Like everything, the answer is it depends. There are many different ways to attack the throat, depending on what your goal is. There are a lot of different ways it can go, and the effect can last anywhere from a few disorienting, terrifying seconds of panic to choking and, eventually, death.
Think about the throat, the front of your neck. What primary bodily function resides there that is absolutely necessary to your survival?
Your ability to breathe.
The throat acts as a conduit for air from your lungs and your mouth. If you can’t breathe, you can’t fight. If you can’t breathe, you can’t scream. If you don’t breathe, you don’t live. A crushed windpipe is neither a fun nor quick injury to die from.
There are certain parts of your body that you have a biological imperative to defend (these usually only kick in after you’ve received damage). This is your natural instincts respond with a panicked, “OH GOD! NO! I NEED THIS!” and, for most people, that’s how they’ll respond.
You hit them in the throat and their hands will immediately rise there, they’ll stumble back coughing, and their number one priority their brain has focused on is protecting their throat.
So, much like a sucker punch, striking the throat will result in giving you open access to their whole body as it is now defenseless. You, the attacker, moves on to other, better strikes while they’re caught up trying to breathe.
When someone punches someone else in the throat (as opposed to another kind of strike), this is the hoped for response. They want to open up their opponent. “Open up” is one of the terms for “lowering defenses”, because when your opponent’s defenses are up you cannot reach the nice soft spots on their body where you’ll do the most damage.
The throat is one of those nice soft spots difficult to hit if your opponent is mentally prepared to fight. You’ve got to be within arm’s reach, and within the grappling sphere, to land the hit. So, if you’re not close enough to reach out and grab hold of their neck, you’re not close enough to land the strike. If the hit doesn’t come as a surprise attack, then you’ll have to fight for it.
Learning to measure distance between fighters in a fictional context when you’ve no experience judging it with real people is a difficult one. Most people never realize there are different spheres of distance around the body which define what attacks you can make before moving inward. For them, two people fighting is often a one hit exercise and not a strategic contemplation involving multiple attacks, breaking past defenses, and taking advantage of your opponent’s mental faculties/body’s instincts/physiology to hit your goal. Then, consider that most fights are finished in under 30 seconds.
These are not “safe” combat techniques by any stretch of the imagination and some are far more dangerous than others. Some will also break your fingers if you try them without having a fucking clue what you’re doing.
So, how can you attack the throat?
I’ll give you three of the common attacks on the trachea, there are more.
1) You can punch them in the throat.
This is more of a stunner, and not as likely to crush the windpipe or the larynx. The reason is that the fist actually spreads the delivered force over a wider area. So, you punch them and it’s likely to hurt and scare the hell out of them, Punches, while effective, are a great deal safer than a knife hand or a palm strike to the opponent because of that dispersal of force.
The more pointed the force, the deeper it penetrates.
2) The spear hand to the throat.
You take your fingers, brace them together, and drive them forward, palm down. (You can also strike palm up, which is done if you’re striking on an upward diagonal from the hip. This can also be a referred to as a palm strike, knife hand, etc.) This is windpipe crushing territory. The force is confined to the first two fingertips, a much narrower vector, and will penetrate into the neck. Doubly more likely if you grab their head/throat first with your other hand so they can’t run/stumble back at the moment of impact.
A good general rule in martial arts is the smaller the tool, the more dangerous the strike, and the deeper into your body it goes.
This may break your fingers if you’ve never been taught to perform it properly or how to lock your fingers/wrist/arm together. So, don’t expect an untrained fighter to pull it off. Or even know it exists unless they’ve been watching a lot of Japanese/Chinese language films.
3) Half-Palm to the throat.
Instead of your fingers, you use your knuckles. Bend your fingers, so your fingertips touch the top of your palm. Brace. Then strike the same way as you would with #2.
This will, more than likely, break your fingers if you’re not careful.
This, of course, assumes that a denial of breath is your end goal. You can always knife hand (blade of the hand, opposite the thumb) the side of their neck, which has the added bonus of potentially closing off the arterial blood flow between your head and the rest of your body. Most likely not, though.
None of these are “guaranteed kills” (not that you’re guaranteed anything), the possibility of death is there and they are dangerous. They are very effective if they can be landed. However, your character should not be doing these unless their life is in danger, their willing to accept the consequences of killing their opponent, and the situation calls for it.
Fiction often struggles with this, but proper application of force to the circumstances is one of the hallmarks of a responsible martial combatant. Being able to adjust according to the situation (and knowing what techniques are warranted) is one of the signs we use to judge in real life whether or not the person in question knows what they’re doing. A person who doesn’t self-moderate is a danger to themselves and others.
You can, in fact, blend Rule of Cool with the knowledgeable, responsible combatant that sells themselves as awesome and skilled without coming off as a reckless fuckhead.
If your character is using these just in general, then they just don’t care. They’re also a reckless fuckhead. Have others treat them accordingly.