Sensei Dracula And The Most Effective Submission Escape Ever

It was a boxing match that will probably never be forgotten – or at least not this particular event in it:

On Saturday night, June 28, 1997, in what would later become known as “the bite fight”, Mike Tyson – the youngest boxer ever to win the WBC, WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles – bit his opponent’s (Evander Holyfield’s) ear, purportedly in retaliation for Holyfield headbutting him earlier in the round.

I take it you already know of this incident.

Tyson lost a point for this long lost secret boxing technique, but the fight continued. However, Tyson was still hungry (pun indeed intended), and bit again just moments later, ripping Holyfield’s ear off. Well, not the whole ear, just a chunk of flesh.

But still.

The result? Holyfield was rushed to the hospital for surgical re-attachment, while Tyson was disqualified and later fined $3 million, as well as having his boxing license revoked.

All because of some simple ear nibbling!

Count Mikeula

So, how come we almost never hear of these kinds of things in real fights? How come we never see that taught in the dojo? Seriously, if biting your opponent proved that effective (as in $3 million effective) against a trained war machine like Evander Holyfield, shouldn’t we be giving some more thought to this “technique”?

I think so.

Or at least I’m going to write about it.

After all, it hardly requires any training!

Just some thought.

I mean, you’ve been chewing (“training”) all of your life when you eat stuff (probably the only time food works as a kind of makiwara… sweet…) so it should be pretty easy for basically any human being to use biting in self-defense, as an attack. You don’t even need to learn the how, just the when.

Granted, you will still need to overcome the feeling of barbarism that undoubtedly accompanies biting other people.

But that’s another story.

However, is biting really that effective?

Of course Iron Mike (Iron Bite?) could do it, since nobody really expects to be bitten in a normal professional boxing fight, right? And if we are really struggling against somebody, they won’t literally hang/lean on us like a sack of potato (which is my description of a heavyweight boxing clinch), making it easy to just chew off some ear.


Well, fighting strategies for biting will be pictured later. For now, let’s just agree that biting is very effective. To the best of my knowledge, the human bites comes in at number 3 in terms of dangerousness, preceded only by dogs and cats (and just in case you are worried, the odds of getting bitten by a shark are about 1 in 5 million. This fact I found on the internet, so therefore we know it’s true.)

In fact, human bites are amongst the nastiest ones in the animal kingdom. No joke. Our saliva contains at least forty two species of bacteria, far exceeding that of a dog which carries a measly two, or sometimes three.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what really makes biting dangerous.

I’m talking about infections

At a whopping concentration of around 100,000,000 organisms per mL, it is not surprising that bite wounds contaminated with human saliva are very likely to become infected.

I bet you never thought of that!

And if you are lucky enough to avoid the chance of an infection, human bites may potentially transmit diseases instead. But we’re not talking a little sore throat here – a serious bite wound can infect you with some scary stuff like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, herpes simplex-virus (HSV), syphilis, tuberculosis, antinomycosis and tetanus.

Oh, and as some self-defense experts claim – yes, you could theoretically be infected with HIV too, although this is overwhelmingly improbable according to sensei Google.

Anyways, we need not worry (okay, we do, but just a little).

Since about 70% of human bite injuries affect upper limbs, and only 10% of these injuries get infected, the chances of receiving a nasty infection is pretty small. However, a randomized very serious study found that in patients who consulted a doctor within 24 hours after being bit – without signs of infection and not even deep structural damage – 50% still became infected.

Obviously, these are things that are not easy to detect, even for professionals.

And if you don’t know what a human bite infection looks like, here’s a real picture from a 65 year old male who punched somebody in the mouth and got infected in his hand.

Scroll past the picture if you’re sensitive!

Gross picture, right?

I know. Don’t show it to your kids.

Remember, many people do not even seek treatment for things like this (due to prompt resolution of the bite injury, embarrassment, fear of legal repercussions, etc.). Considering that the Journal of Emergency Medicine cites the following effects from a bite wound though, I think we should be paying more attention to biting in self-defense, or Karate:

“Cosmetic deformities, loss of function, residual pain, osteomyelitis, necrotizing fascitis, septic shock and death.”

Okay, enough with horrible facts.

You came here for Mr. Miyagi, not Count Dracula.

So, what I now would like to do is find some kind of surfer-MMA dude with beach blonde hair (who knows all sorts of locks, holds, submissions, throws and pins) and put him up against a Karate man. Let’s see, like a fight bite experiment, how many of the most common holds and locks of MMA (of which many are used in Karate too) actually end up quite uneffective (if not pretty much useless) against our Karate man who knows to use his… fangs.


Because, even though I’ve see some very famous Karate historians and researchers frequently teach these kinds of painful holds at seminars, they rarely mention that a simple bite from their opponent will make it quite hard to get these submission holds to work in the first place (in a non-dojo environment)!

