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?
Now see 'Joint locking - a follow up'
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