try to imagine being fatigued while trying to prevent some madman from crushing your throat or stopping the flow of blood to your brain. The very best way to defend against a choke is to not be in a fight. The next best way, if you have to be in a fight, is not to be in a choke. Easier said than done. Having strength, power, speed, stamina and endurance will always facilitate survival. Workouts that are intense and require mental toughness are most beneficial. Workouts that are steady paced and long in duration do little to prepare you for a self-defense event.
To be skilled at defending against the choke requires training. Training, besides providing physical responses, also enables one to recognize the danger of a situation right away. Reister and the people trying to help probably did not think the initial scuffle with Oddone was any different than other altercation that ends with little or no injury. Once a person has an arm around your neck or a hold of your throat all bets are off. The situation, as we learned in this case, becomes lethal very quickly, too quickly for the unexperienced to realize.
An assailant's arm or a hand in the vicinity of your throat/neck must be dealt with immediately. Responses should focus on preventing a choke from being applied in the first place. It is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to stop a choke once that choke is "sunk in"–applied deeply with pressure against the trachea or sides of the neck. Before the choker is able to squeeze, the defender must get his hands/arms up around the neck area and prevent the choker from getting a good hold. A rear choke is one of those techniques that does not take formal training in order to execute. Anyone who is physically able to place their arm around another human being's neck and has the will to do harm can do so without much practice. Most Mixed Martial Arts fans probably know how to apply a rear naked choke just from watching it on TV.
Those wishing to know how to defend against any choke are advised to seek the training of a qualified instructor who understands the choke and its many variations and, most important of all, can teach you to perform it as well as defend against it in a safe manner. Brazilian juijitsu and judo practitioners use chokes as a main part of their arsenal. For law enforcers there are also versions of the rear naked choke that are referred to as restraints as opposed to "chokes". The application may be a bit different, but the results are the same. We are of the opinion that a properly applied choke is a "safe" way of controlling a violent person. It should be noted that chokes are frequently used in Brazilian Juijitsu and Judo tournaments, as well as mixed martial arts events, all over the world and have never resulted in a death.
The truly dangerous chokes are done by the unskilled or the untrained person who is short on emotional control.
As one learns to do the technique it should be done to you as well. Have the choke applied in a safe manner by a qualified person who you trust. It should be introduced slowly as in any "dosage" of stress inoculation. One of the first goals should be to remain calm as you feel the affects of the choke. Panic will bring on the negative affects sooner. Once you become comfortable with applying the choke and having it applied the next progressive step is to grapple with a partner and try to (1) apply the choke as your partner offers resistance and (2) prevent the choke from being applied on you. Of course, this needs to be done within guidelines and with safety rules in place. Tapping on the ground, yourself or your partner("tapping out") is the safety feature that means stop applying the choke.
One must be able to defend against the choke while standing and while "rolling" on the ground with someone. If an assailant can get a choke on you they can also pull you to the ground.
A person interested in self protection must learn how to defend against all the common attacks: wild punches, sucker punches, grabs, tackles, knees, etc. as this will facilitate not getting to the position of being choked. Self-protection should begin with awareness, avoidance and de-escalation. The physical part of self-protection is for the occasion when you cannot avoid or talk your way out.
By all accounts, Andrew Reister was a good man. He was liked and respected by co-workers and even by prisoners. He leaves behind a wife and two young children. If you need a reason to stay in shape and to train for self-protection I can't think of a better one than to be around for your family.