We mustn’t confuse techniques meant for a sport or recreation with self-defense techniques.

Straight up.

So let’s take a look at some effective biting submission counters, demonstrated by Tobias The Karate Man and Tommy The Handsome Beach Bum.

Enjoy (you sicko!):

1. Straight Armbar (Ju-ji Gatame)

Our blonde beach bum surfer MMA dude tries a straight armbar in vain...

Probably the most common submission hold in MMA, Judo and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (sic), the straight armbar becomes totally useless if done in the classical way against somebody who doesn’t have a mouthguard in.

You would want to keep your achilles tendon and/or calf muscles intact if you ever intend to surf again, you know.

2. The Guillotine

Another common hold, but this time a strangulation/neck crank. Defend by twisting you head slightly, taking a nice big bite of your opponents love handles with you.

Works even if the attacker has a jacket on.

Yes, I tried.

3. MMA Clinch/Thai Clinch

Just like in the boxing clinch, this is a perfect biting situation. You can basically bite anywhere – which teaches us that the clinch is a highly dangerous position (and not as safe as it is sometimes portrayed).

4. Triangle (Sankaku Jime)

If the straight armbar or guillotine isn’t the most popular submission lock, then the triangle sure is. And when it comes to biting, it is also one of the most worthless.

Grab a McThigh and chill.

Or a McGroin (if that’s your thing). Works only if the lock isn’t tight yet.

5. Side Control

Very good position. For biting shoulder/bicep/neck, that is.

Practically a buffet.

6. Figure Four/Americana

You guys have no idea how many kids I submitted with this exact hold in kindergarten. Since biting is such a taboo (especially in fights ‘mano a mano’), it worked every time.

I owned the playground!

But I could have had my tricep shredded to pieces if somebody ever had the guts to.

7. Straight leglock

“Oh no! He has you in a leglock!” [fake voice pretending to be afraid]

Do a sit-up.


Let him worry about overextending your ankle when you’re busy chewing on his tibia. Win some, lose some.

8. Kimura/Ude garami

Very (read: VERY!) effective hold.

But that thigh just looks so…

…so tasty!

9. Rear Naked Choke (RNC)

Note to self: This will not work when the choke 100% in.

But neither will any other of these bite things.

End of note.

10. Reverse Side Control/Kesa Gatame

This must be the most common hold in Judo ever. It’s very solid.

And it is probably the nastiest bite you’ll ever have too, since it’s an armpit.

But darn, it hurts. That pectoralis major right in front of your face is just begging to be eaten!

Okay, end of cool slash scary slash fascinating (“is that a his real hair or a wig?”) pictures.

Point proven. Hopefully…

Here’s some more random wisdom we can take home from the above:

  • Before being impressed with a technique (any!), consider the context.
  • Never play by anyone elses rules.
  • MMA/Judo/BJJ/Wrestling/Thai boxing etc. is not for the street (if unaltered).
  • Never punch people in the mouth.
  • Brush your teeth.
  • Biting is unexpected, nasty and evil.
  • Biting is cool
  • Biting is really cool.
  • Use it.
  • Bite me.

Now go get your Mike Tyson on.


