In early May, an incident at a New York City subway train involving a Marine veteran with unarmed combat experience made the rounds online. 24-year-old Daniel Penny was seen on video putting another man in a chokehold in what was deemed as an unruly incident taking a turn for the worse. 

According to reports, the victim later identified as 30-year-old Jordan Neely was allegedly acting belligerently at the time, yelling that he was hungry, thirsty, and “fed up.” Neely also reportedly said he didn’t mind being imprisoned for life and that he was “ready to die.” 

This was when Penny supposedly took action by putting Neely in what’s referred to as a rear-naked choke (RNC), where the attacking individual is applying the choke from the back. Penny reportedly had Neely in a chokehold for 15 minutes, as the latter went limp and slowly lost consciousness. 

Neely was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. Penny, on the other hand, is looking at a second-degree manslaughter charge

This article isn’t delving into the case itself. Rather, it aims to provide a clear explanation as to what exactly happened by looking at the intricacies of a chokehold and how it works. 

The Anatomy of a Chokehold In Unarmed Combat

Chokeholds are part of any submission grappling discipline in an unarmed combat scenario. There are different varieties to it, but let’s first focus on the rear-naked choke that Penny was seen applying. 

The mechanism

You’ll notice in the video that Penny’s left arm is wrapped around Neely’s neck, his elbow right under the chin. His left hand was grabbing his right bicep as his right hand rested on Neely’s head. Penny was then squeezing with his left hand, causing Neely to pass out slowly. 

The compression aims to impede the blood flow to the brain via the carotid arteries, the blood vessels found on both sides of the neck. That restriction of blood flow causes a backlog of blood in the head and a blockage of fresh blood and oxygen to the brain. Ultimately, the person being choked loses consciousness.