Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Joint Locks and the Pain Game - Part II

Check out Sue's follow up here.  As in the first part, I've reposted her piece followed by my comments below.

"Joint locking - a follow up

I’d like to thank everyone for their very detailed comments to my last post (Joint locking – how useful is it really?) I’ve had over 3000 words of comments to read, think about and digest so I think your efforts are worthy of me writing another post in way of reply!

Having taken on board your comments I now have a few more thoughts to express on the subject of joint locking…

Situations when locks may be useful:

In my first post I was a little negative about how or when I would ever be able to apply a lock if I was attacked. Felicia pointed out that women, on the whole, are attacked by people they know and as Charles James correctly said this is a predator/prey situation, rather than a ‘monkey dance situation’.  The predator will often prepare/groom their prey before attacking. Identifying that you are being ‘groomed’ for an assault is obviously an important part of a woman’s self-defence training and thoughts about it are probably worthy of a future post.

Sarah pointed out that such situations occur in bars/public places, on dates, where the man over-steps the boundaries/gropes you etc. I think that this is an important stage in an assault i.e. at the beginning before it gets really nasty when a lock, quickly applied, may be useful even if it’s just as a warning to him that you are not easy prey…

I can also see locks being successfully applied at the end stage of an assault (or more correctly – to end the assault) i.e. to control and restrain. Clearly many of you, JourneymanOpen HandRick and John Coles have used locks successfully to control people in a professional capacity. I would not dare to argue with your experience – if you say locks work in these situations then I believe you. I generally see this use of joint locking as the domain of the ‘professionals’ but I could also see a situation where I would attempt to restrain an attacker – if I was in a public place and I knew help was at hand or on its way to take the restrained person off me…

Applying the lock:

This is the area where I have the most difficulty visualising locks working in practice. I can see how I may get a wrist or arm lock applied if the attackers first move was a grab to my wrist, arm, lapel or even throat. If I was quick enough I could get a wrist or arm lock straight on. I can see that working, probably because it best reflects the way I’ve been training in joint locking techniques.

However, if I miss that opportunity and the assault continues I then have to wait for an opening or opportunity to get a lock on. OpenHand suggests creating that opportunity rather than waiting for it but didn’t explain how one does that. Journeyman advised to always slap the attacker in the face before applying a lock to distract them from what you are about to do and therefore lower their resistance to the technique. I suppose this is a way of ‘creating the opportunity.’

It seems to me that though it may be possible to create the opportunity to apply a lock one shouldn’t merely wait for an opening.  If you are thinking too much about whether or not you can get a lock on then you may not remain ‘in the moment’ during the assault and respond with whatever technique is most appropriate at that point in time. Creating the opportunity to apply the lock seems the best way and I would welcome any other suggestions on how to do that…

Does size matter?

I suggested in my last post that I felt disadvantaged in a self-defence situation by my small size; that techniques, including locks, may not work effectively for me. A couple of commenters, OpenHand andJourneyman, disagreed with this view point saying that size and strength differences between attacker and defender shouldn’t matter. I have heard others say the same thing. However, experience, both my own and other ‘small’ people that I know suggest that size does make a difference.

In my opinion it’s not so much height differences between attacker and defender that matter (though they matter a bit) but differences in overall mass, particularly when it comes to any form of grappling technique. When I look around my jujitsu club the most proficient people are the ones with greatest mass, whether that mass comes from sheer height and muscle or just surplus body weight (i.e. fat). Even the black belt women in the club are stocky lasses, no taller than me but much heavier. Small skinnies like me just can’t cut the mustard in a grappling/throwing  art when we are pitted against a much heavier opponent.

In all sports and physical activities different body forms suit different sports. Sprinters and swimmers are generally tall and muscular, long distance runners are smaller and wiry, pole-vaulters are tall and slim, and jockeys are small and light. Good technique cannot make up for being the wrong body form for the activity you are doing. There’s a reason why wrestlers, boxers and MMA fighters fight in weight categories.

When it comes to locks my small, slim hands have a lot of difficulty applying awrist lock to a large man’s muscular wrist. Journeyman stated that, “Just like you can’t flex your throat, you can’t strengthen your joints. Pounds of pressure required to dislocate a joint are largely the same, regardless of individual. It is for this reason that I recommend joint locks and manipulations for smaller individuals, regardless of sex.” 

I disagree with this – a lot of physiotherapy exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles that support joints thus making the joint more stable and resistant to injury. Though I agree that the amount of pressure needed to dislocate the joint may not differ between individuals the amount of pressure needed to initially twist a limb into position for a lock varies enormously. I often don’t have the strength to physically manoeuvre a muscular man’s wrist or shoulder into the position needed to lock the joint.  Also some men’s necks are so thick and muscular I cannot even place my hands around them or squeeze sufficiently hard to cause any discomfort at all!