  • Diego Romero
    flipside: the problem with biting is what you might catch in your mouth, particularly if you draw blood, since the mouth has mucous tissue in it (hello AIDS!)
    • Yes, that is what many self-defense instructors say to sound smart. Try not to bite people if you're in Africa okay?
      • Madelyn
        I live in South Africa and AIDS is rampant. But what we also do know is that you can still live a full, productive life with HIV. So, I WILL bite if it means I can get out of being raped or murdered for my cellphone.
  • We were talking with Iain Abernethy a few weeks ago, and he said not one but two of his personal friends had pieces of their ears bitten off in fights! Your photos tell a convincing story. I would be especially afraid of those traditional martial artists who train their bite in isolation--they do exist.
  • Mohammade
    I happen to live and train in South Africa and you may be interested to know (or maybe not) that our training is often aimed towards disabling opponent without drawing blood. Because of the context of most street fights in this country and probability of fighting an "infected" opponent (whatever infection we are talking about) you'll be safer avoiding blood spills. Blood contact with eyes, mouth, wounds from that same fight are really not good. Biting is therefore not really advisable in our context. However I also believe that if biting was the last possible defense/offense in order to protect myself or loved ones, I'd rather go for it... :p
  • Drew Baye
    My youngest brother, who works as a bouncer, was recently bitten while stopping a man who had just thrown a woman on the ground and was about to hit her. My brother is about 5'10" and over 240 lbs, lean, and he says the other guy was probably only about 120 to 130 pounds. Despite the huge disparity in size and strength the bite worked, and the little guy was able to get away. Biting definitely works. Fortunately, my brother did not get an infection or catch anything from the bite, but that would really worry me in a situation like that.
  • Andrew
    Other mouth markiwara? Iron beef jerky, then iron chicken bone. Only for strong chompers seriously!
  • Diego Romero
    i just remembered that when i saw the title, i thought this was going to be about luca valdesi :p
  • Igor
    It should be ,, Dont brush your teeth'' if you wanna be the baddest (without a gf though) cat on the street ::)
  • Igor
    Nah thats too much... Even with danger around I will bathe at least once a week, even if there is no need for it XX)
  • Dave
    Late to this party i see(by over a year...) but hell yes, a very effective technique. typically the dirtier the karate technique, the harder it is to train because of very real risk of injury. the bite is surely the dirtiest! therefore one of the most effective. personally i do a fair bit of practice each day... my personal take on things as a peaceloving family man is that if someone goes out of there way to make me defend myself, then they can have anything i need to deliver that gets me out of trouble. yum yum!
  • Gerry
    I've always considered biting an option in a desparate self defense situation - not just biting though, but tearing and ripping out flesh if it came to it (I know disgusting!). So don't just bite, but grind your teeth after chomping down and wriggle/twist/pull in any way possible to maximize the bite damage.
    • diego romero :)
  • Ian
    Interesting article on the difference between "sport fighting" and death-avoiding self-defence. We focus so much on not hurting each other in our training (we quickly run out of training partners otherwise) and in our sport-fighting matches that the truly effective, "off-limits" stuff can seem foreign. To the comment "MMA/Judo/BJJ/Wrestling/Thai boxing etc. is not for the street (if unaltered)" I'd add that the karate we train in the Dojo is also not for the street ... if unaltered. But if you approach your karate training from the "right" mindset, there's less alteration needed. But if you are in a "real world" situation and stuck in a submission hold, do you really want to escalate the situation by biting? Maybe not. IF your attacker is limiting himself to "in-ring" techniques that he saw on a PPV or learned at his BJJ Dojo, he may be fighting under some sort of "code" of what is and is not allowed in the fight. Heck, maybe if you "tap out" he'll let you go with nothing more than a "okay, dude, you win ... you can have the last box of doughnuts". If your attacker is using one of these "sport techniques" perhaps he wants to "make his point", gain "victor" status, and watch you slink away with your tail between your legs. ... BUT: if you start biting, this may be all he needs to know that "all bets are off" and there are no rules ... so his next move is probably something that will limit your chance at future children. Ultimately, I guess you need to know whether your opponent is "fighting" or "fighting dirty", and respond accordingly.
    • nsawaya
      I very much agree, it's very dangerous to escalate when one is in the weak position, I remember once watching a video with Bas Rutten talking about this, in the armbar position the submitter will most probably break your arm, guillotine choke you or worse break your neck etc...
  • john
    very interesting article as always. For those that can not distinct between a rule-based event (no matter what the rules are, they still are rules). Furthermore i would like to point out that in most (if not all)of the cases described above, a powerfull pinch would have similar effects, and most people could do it very effectively woithout hesitating like in biting. All you would need is a powerfoul thumb (nigiri-game anyone ???)
  • andres
    On a proper armbar the achilles isn't even near your face, the calf is the one against your face. I don't even believe that the jaw has the mechanical force to bite through all the muscle. And then if you bite: You would get your arm snapped The one on top could put so much pressure on your jaw, to blow off your teeth Your head could also get slammed to the floor when biting On a clinch: You are not cocntrolling that much the position of your opponent to just bite him You could get kneed easily You could get thrown easily On side control or yoko shiho gatame(and other positions variations) You are the one on an inferior position, so your position is being dominated by the other. If he's applying the retention correctly your mouth can't reach him If your mouth reach he can apply pressure You can get submitted easily, by americana, kimura (ude garami), von flue, arm triangle(kata gatame). On kesa gatame (the one on the picture is more a makura kesa gatame than a hon kesa gatame)(the english name is scarf hold, the reverse one would be ushiro kesa gatame): Again you are on the inferior position If the oponent is doing it correctly you cant even reach him with your mouth You can get armbared with the legs, americanaed with the legs, you can get triangled(sankaku jime), you can get arm triangled. RNC(hadaka jime) If they locked the submission on your mouth instead of the neck, then you are getting your teeth chipped off(it happened to a partner this one) Conclussion: most of the techniques on the photos aren't applied correctly. You should try this on resisting opponents who are profficient on judo (newaza) or grappling, and see yourself why they wouldn't work or there are better options.
