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A joint lock is the manipulation of a joint by either twisting or bending against the normal direction of movement of the joint itself. Extending or stretching the joint against the natural movement or beyond its maximum bending capability will result in incredible pain or rupture of the ligament and in more serious cases the bone.
Now, I can already feel your excitement, if this was really the case you probably think that all you need to know to defend yourself against an attacker is few effective joint locks and you are perfectly safe: well, not so fast and needless to say not so easy.

It is true that locks can be extremely effective and can produce great results even against a stronger opponent, but not in a self defence scenario in the street or outside a training environment because joint manipulations or joint
 locks require a high degree of training and technique and rarely can be applied against the speed and viciousness of a sudden attack.

Locks are very productive to a trained law enforcement officer who needs to submit someone who has been abusive or violent, in fact to handcuff someone effectively many times a standing arm or wrist lock is applied to "turn" and submit someone in a favourable position to apply handcuffs. Arm locks have been extremely popular in many martial arts, it was the Russians that gave Judokas worldwide a lot to rethink in International competitions when they start using arm locks in Judo tournaments to great effect, but in a street fight or sudden violent attack striking back as we have seen before remain the number one choice. So why bother writing at all about it then?

fig.145 - A successful lock depends on your position in
relation to your opponent's body.

Because joint manipulation can nevertheless be very effective, and as we have already seen, knowing certain principles can be applied to other techniques, and knowing certain techniques can give you an edge in some unforeseen circumstances, unpredictability is violence mantra. We do believe in the principle that having too many techniques at your disposal works against an effective defence, always remember that to react promptly is the best defence, not "how" to react, but to "react" pure and simple.

It is also true that arm locks especially, and by arm locks we consider manipulating shoulder, elbow or wrist, can be a lifesaver in some situations, but as most techniques rely on a feel for the action which needs to be applied we emphasise the need for supervised practice, as we have always recommended so far.

fig.146 - Little finger lock

fig.146A - Middle fingers lock.

fig.146B - Fingers manipulation to escape wrist hold.

Leverage on the joints causes an unnatural position for the articulation, the point of application must be precise
 otherwise the technique will not work, this because the lock works on two points, one is as close to the joint as possible where the fulcrum is applied, the other as far away from the joint where force is applied. Force does not mean brutal force, but an adequate pressure applied correctly and continuously, as we'll also see in CHOKES

As you can see joint locks take you to very close contact with your attacker. Given the choice it shouldn't be your first choice of action, if you can put enough distance to be safe do so, if already too close or if he is already grappling with you or he has got hold of you, this is the moment that a lock can be useful. But joint locks can be extremely useful in one particular scenario, becoming an absolute lifesaver.

A lock can be useful in preparation for a takedown or to position your attacker where you want him for a follow up strike, to the head for instance: he bends forwards because of the applied lock to his shoulder and you can strike him with your knee to his face. Fingers are delicate articulations, they are a favourite target with many self-defence locks but always remember the practicality of it, your hands will be sweating with fear, his hands are probably bigger and grabbing his fingers is not truly practical. However a finger lock as shown in fig.146 can give you a temporary advantage, or allow you to break his grip, especially if he is trying to strangle you.

The small finger is quite exposed and lends itself to be grabbed easily and very rarely is it a "strong" finger even if someone has a big hand (the thumb is strong). If you manage to grab his little finger make sure you hold his hand as shown with your other hand and apply the lever going out and up, against the natural movement of the joint. This can be quite successful in case you need to free an object from his hand or to make him let go of your clothes. A proper understanding of how the wrist and fingers relate to the arm can help you in escaping a wrist grab. (fig.146B)

The same can be applied to his middle fingers, spreading them out as shown in fig.146A. Remember to use both hands to
 secure the proper lever of the articulation, two points should always be the target of your manipulation, understanding this principle will always help to readjust a lock the moment you feel it's not working as it should and knowing on what principle the technique is based upon will help in applying a principle and not trying to remember a technique and all its variations.

Another very important principle to remember is that you have to make sure that the limb or joint that you are manipulating is away from your opponent's body, increasing the effectiveness of the leverage. Positioning of your own body is fundamental to achieving a good leverage that cannot be stressed enough.

Physics and self-defence go hand in hand, martial arts are based on the laws of physics and their understanding can achieve a powerful kick, a successful throw or a devastating lock.
The fulcrum is what characterises leverage and what makes it effective, the position of the fulcrum can increase or decrease resistance and make the lever more or less effective. (See fig.147A). As you can see the closer the fulcrum is to the point of resistance the better and the longer the lever the less force needs to be applied, resulting in a more effective lock.

fig.147 - The red dot indicates the fulcrum of the arm.

Anyone who has ever tried to restrain someone's arm will object that a strong and
muscled up arm will resist easily to a lever being applied: in fact it is not so, what is happening is that the lever has been applied incorrectly. The size of the arm is irrelevant, however what comes into play to frustrate our efforts is clothing.

I once had to restrain someone in a restaurant, helping a friend who owned the place: a group of bikers had had too many drinks and they started to misbehave. I took care of one of the lads, long hair, tattooed, you know the type. I wanted to put his arm in a joint lock but I quickly realized that the thick leather jacket with elbow protection built in was not going to allow me to do that easily. I quickly kept the same principle though and I grabbed his hair and using his neck as a fulcrum. I put him into a headlock and because he kept misbehaving I decided that enough was enough and sent him to sleep for a while. When he woke up he asked how I did it: the laws of physics were the answer.

