For the first time in three years, I couldn’t face going back to the Grappling Club. I hoped if I could avoid Nick, I could pretend the night with Miranda had just been a one-night stand, nothing bizarre or sinister. I could let what I’d remembered fade back into forgotten hallucinations.
It didn’t work. Usually when my life wasn’t making sense, the Club helped me stay even. Without it my life was a job at a temp agency, a studio apartment, Netflix, Jim Beam, sleep. After a week of that I had to get back on the mat. I couldn’t pretend things were normal any other way.
For the first half of my next class, I paired with Jenna. This put me within the sphere of non-interaction with Nick that was still a condition of his acceptance at the club. Nick and Sig were both there, of course. Nick gave me a nod; I nodded back and let him interpret that however he wanted.
I was off, mentally and physically. Practicing shoulder throws I lost my footing and nearly dropped Jenna onto her face. She was all right and took it in stride, but I was losing my calm.
Pete, who was running the class, must have noticed that I was trying to get away from off-mat issues. He threw me a lifeline. Halfway through the class, when we switched from throws to ground techniques, he waved me to the center of the mat. “Matt, why don’t you show one of your lapel chokes?”
For a minute, I could ride the ego boost of being recognized for something I was good at.
Now, when normal people say “choke,” they mean squeezing someone’s trachea to suffocate them. That’s dangerous, ugly, and slow, so grapplers prefer what’s called a “blood choke.” You see, on either side of the neck, the carotid arteries carry fresh blood up to the brain. Squeezing these—say, by taking hold of an opponent’s lapels and pulling just so—cuts off that blood flow. Done cleanly, it can knock someone out in a couple seconds. It’s faster than an air choke, safer, maybe even elegant.
I used Pete to demonstrate a setup for the rest of the group: hold the lapel thusly, clear the guard, catch them by surprise. Pete mentioned a few points to keep in mind, and everyone paired off to practice it.
After a minute, Sig came over to ask me for help. “Would you mind taking a look?” he said.
Sig had been working with Nick, like usual. “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong,” Sig said as he reproduced my choke on Nick. Nick wasn’t reacting.
Sig looked about right to me. I waved him aside and took hold of Nick’s jacket myself. “You want to turn your wrist outward. Make a blade of the small bones at the base of your thumb.” I put on the choke and waited for Nick to tap out. “Are you feeling that?” I could feel my wrist sinking into his carotid sinus.
Five seconds, and he should be passing out. I pulled tight, counting to myself. Six… Seven…
Nick’s eyes were still clear. Nine… Ten… I my grip was tight enough now that he shouldn’t be able to breathe either.
Fifteen… If Nick were a human I would be killing him right now. Seventeen… Eighteen…
“Matt? Matt!” Pete was shaking me by the shoulder, pulling my arms off Nick’s neck. “What’s going on?” he shouted.
“I’m not sure,” I told Pete. “I think I need to sit out the rest of tonight.”
Submitted by Corodon Fuller