It is not uncommon to hear people discount joint-lock techniques as not being very practical in a real fight. How many times have we observed two people wrestling with and against one another in a vain attempt to execute a joint lock? It seems as if this technically straight-forward class of techniques is much more involved that we initially perceive them to be.
I always emphasize that joint-lock techniques cannot be viewed as a means to lock a particular joint. This narrow focus causes many problems. One, a person is attacking you, not a joint. If you simply focus on one joint, the rest of the person is typically more than happy to tee off on you as a reward for not paying proper attention to him/her. Two, a conscious intent on your part is easy “read” by the other person, which then results in that person moving in a manner to counter the joint-lock. I emphasize that a joint-lock should result in a cascade of locking joints so that the attacker’s frame (spine and hips) is negatively impacted so that effective movement becomes almost impossible. This can only occur if one’s intention is directed at the person’s center and not directed towards the initial joint that you seek to lock. Before this can happen, you must do something to off-balance the attacker.
The act of off-balancing the attacker serves to effectively neutralize the effective strength of the attacker. It is very important to understand that the human body has a primary directive to maintain dynamic equilibrium (maintaining balance). When a person’s body is off-balance, the body automatically and pre-consciously re-directs all available body resources towards re-establishing dynamic equilibrium. I always demonstrate this phenomenon by having a person stand with excellent posture and hold an arm out straight as strong as possible. You push down on that arm to gauge the strength. Then have that person do something that negatively impacts that posture ( eg. tilt head in any direction) and push on the arm again. The difference is always striking! When the person’s functional strength has been significantly curtailed, it is easy to begin to execute a joint lock technique. As long as you increasingly impacting the stability of your attacker through the execution of a joint-lock technique, the person should not be able to effectively counter the technique and that person should not be able to re-establish a stable posture or base to work from.
Practicing joint-locks safely takes a lot of attention and diligence. When a person is off-balance, injuring a joint becomes a real concern when unnecessary force is applied. Typically, the person is in the process of collapsing because the body frame has been severely impacted, which serves to help insure that the joint is not injured because the person is already taken to the ground. Practicing this process in a slow and controlled manner helps a person to learn how move correctly in order to properly execute a joint-lock technique. Increasing the speed of the attack and technique has to be done in a manner that appropriately takes into account the experience of both parties to execute a technique and perform good ukemi. As your level of proficiency increases, you should be become more and more comfortable with an awareness as to how effective this class of techniques can really be.
We will spend this a lot of practice time this month closely exploring joint-lock techniques. PRACTICE SAFELY!
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here