“That Won’t Work in the Street” A Primer on Joint Locking

How many martital art instructors does it take to screw in a light bulb?  One to screw it in and 99 to say it wouldn’t work on the street/ring/cage etc. There’s not a student in the world that shouldn’t heed this advice: Just because you don’t get it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

I’ve heard it a lot over my years as a student and an instructor: “That doesn’t work.” Whether it’s in regards to a general style or a particular technique, it doesn’t “work.” Most martial artists tend not to believe in technique that their art doesn’t train in. The “that won’t work” factor is a reflex for most.

What if a particular technique doesn’t “work”? My first sensei, Master Zulu always said, “Nothing is guaranteed.” All techniques and training have a point at which they can fail. However, just because one technique has failed, it doesn’t mean your whole arsenal should fall by the wayside. Utilize the practice of flow, and move on. A failed exchange opens up opportunities for new ones. Should I try to apply a basic kote-gashi (wrist turn) and my opponent pulls his hand free, their retreating energy has now given me entrance for a Capoeira Angola vingativa (a sweep that takes a person over your thigh with the aid of an arm or head butt).  

Joint locking itself is a very misunderstood and misapplied art form. No two bodies are the same, hence not all joints are made the same. Many styles attempt to incorporate joint manipulations into their styles, but without proper context or training method, students never develop these skills past a beginning level. Joint lock study should be a daily practice, not just something reserved for when the instructor wishes to add some flavor to the class.

Is your joint lock not working? Relax your shoulders and move from your center. Take the muscle tension out of your limbs. This is the key to all technique. Remove your affectations.  Listen to the feedback your partner’s body is giving you. Some are more flexible than others. If you “listen,” you will know the correct pressure to apply to each type of individual. This takes diligent practice to perfect.  Are you actually relaxed? When a beginner applies a joint lock they tend to hunch their shoulders or put so much tension in their hands that they are effectively working against themselves throughout the technique. Relax completely. This doesn’t mean go floppy; think of the relaxed motion of a horse in full gallop, and move your body unified with single purpose.

Have you eliminated joint slack? Many beginners go through the entire motion of a lock only to find their partner staring at them at the end. This is usually caused by a failure to take up the appropriate slack before entering the throwing phase. The amount (degree) of slack you want to take up is determined by the amount of damage you wish to cause your opponent. Obviously, we only take this so far when training in class.  I’ll go over the slack principle in more detail later.

Are you aware of your surroundings, and most importantly, your partner? Many students grab a hand for a basic wristlock, for instance, and their mind immediately becomes completely focused on that hand. They lose sight that there is a whole independent body connected to the hand! In the dojo this can lead to accidents. In actual defense it can lead to disaster. Maintain a 360-degree awareness at all times.

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About The Author

Founder of Full Circle Warrior Arts and Full Circle Jujitsu. Author or Full Circle: Lessons Learned on the Martial Path

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