Thursday, November 6, 2008

Developing the Lock Sense

Joint locks are incredibly useful in self-defense. In Jiu jitsu specifically, they epitomize the very ideology of the art - the least amount of force needed to subdue an attacker.

Locks are very scalable; you can use a wrist lock to get rid of an overly friendly drunk at a wedding or club without causing any permanent damage or escalating the situation. You can use the very same lock to disarm a weapon wielding attacker in defense of your life on the street.

The downside to joint locks, and wrist locks in particular, is that while you can learn the techniques rather quickly in the dojo, it can take years to develop and master what I call the lock sense.

The lock sense is the ability you get once you've mastered joint manipulation and you can apply locks by feel alone without having to rely on particular technique. Even in the dojo, the same joint lock doesn't work exactly the same way on everyone, and since locks are so incredibly technical, requiring very fine motor skills, people learning locks are not able to successfully apply them every time. Since acquiring the lock sense can take years, I take a very structured approach to foster its development.

When first teaching locks, I like to skip the big easy joints. Causing pain with an arm lock is quite simple, the elbow only bends one way. However, getting into a position to use an arm lock is quite challenging. Since I'm trying to develop that sense for locks, I'd rather go with a smaller, more flexible joint - the wrist. Getting someone's wrist is pretty easy, since many attacks begin with someone grabbing you. Maneuvering your way into an arm lock can be very challenging. And since the wrist bends in every direction to a limited degree, it gives students more opportunity to sense different tension levels.

I start by teaching three wrist locks which all focus on applying pressure in different directions, causing pain in different ways. The three locks, kote-gaeshi (wrist turn), ura-kote (reverse wrist) and kote-gatame (wrist lock also known as z-lock in many styles), require very simple movements of feet and hips and mostly rely on correct hand positioning.

When introducing locks I have students work very slowly for two reasons: one, locks can come on quickly, easily causing damage when rushed. Safety is always the primary concern in the dojo. Number two, you can get a better sense of resistance of the muscles and tendons in the wrist of your training partner when you apply it slowly.

Finally, in an effort to truly grasp the locks, I make sure all the students feel the pain of a properly applied lock. When you know how it feels in your own wrist, you can begin to visualize how the lock should be applied.

Locks are very easy to demonstrate, but incredibly challenging to teach. There is no way to convey the idea of lock sense to a student, you can only point them on the right path, and correct the technical aspects until that moment of realization.

From a self defense standpoint, locks are an exceptional way to control aggressors and defuse a situation quickly. In actual practice, the fine motor skills and minute adjustments necessary to apply a lock successfully in a high stress situation make them unreliable for the majority of jitsuka until they've truly mastered the lock sense.

And on a final note - you always need a distraction when defending yourself, something to disrupt your attackers movements and thought process to give you that chance to take control. If a slap works, I'm all for it :)


Lori O'Connell said...

Great first post! I can attest to the effectiveness of using a joint lock to dissuade an overly friendly drunk at a club, having used the z-lock effectively in such a context. I have the lock sense developed, though I wouldn't necessarily say that I've "mastered" locks since true mastery is a lifetime endeavour.

The next time we work locks though, let's work on a different type of distraction. ;)

Chris Olson said...

I agree with the idea of mastery being a lifetime endeavour. It was a poor choice of words. It's funny, people are considered masters in other things, and no one ever really questions it, but when it comes to martial artists, the whole pursuit is in the idea of mastery, an elusive level that we spend our entire training careers chasing.

I've also used a wrist lock to defend myself, but it was some doped up idiot trying to steal my wallet in an elevator. While I don't think he felt pain, the sound of his wrist grinding freaked him out enough to let me escape.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with your opinion (being an experienced ju-jutsuka myself meaning I’ve been on the receiving end many, many times): joint-locks are very useful in self-defence and they do require very little effort when applied correctly (in accordance with the ju-principle of non-resistance and maxium efficiency).

Besides that (which in itself is a huge advantage in combat against a much stronger, much heavier opponent) it actually gives you more possibilities to end a fight: like you said it’s not always necessary to demolish someone and sometimes it’s just better for you (legally and morally) to control someone.

Even if it’s not your primary means of defence – for example you defend yourself initially with punches, then as he’s on the ground instead of kicking him you put a lock on his wrist – it’s still a great tool to limit the amount of damage you must inflict: in the example you’d have to either make a run for it, which might not be possible or feasible, or finish the fight and neutralise him and if you take him out with a strong kick to the ribs or face you’ll most likely break something which could land you in a host of problems.

