Monday, September 20, 2010

Pain compliance techniques. Worthwhile?

I've read several on-line discussions about the value of pain compliance techniques.  Some people say you should do away with them altogether stating that they are ineffective during any real encounter.  Critics will state that a motivated attacker will likely not respond to pain compliance techniques.  Add adrenaline, alcohol, and illicit drugs to the mix and they are even less likely to work.

These are valid points.  Pain compliance techniques don't work on everyone.  We've all worked with a partner who drops at the slightest application of a technique, and with those you really have to apply it to get them to budge.

Should a reality based system throw out pain compliance techniques in favor of ones that rely solely on body movement, joint manipulation and bone breaking?

I say no.  I have personally used many pain compliance techniques with great success.  In the right situation, they can diffuse, de-escalate and end potentially violent encounters.  Which brings me to my next couple of points.

It is essential to know what techniques are meant to do what.  The following are definitions I have come up with to describe how I look at certain techniques:

Pain compliance only - meaning less likely to cause actual damage or real and lasting injury. Intended to cause maximum discomfort. Meant to override the desire for you opponent to continue.

Damage/Immobility techniques -  causes very little discomfort until damage has been done/technique completed.  Example; arm break - causes little pain until break (lots after).  Meant to remove your opponent's ability to continue.

Hybrid techniques - causes lots of pain and discomfort, and if continued or increased, causes damage and injury.  Typically progressive.  Removes both desire and ability to continue.

Each category has it's merits.  The most important thing to know is the difference between them.  The technique that caused everyone to tap and yelp in pain in class may do nothing on the street.  Then it becomes dangerous.

If that's the case, why bother learning pain compliance only techniques it in the first place?  Well, these techniques can often be used in a proactive and preemptive way.  If a situation has yet to escalate, they can send the message that you want the person to back off and that you aren't a victim.  It can also provide a hint to a potential trouble maker that you may be capable of defending yourself.  An easy example might be the guy who, on the dance floor, has wandering hands.  The application of a quick pain compliance technique can be enough to end the situation from getting any worse without causing any injury.  Or a bouncer might escort someone out using the same ideas.

It's also important to note that it's not always appropriate to go straight to a damaging/immobilizing techniques.  In the above example, a broken arm or leg would likely be seen as excessive and against the law.

Which brings me to my favorites.  The hybrid techniques.  These are techniques that are progressive.  They start by causing the maximum amount of pain but easily lead to causing damage, injury and immobility.  Joint, arm and shoulder locks are good examples.  They hurt like hell and if given more pressure causes breaking and dislocation, resulting in more pain and immobility of that area, rendering it unusable.

In my style of Jiu Jitsu, most techniques are hybrids, meant to increase more pain and damage as the situation goes on or requires. We have a spectrum which most techniques follow.  First of all is to avoid the situation all together.  Next is to control, then to break, then to maim and so on.  Each technique follows this path and you use whatever the minimum standard is that keeps you safe given all the circumstances.

As long as you know what you are learning and why you are learning it and when you can use it, you're in good shape.  It's those people who don't understand the difference that can get in trouble.

I've personally used an escort technique that caused lots of pain but no real damage with great success.  I've also been in a situation struggling with a guy on crystal meth.  He felt no pain at all.  I could have punched him till the cows came home and it wouldn't have done much.  In the end, I got him in a shoulder lock, with him face down on the couch.  All I could do was hold him there till backup arrived.  I had immobilized him but very little else.  He felt no pain from it.  If necessary, I could have dislocated his shoulder.  He would still have kept going but he would have lost the ability to use that arm effectively.  Luckily, this wasn't needed at the time.  These are just a couple of examples of the use of different types of techniques.

I often discuss the example of finger lock techniques.  They are great techniques, painful and can easily lead to a break.  In a real fight, however, I'd take a broken finger to win the fight.  The point?  Know what techniques can be used effectively in different situations. Examine the goal and consider external factors into all your training.

I should mention, we spend far less time practicing purely pain compliance techniques than others.  And most can transition into something else, even if it's disengaging.

Some reality based martial artists will argue you shouldn't practice these techniques at all, and perhaps if you were taking a week long course, they'd be right.  However, in reality, a whole spectrum of situations present themselves, and having a few lesser techniques available may be all you need.

Food for thought.  Be safe.


  1. Interesting article. In my experience it takes a long time to learn to apply locks quickly and effectively. It is one of those techniques where you really need a cooperative partner who will honour the technique by giving you feedback on whether the lock is on and helping you adjust things if it's not. Too many people tap out too soon. I think it takes a very skilled instructor to teach locking techniques well. At the moment I wouldn't trust myself to be able to apply a lock in a real situation. If you don't get it right you make yourself very vulnerable! Any tips?

  2. Sue,

    Thanks for your comments. Locking techniques can take a while to get used to and get good at. In my training, locking techniques are not applied or attempted until your opponent's attention has been broken by either a striking or unbalancing technique. This gives you the time needed to sink it in.

    I've practiced locking techniques since I began my training, so some of my success can likely be attributed to repetition.

    As for tips, I would suggest starting with locks that don't take too many fine motor skills to apply. I would also suggest selecting ones that still immobilize a larger area, even if you miss the finer points. Shoulder locks are good ones, standing or on the ground. It's a bigger movement, requires mainly gross motor skills, and it keeps you in a safe position. Even if you don't quite have it sunk in properly, your opponent can't strike you or use the arm you've got a hold of. If you've really messed it up, you can still safely disengage.

    Locking techniques do require co-operation from your training partner, but it should only be to prevent injury. It's vitally important to slowly apply the technique so your partner can really feel what's happening. You need to continue applying it under control until your partner is forced to tap to avoid the joint from breaking or separating. You also have to have this done to you as well. This is the only way to have confidence in the technique and realize how little it would take to cause real damage.

    Hope that helps. Train safely.