How to Get out of a Headlock

Two Methods:Escaping a Side HeadlockEscaping a Rear Headlock

A headlock is a very powerful submission hold. When your attacker or opponent initiates an attempt, you must exert maximum effort to escape. With a few key tactics, you can almost always illicit some sort of resignation, even if your attacker is larger than you.

Method 1
Escaping a Side Headlock

  1. Image titled Get out of a Headlock Step 1
    Turn your head toward your attacker. Turn into your opponent’s body so your airway is no longer constricted.[1] This will allow you to breathe so you can escape the headlock.
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    Stun your attacker. Use your hand closest to the front of your attacker’s body to strike his testicles (if your attacker is male). Also try to strike your opponent in the gut or ribs with your elbow. Striking your attacker in the gut and ribs works for both male and female attackers.
    • Keep your outside hand free to attack his testicles, or to protect your face if your attacker tries to hit you.[2]
    • If it is a life-or-death situation, biting is totally on the table and it is an excellent way to injure an attacker if he is not set up properly.
    • However, do be aware that if he has you in a proper chokehold (elbow joint is aligned vertically with your esophagus, and his choking-arm hand is on his opposite bicep, with his opposite hand on the base of your skull), attempting to bite will give him an easy chance to pull your neck towards him, rendering you unconsciousness.
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    Reach to your attacker’s head. Use your outer arm to reach around and up to your attacker’s face. If this is a life-or-death situation, use your fingers to try and gouge her eyes, reach underneath her nose with your hand or fingers to pull her head back, or reach underneath her chin with your hand to pull her head back.[3] Keep your other hand on the arm or hand that was head-locking you.
    • The body has to follow the head. That is why pulling her head back will render her unbalanced.[4]
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    Stand up and attack. As you pull back your attacker’s head, stand straight up to disarm him even more (his back will be curved). Use the hand that was holding onto his head-locking hand and arm to attack him again in the ribs or groin and push him away from you.[5]
    • This would be your time to run and escape.

Method 2
Escaping a Rear Headlock

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    Protect your airway. Turn your head toward the side from which your attacker is choking you. This will ensure that your airway doesn’t get cut off. Use your hands to grab onto your attacker’s arm, with your fingers on the inside of her arm, near your chin.[6]
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    Tuck your chin. Raise or shrug your shoulders so you create a space where you can tuck your chin down to your body and get your fingers into the space between his arm and your chin. Aim to tuck your chin into the crook of his elbow; that is where there will be the most wiggle room.[7] Sink down in his hold by bending your knees.
    • This will make it more difficult for your attacker to lock his arm onto your neck.
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    Step back. On the side that your attacker is choking you, step your foot back behind her foot to lock in her leg.[8]
    • Don’t arch your back backward. Instead, keep your back curved forward. If you lean back, you render yourself defenseless with no balance.
    • Do not step out to the side, but back, behind her foot so your legs are calf-to-calf.
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    Turn out and throw him down. Bend your knees and turn 180° toward your stepped foot.[9] Your hands should still be on his arm, in between your chin and his arm. Once out of the headlock, pull diagonally across your body to throw your attacker to the ground.
    • Keep your opposite foot (the foot that didn’t lock behind your attacker’s leg) strong so as to trip your opponent as you throw him to the ground across your body.


  • Keep your chin tucked in so that your opponent cannot initiate a chokehold.
  • Have a plan of escape ready for the moment you are free.
  • Remain as calm as you can. Just breathe.
  • Always turn into you opponent's arm so your airway can’t be constricted.
  • If it is a dangerous headlock situation, try to hurt the person in the private areas or the eyes. Do not do this unless you are in danger!
  • Do not try to squeeze out of the headlock. This can hurt your neck.
  • Jab his eyes, bite his arm, punch him in the nose, or punch/grab his testicles and squeeze.


  • Escaping a headlock usually places a large amount of strain on your head and neck, which can be very dangerous and painful. If you have the option to tap out (casual wrestling), seriously consider it.

Article Info

Categories: Wrestling Moves | Self Defense