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.


  1. I'll adopt the same approach as yourself and post my comment originally posted on Sue's website:

    'Food for thought. Apply all the discussion, and in fact the question(s), to percussion techniques.

    Just one example. Joint-locking techniques are often associated with pain compliance, or terminating an attack by inflicting pain, or threatening to inflict pain, on the attacker. The same can be said for percussion techniques. The person executing the percussion technique is doing so to inflict pain to gain submission. You see this daily in security and law enforcement.

    Thus, any discussion concerning the experience of pain equally applies to percussion techniques.

    It is an interesting exercise to compare the two types of techniques on an issue by issue basis.'

    It is an interesting exercise to unbiasly analyse and compare the two types of techniques, particularly when you attempt to do so with the support of authoritative information rather than opinion.

  2. Thanks for posting me again Journeyman, and thanks for all your feedback ;-)

  3. John,

    Good food for thought.


    My pleasure. I've enjoyed the discussion. You've given my quite a bit to think about as well.

  4. being a smaller/lighter guy, i can completely understand sue's problem. whoever says "size doesn't matter" is a liar, is ignorant, or both.

    size, be it length/reach/mass/strength, will always make a difference. however, jiujitsu teaches us how to overcome this problem in an easier way than, for example, going toe to toe with someone twice your height/weight in a bare knuckle fight.

    being smaller means you'll have to put more effort into something to have the same outcome as the bigger person, which translates into: to beat a bigger person, you have to make the right adjustments (in order to execute a technique) to beat a bigger opponent.

    what i'm seeing here is, sue, you are a bit frustrated because techniques A, B, C and D don't work the way "they're supposed to", while big john over there taps out everyone left and right of him using the same techniques which failed you just now.

    imo, if you think like this, you're missing an important link about martial arts in general: martial arts, besides having a philosophy of its own, are just a number of set techniques. however, every human being is slightly different, some are taller, some are bigger, some smaller, some lighter and some more flexible etc. to make it work, you have to adapt it (by adding your own strengths to it) and then execute it. for example, in a boxing match, if your opponent has a way longer reach than you, you can't expect to beat him the same way you would beat someone with the same reach like you. you have to get inside him, use his long arms to his disadvantage, use your shorter arms to your advantage etc. to be able to have the outcome you wished for.

    hope i didn't offend anyone (especially sue), but that's just my interpretation of your "problem" and this is my point of view on it :)

  5. Waldomarek,

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. You've made some good points there. Of course size matters. Being smaller can be a disadvantage, or an advantage, depending on what you're working on. To not take size, strength, height, age, weight, gender etc. into account is definitely a mistake. I agree there is a 'set' of techniques in a given style. Once the basic mechanics are understood, it is necessary to adapt to your own ability and circumstances. What I love about Jiu Jitsu is that by it's very nature, it is flexible and adaptable. It's learning how to adapt it that is important. Sue had a post recently on gender differences that you might like to read as well.

    I don't think your comments were meant to offend. Thanks for joining the discussion.