    • Peter
      Thank you, I was about to type out pretty much the same thing.
    • Tony B
      So ignore the jab , until the real punch comes. I see lots of Boxers use that strategy, Not. Have you ever broke someone while they were biting you? I have, but only cause they didn't know how to bite correctly.
  • James
    Actually, it's been a bit since I read it, but years ago I was reading a latin text that was discussing a battle the Roman army had faced against what I believe was a Parthian force. The Parthians (or who ever it was, but they were a cavalry-centric army, so it was likely the Parthians) baited the roman force onto a frozen lake. Having been surprised to find themselves in the middle of a frozen lake, the Romans were slipping and sliding, so the enemy decided not to waste their arrows (the Roman testudo did well enough at stopping arrows), the cavalry charged. The Roman army linked arms and prepared for the cavalry bearing down on them. The Romans _bit_ the men and horses -- biting legs, ankles, tendons, etc -- which so shocked the horsemen (because it "no civilized army would do such a thing") that they fled and the Romans won the day. A professional army shocked and fleeing because a professional army used their teeth. In a fight "to the death", the side that has the most to lose will fight the hardest and the other is more likely to break and flee if provided a route. If you bit a tendon and pull, you can inflict truly debilitating wounds to your opponent and the same is true depending on where you bit a muscle and how you pull. Yes, if someone has completed the lock, you might get hurt, but a bite to distract can help you prevent a lock or escape and a bite to debilitate can have as much of an impact as someone breaking a limb in a fight. Ultimately, you do what you have to do to escape, which is the goal of karate.
  • Ivan
    You should never bite someone who has got you in an arm bar. If you're in a life or death situation like a fight, what would you do if someone you had in armbar bit you? I think I can guess what is going to break then.
  • Joeffer
    Biting is a very good technique, but that doesn't stop the attacker from breaking your joints/bone and etc. Also biting from an rnc is a bad Idea because he has your back and he can bite your neck killing you. Also biting from a triangle choke? I say you can't do it if iit's fully locked, because the thighs are under your chin not on your mouth otherwise it will be ineffective. From the thai clinch? Dude you can't even move your head sideways or reach something with your mouth because of the head pressure the same goes to the guillotine. And you can't do a sit up from a proper leg lock, and if you do you're just increasing the chance that your tendons from your knee to rip apart making you unable to train karate again. Also from the shoulder locks (kimura/americana) you can't reach for their body with your mouth because they use their whole body twisting your arm making it unreachable for your mouth (trust me, you can't) although I might agree with the armbar one, but the best thing to do is avoid getting submitted and going to the ground.
    • Tony B
      Same question, have you ever broken someone (joint, kneck) while they were biting you hard? I hear this theory a lot, but never seen anyone ignore the bite. It's like telling a boxer , you can ignore the jabs and just knock out the other guy,
  • Tony B
    OK, so Biting has bailed me out a few times in my life and While I have heard the naysayers saying they would still be able to break and arm, or neck etc. that hasn't been my experience. First time I w being bullied by a wealthy, overzied 5th grader (the school went up to 6 grades and this kid was the biggest kid in the school) I was a big 1st grader, but still only about 60 lbs vs 180 lbs of Mr Jarabek. HE went to push me down the stairs, I side stepped one hand, bit his grabbing hand and then through him down the stairs instead. They wanted to suspend me, but my mom pointed out the obvious that a 1st grader wouldn't be picking a fight with the Jarabek kid. (my bad, if they let me be suspended I would have had a rep and a half) Next time I was on the wresting team and me and a kid had an issue,( On the same team) He was actually a better wrestler, but I was the better street fighter and started to put a rear naked choke on him, he bit me and I withdrew, but then I bit him in the back, harder than he could bite and he cried and backed off. 3rd time I was in Karate and someone decided to bend the rules a little during free sparring and take it to the ground, he tried a rear naked choke on me, and yup I bit him, drew a little blood and he let go and also started crying. Yup I made a 30 year old man cry, and one who previously trained in an aggressive system. 4th time, My Karate student decided to jump me after he was my uke for a move and then go all wrestler/BJJ guy on eme and tried again a rear naked on me, and Chomp, drew blood, took me a week to get the taste out of my mouth, blech. (OK in reality I'm only counting 4 times here, but there the only times I used biting and have a vivd memory of it. There were definately others) Another gentleman told me how he popped someone at a bar, then that guy got his cousin who was a heavy weight state champ, collegiate wrestler to come beat him up. My friend is all of 5'6 on a good day, the wrestler showed up and quickly pinned him down by pushing on his head and down to his knees, he was thinking he was done for, then looked up and saw "Prime Target" and yup bit through it. He was quickly released , where he then upper cut the giant wrestler and sent him to the ground snoring. The key to sucking up a bite and failing to is all about adrenaline. A good fighter who is over confident is less likely to have enoguh adrenaline to ignore pain compliance, while a guy fighting fo r his life is more likely to have the adrenaline to ignore pain. Some people are also just have high pain threshholds. That said, I have seen a lot of "tough" guys go down because of pain compliance when they thought they were in control. Anyhow all, hope this helps!!!! And as always Thanks Jesse for the great website.

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