Another problem I have dealing with a much larger opponent is applying a shoulder lock. I have to reach up to slip my hand under their armpit and onto their shoulder , and then push down from a very disadvantaged position – I’m actually pulling down rather than pushing because my centre of gravity is lower than theirs. “Bring them down to your height first,” you may say but honestly – that’s easier said than done!

So, what have I learnt about joint locking following your feedback?

1.       Locks may be applicable to me in some situations so I need to keep training with them (and learning counters to locks)

2.       Locks work best when you create the opportunity to apply them

3.       Size differences between attacker and defender may or may not be relevant – but if you want to convince me they are not then you’ll need to provide me with a good rational scientific explanation and with some tips on how small people can make techniques work on big people because I’m not yet convinced ;-)

Thanks again for everybody who contributed to the discussion on my previous post – a real team effort!"

My response starts here:

Hi Sue,

I've really enjoyed the discussion so far.  I've read your follow up and have a couple more thoughts I'd like to share and would like to clarify a couple of points.

Applying the lock:

When I mentioned slapping the face, I had meant to illustrate how changing a person's mindset or focus can allow you an opportunity to apply a joint lock.  I had selected the slap for training purposes, in the case of a resisting uke.

While a slap can be useful, it would not necessarily be my 'go to' technique.  The mechanics of it don't put you in an overly advantageous position.  And, as you've sort of mentioned, if you had the time to slap, you had the time to hit, likely a preferable choice in the first place.

You go on to say “If you are thinking too much about whether or not you can get a lock on then you may not remain ‘in the moment’ during the assault and respond with whatever technique is most appropriate at that point in time”

Excellent and important point.  I could not agree more.  Being in the moment, as you say, is essential for effective self defense. 

I spent quite a bit of time working on various joint manipulations, locks, breaks etc.  What needs to be mentioned is that I don’t ‘pre-select’ a specific joint lock and then use a softening or distracting technique in order to apply it during an attack.  In fact, the first part of my defense/reaction is often a strike or a block/strike or a evade/strike, depending on the nature of the attack and my state of readiness.

Being an in-close kind of guy, I simply apply a joint lock to whatever target is available or presented to me, be it a wrist, shoulder, fingers, elbow.  This is especially useful when attacked with certain weapons.  If you cannot get out of the way completely, you will likely receive the attack, blocking.  What to do with the weapon limb?  Strikes are not always the proper follow up with an armed assailant.  You may need to damage or destroy the arm to disarm.

So, to sum up this point, I defend or react with an ‘empty mind’.  Often, I’ve just sort of crashed into them and then I see what’s available to follow up with.  The crashing in, or hit, or shoulder or elbow provides the opening, what that opening will be remains unknown until it happens.  I hope that made sense. 

On to Size and Strength:

Size and strength do matter in self-defense.  It is my position that joint locking techniques minimize or mitigate the inherent advantages of being more powerful or bigger. (There are certain advantages to being smaller as well, by the way).

My proof? (for me)

My Sensei is about ninety pounds lighter than I am and half a foot shorter.  He’s also got almost thirty years on me.  He can easily use joint locks and toss me around at will. 

He always says “If you’re using strength in Jiu Jitsu, you’re doing it wrong”. 

I’m also lucky enough to work with a couple of his long-term black belts, who are smaller women, and they can do the same to me.

You go on to say:

“I disagree with this – a lot of physiotherapy exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles that support joints thus making the joint more stable and resistant to injury. Though I agree that the amount of pressure needed to dislocate the joint may not differ between individuals the amount of pressure needed to initially twist a limb into position for a lock varies enormously”

I agree you can strengthen all the stabilizing systems, muscles, tendons etc to make a joint more stable.

You agree that the amount of pressure needed to dislocate a joint doesn’t differ very much.  Your issue is maneuvering the joint into position. 

It would seem that the joint lock, once in position, is not the issue for you, it’s getting it there that is causing the difficulty and concern. 

(The not being able to flex your throat was meant as an example as it pertains to striking the throat)

Shoulder locks are not ideal for shorter people but they can be done.  The statement “bring them down to your height first” is absolutely true, but the issue is how.  You need to double your opponent over or ‘fold’ them back to effectively use this lock (or have them on the ground).  Trying to push or pull or force it into position is not wise and is often ineffective.

You must learn what works to your advantage and what does not.  For instance, throws, done properly are, in general, easier for shorter people.  Some joint locks will work fine and others will be troublesome.  It’s about finding which techniques work for you, just like any other area in a fighting art.

At the end of the day, a joint is a joint.  Put to the limits of its range of motion, it is extremely vulnerable and has absolutely no way to defend itself.  You can’t ‘out-muscle’ it.  It’ll break.