We have seen the simplest of joint locks, the one that can be applied to the fingers.
Lets see then aiming a bit further down the arm, that delicate part of the arm anatomy called wrist, rarely strong because it is designed for flexibility? If you haven't noticed it is the one of the very few parts of our body that can move in many directions without any problem. In fact it can rotate easier and with less danger than the neck or the ankle but as most people who roller blade or skate know the wrist is quite delicate, it is a complex articulation and like anything with lots of parts it must be dealt with delicately. This is why a wristlock can be very effective; there are two rows of a total of eight bones called Carpal bones that join the lower arm bones, the radius and the ulna, to form the wrist. Wrist locks can indeed be quite spectacular, if you have seen AIKIDO practitioners there are some spectacular throws just making the most of the wrist, however in a self defence situation the wrist is not an easy part of the body to grab, hands move very fast and to think they are easy to intercept is simply naive.

fig.148- Types of wrist locks.

Nevertheless there could be situations where this is possible and we examine the most effective.
There are many wristlocks available but most of them do require a high degree of accuracy and skill and some others leave the attacker with the other arm in a favourable position for a strike. The most useful situation for a wristlock is when your attacker is holding you to drag you somewhere.

As you can see in fig.149 the moment his arms are positioned around your body grab his left hand with your right in a solid grasp and at the same time turn your shoulder and move your elbow as demonstrated in fig.149. The advantage of this particular wrist lock are several: you manipulate his left wrist, probably weaker assuming he is right handed, also you have your elbow in a good position for a strike to his face if necessary and thirdly you can take him to the ground using your body weight easily. Manipulating the right wrist will work equally, just change arm and elbow.

As we have said there are other wrist locks (see fig.148) but this is probably the most useful.
The position of your own body in relation to your attacker's plays a fundamental part to achieve a successful lock: as you can see in fig.145 it is important that your body has keeps a good distance from the opponent's body, you can control him through a lock if his limb is away from his own body and at the same time you keep his limb close to yours. Don't forget that his applies to wristlocks too.

fig.149 - Use your body as fulcrum.
Controlling the head as well as the arm is
equally important. Speed is of essence.


This is quite visible in applying an elbow lock correctly, especially in a straight-arm lock (or arm bar). To successfully apply leverage to the elbow you must first block the shoulder, this allows you to utilise the fulcrum of the arm, generally located in the hollow past the point of the elbow, towards the shoulder (see fig.147A)

Blocking the shoulder does not allow an escape turning his arm on its axis; also remember that pressure should be applied to the wrist (the lever in this case) in the direction of the little finger, opposite way to the thumb.

An arm lock can be applied standing or on the ground, just remember that applying locks while standing requires a higher degree of training to avoid injury, because your opponent can move more freely increasing the chances of the lock getting out of control causing a dislocation, a
  serious injury and quite possible while applying leverage to the elbow or shoulder, therefore proper supervised training must be taken. In any case as soon as the pressure is felt on the joint a signal must me given to make your partner stop. Normally a tap on the mat or on the body is a sign that pressure must be released immediately.

Let's now see the most effective arm locks to the elbow. To initiate an arm lock it is always a good idea to apply a distracting technique to focus your attacker attention somewhere away from what you are doing. A strike with your knee to his thigh, an elbow hit to his ribs can well achieve what you need: good positioning for your lock.

It is also important that while applying the arm lock that you secure his body in a way that he cannot move, escaping the lock, for instance positioning him against a fixed object (wall, lamppost) or using your own body (see fig.150). If on the ground you could use your knee to pin him down or wrap your legs around his body. (See fig.150) This lock using your legs (JUJI GATAME in JUDO ) has many variations and it is one of the most widely used in groundwork. It can be effective if someone is pinning you down holding you by the shoulders or by the wrists.

fig.150 - This wrist lock allows you great control of your attacker on many levels, as well as
positioning you for further techniques.


We have already seen this technique, is very effective if pinned
 down with an aggressor on top. It is quite difficult to clearly separate a wristlock from an elbow lock; often the two joints are involved closely in the lock. However we can differentiate elbow locks in two types: straight and bent arm.

The elbow is quite limited in movement compared to the other body's joint; it's more similar to the knee in that. The most efficient elbow lock is UDE HISHIGI ASHI GATAME or HARA GATAME if using your abdomen. Both are very effective straight-arm stand locks, but rely in a good distraction manoeuvre to get into good positioning. A strike to his triceps can effectively give you the opportunity to initiate the lock, turning his arm so his palm is facing towards you (if you are positioned as in fig.151) and then using your other arm to push onto the elbow's fulcrum blocking his shoulder at the same time.

fig.151- Standing elbow and shoulder lock viewed as a sequence. Note the initial strike to the arm
to get him into position.


Remember that you must adapt your position so you achieve control, keeping his hand away from his body, close to yours. Push and pull to achieve the hyperextension of the joint. In the case of bent arm locks the principle remain the same but they are more difficult to achieve because the attacker's body is closer to yours, however these types of locks manipulate also the shoulder and that is useful when you cannot move away from your attacker's body.
The shoulder can rotate in all directions thank to the ball joint of the humerus, the only joint that has really almost complete movement in all direction. However the shoulder is limited in back extension, and that is the direction for an effective lock.
As you can see in fig.152 there are many types of joint lock, far too many to remember in a stressful situation away from a training environment, however the principle is the same for all of them, independently by the specific technique, remember that.

fig.152- There are way too many joint locks to remember, but the principle is always the same
for all of them.


The Perfect Defence is an advocate for global user privacy rights, protection and security.  Copyright© 2011 TPD All Rights Reserved.

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