I think I’ll delve into how to move the joint into position in the first place in a future post.  Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts.  Great discussion.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Joint Locks and the Pain Game

I don't normally post another person's work, but Sue at My journey to black belt wrote an article that I felt compelled to comment on.  I recommend you link to her blog to read her reader's comments.  There's lots of other good stuff over there too.  I've included the article here followed by my comments below.  It's important to continually examine and question what you are learning to make sure it:

a) actually works
b) can be used in a violent encounter

Here's Sue's post:

"Joint locking – how useful is it really?
Learning how to lock up joints seems to be an integral part of many martial arts, both for self-defence training and in grappling sports. In my kobudo class we learn how to apply joint locks with weapons. I can apply wrist, arm, shoulder and ankle locks with a pair of nunchuku or lock you up with a pair of tonfa. It’s quite fun, though not so fun when I’m the one being locked up with a jo or tanbo – ouch!

In karate we also train with locking techniques, in fact we have a couple of lock flow drills that we learn. These are quite useful in helping us to remember how to apply a range of different locks. We start with thumb and finger locks, then wrist locks, arm locks, shoulder locks and eventually moving onto the floor with cross body arm locks and head locks.

After a bit of practice and an understanding of the mechanics of how locks work they are relatively easy to apply to a compliant partner (except for the few people for whom locks don’t seem to work on at all). However, if your partner is determined to resist being locked up then it is almost impossible to apply. Of course, neither total compliance nor total resistance is a very realistic scenario. In a real situation there will be neither compliance nor total resistance from an attacker. Instead there will be striking, constant movement, grappling, shouting, spitting…….how do you apply a lock to someone who’s playing out their own game plan and not complying with yours?

What’s the purpose of applying locks anyway? I can think of three reasons why people say locks are useful:

*To restrain and control
*To control and reposition the opponent to a more advantageous position to strike/ throw them
*To disable the opponent by injuring/breaking a joint

Restraint and control – I see restraint and control as the domain of specific groups e.g. the police, prison officers, mental health nurses, security guards, bouncers etc. I’m aware that there are techniques called ‘painless restraint’ techniques that can be used to control someone and prevent them from hurting themselves or others. However, I don’t see that this is of any value to me – why would I want to restrain an attacker? Even if I achieved it, which I doubt, what would I do with him then? Surely my aim should be to escape….

Control and reposition – This is based on the assumption of ‘pain compliance’; that the opponent, once locked, will be in so much pain that he will become putty in your hands and allow you to pull him into a position that is advantageous to you so that you can strike or throw him to end the confrontation and make good your escape. Though I can see some merit in trying to do this, I think the problems in actually doing it are twofold:  1. In the melee of a fight it may be extremely difficult to get the lock on in the first place and 2. Even if you are successful in applying the lock it may not cause pain in your adrenaline fuelled attacker.

Disable/injure/break joint – In principle this may be a good strategy in a self-defence situation but again it depends on the possibility of getting the lock on in the first place.

Theoretically, using joint locks as part of your self-defence arsenal seems a good idea. From a mechanical point of view they undoubtedly work. However, in practice, in the frenzy of a fight, I have my doubts as to their usefulness.  You could argue that you need to strike the opponent first to weaken them and then apply the lock – that may work if your aim is to restrain, but if I’m able to strike hard enough to weaken my attacker to the point that I could apply a lock unopposed then surely my work is done and all I need to do is escape?

It seems likely that bigger people can more easily apply locks to smaller, weaker people. This is clearly a big disadvantage to women as their attacker is most likely to be a bigger, stronger man. It seems more likely to me that my attacker will be the one applying locks on me to control and restrain me while he drags me off to some secluded place to continue the attack.

Wouldn’t it be more useful to learn how to counter a lock rather than apply it? At least for women.  Are there such techniques? If so, perhaps they should be taught in tandem with how to apply the lock…..

What do you think? Am I missing the point somewhere along the line? How useful do you think locks are for self-defence?"

My response is here: (with a couple of pictures thrown in)


Another thought provoking post.  I must also compliment your readers for their excellent comments.

Some thoughts:

Restraint and Control – Although the focus of specific groups such as the ones you mentioned should and do have a different focus and may use restraint and control techniques, they are not without value for others.  There may be circumstances where having at least a cursory knowledge would be helpful, such as when dealing with a child who has gone berserk and is a danger to themselves, or a loved one in a state of crisis, or an elderly person suffering from dementia. 

Granted, the goal of most of your training should be to get away, but there could be times when retraining someone would be helpful.

Control and Reposition – I won’t talk too much about pain compliance.  I did discuss it in a post here and here.

For the purposes of your post, however, the choice of the pain compliance technique is important.  I would concentrate on choosing techniques where the pain is brought about by the joint being in jeopardy of breaking or dislocating.  This puts you in a position of advantage as you can easily escalate the technique. 

Disable/injure/break joint – I have a few thoughts.  In my opinion, joint locks most definitely work. 

Firstly, lock flow drills are of limited value.  They’re fun and good for energy work and learning some of the mechanics, but that’s about it.  Also, compliant partners fail to give a realistic experience.  Fully resisting training partners aren’t helpful either.  The problem with this type is that they know what is coming so can easily defend against it.  Lock flow drills are most valuable when you learn to completely change the direction of the first.  This way, if you attempt one in a real situation and the person resists, you can use their own strength and resistance against them.

You mentioned using a strike first to weaken them to apply the lock.  The purpose of this initial strike if often misunderstood.  The main purpose is to distract your opponent from the limb or joint that you are targeting, not necessarily to overpower them.  It is great if you do weaken them sufficiently to make good your escape but it’s been my experience that this doesn’t always happen after an initial strike. 

Training Tip - Just before you apply a lock, slap your training partner unexpectedly in the face.  See how much they resist it the joint lock when they are surprised by the slap. 

“It seems likely that bigger people can more easily apply locks to smaller, weaker people. This is clearly a big disadvantage to women as their attacker is most likely to be a bigger, stronger man”

This is where we differ in opinion the most.  A proper joint lock negates the advantages afforded to larger stronger individual.  Just like you can’t flex your throat, you can’t strengthen your joints.  Pounds of pressure required to dislocate a joint are largely the same, regardless of individual.  It is for this reason that I recommend joint locks and manipulations for smaller individuals, regardless of sex.

I must also mention here that Felicia brings up an important point.  As a woman, you are less likely to be attacked by a complete stranger.  If your attacker is someone known to you, the chance of a full out violent attack occurring spontaneously is fairly rare.  Chances are there will be some escalation of unwanted contact.  This increases the chances of successfully getting a hold of a joint earlier on, if only to show him you mean business or to extricate yourself quickly from the situation.

You mentioned you were concerned that using joint locks may be ineffective in an adrenaline-fuelled situation, suggesting that strikes may be a better bet.  I’ve found the opposite to be true.  In my experience, strikes are often ineffective on a  ‘jacked up’ individual, especially if alcohol or drugs are involved.  Joint locks however, if applied properly, always work to a degree.  I draw on my own experience of dealing with a guy drugged up on crystal meth.  He shrugged off several bigger guys and strikes didn’t faze him at all.  I managed to get him in a shoulder lock, face down on a couch.  The pain part didn’t do much, but he was immobilized.  If needed, I could have separated his shoulder, reducing his mobility and ability to fight.  All that being said, I was not in a position to simply leave the situation, which touches upon your first point.

As far as learning counters, yes I think it’s very valuable.  In our style, we must eventually learn at least 3 counters to each technique.  Understanding the areas of vulnerability serve to increase your skill in applying them.  It’s my opinion that you can’t just learn the counters; you must also study the original attack.  Your mindset, however, can influence how proficient you become at escaping attempted locks.

The most important point, in my opinion, is to continue to examine not only the techniques but also how you are being taught and how you practice.  The process of questioning and exploring your art is key to making it your own.  It’s my hope you don’t count out joint locks just yet.

Food for thought.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Person of Interest

I'm really digging the show 'Person of Interest'.  I like the premise and I even like the acting.

More importantly, I'm really enjoying the fight scenes.  The show, with a few exceptions, has some of the better right scenes.  It blends a bit of 'Hollywood' with a lot of really good technique.  It seems to be a blend of close quarter military combat, Jiu Jitsu, some Krav Maga and Muay Thai, and a bit of boxing from what I can tell.

What I really like is the use of very sound movement and technique.

Watch this clip from the pilot:

Do you notice how he used the cramped quarters to his advantage when facing multiple opponents?

He used a subway pole to assist with an arm lock/break.  He put one opponent in the way of the others, he continued to move at all times, refusing to be a static target.  He used strong short strikes, targeting areas that incapacitate immediately when struck (throat).  Each time I watch the clip, I see more solid technique and combat concepts in use.

In other clips in the series, you see lots of in-close, down and dirty technique, lots of good elbows and economy of motion.

I also love the simple advice he gives a non-fighter:

A bit over the top with the crutch, but the more I watch it, the more I see he uses it fairly well, and dare I say, realistically.  I always enjoy watching something that makes me wonder "What the heck would I do if?..."

So far, I'm a fan.  Hopefully the hand to hand combat remains firmly grounded in realistic effective technique.  Plus if you liked 'Lost', it's got Benjamin Linus in it...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I've been sent on some training unexpectedly and haven't had access to a computer for the last little while.  Fear not good readers, new posts will be coming soon.

Thanks for your patience.  

As always, train well and be safe.