Unfortunately in most countries the attacker always enjoys more legal protection than the defender (has to do with the monopoly-of-force which ensure’s the state’s supremacy over its citizens) and you can actually be thrown in jail for defending yourself (which is not very smart socially speaking since it wrecks lives and greatly increases the chances of breeding another criminal).

However, locks do take alot more practice to be able to use effectively in real situations and because of that they should a) be practiced regularly, carefully and under very qualified supervision (I think expertise is even more important in this area than for example in the area of atemi) and b) should be taught alongside other types of techniques (meaning you shouldn’t be taught to rely on locks at all times and in every kind of situation).

In our dojo we always practice two ways of defence against any given attack: one being controlling/subdueing the opponent by means of a lock, throw, choke or maybe a pressure-point technique (we’re not very big fans of that but in some situations they can be used effectively), the other being taking him out with hitting techniques (mostly following the pattern: enter, punch, knee, elbow).

Adaptability is the key here and in some situations it’s just not very wise to employ locks (e.g multiple attackers where you simply do not have the time to control or can afford to use two hands at once, unless you break of course, or against a quick boxer or kickboxer – catching a boxer’s punch for a lock is a virtual impossibility and most attackers simply do not attack with a standard karate lunch-punch).

I think in general there are a few factors in determining the succes-rate for jointlocks: 1) proper tai-sabaki – this is quite simple: if you do not move out of the line-of-attack and do no position correctly you will get hit and you’ll never be able to generate the correct level of leverage to succesfully lock someone - 2) the quality of the lock itself (as you said it takes many years to completely grasp the many fine points behind the technique and to use them intuitively… this also applies to the development of fine motor-skills especially under pressure), 3) the speed and effectiveness of entering-skills: if you are not able to react quickly and instantly to an attack you can forget about succesfully defending yourself (if you’re not quick enough with your wrist-escape the opportunity for a lock is lost, if you cannot use an atemi quickly and effectively you can forgot about using locks against kicks or punches, or any other techniques for that matter).

In our dojo we frequently do reaction-drills: this means evading, escaping and/or atemi and achieving the correct position for the lock as quickly and as often as possible (we use a time-frame for this, for example 2 minutes per technique then switch to another) without locking fully and taking the person to the ground everytime. While you should practice this too it’s simply not necessary to do it everytime since it’s a waste of valuable training-time (less repetitions and practice does make perfect), it’s not very good for the joints to apply each technique full-power everytime and your first reaction is far more important than your follow-up). This practice is very similar to uchi-komi in judo.

The fourth and final factor in my opinion would be lock-flow: against some people and at certain times locks simply will not work, this is a fact. Does this mean we have to forgot about the concept entirely and become karateka or boxers? No, it simply means you have to train to adapt to those situations: if he offers resistance (which should be greatly reduced after a good atemi or two but still, some people can take an awful lot of punishment) or he’s immune to a certain type of lock you must be able to smoothly and effectively flow into another lock going with his force and momentum (the ju-principle again), constantly changing positions and adding strikes as you go.

Combinations and taking-over his movements are critical in effective ju-jutsu and should be taught as early as possible. Simple examples of this (which I’m sure we all know): if you have him in a straight-armlock and he bends his elbow you’ll transit into a bent-armlock, if he pulls his hand back you simply follow him and apply a wristlock or simply get behind him for a choke, a necklock. This is a very fine art (one which I have just begun to fully explore) but is the essence of the grappling-arts (wether self-defence or sports-orientated) and indeed of fighting in general.

In my opinion ju-jutsu is a beautiful, highly complex, adaptable and effective fighting-art… it just takes lots of dedication, effort, humility and heart to properly master (mastering the basics that is) and it is indeed a lifetime-occupation to truly perfect your techniques and hone your skills. Even my old sensei (he’s retired now unfortunately), a then 8th dan (he finished his career with a 10th dan and sokeship in his own style) said that after 40 years of experience he was still a student himself and that true mastery was, is and always will be an ongoing process.

Truly a very wise man (I learned so much from him, off and on the mat), I was quite fortunate to have been his student.

In general I’ve found that the further you explore an art (any art, not just martial-arts) the more complex, mysterious and exciting it gets and the more you’ll get out of it. I started ju-jutsu to become more agile and stronger (I was quite weak and clumsy as a child), to gain confidence and to be able to defend myself but now it’s about so much more: it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s healthy, I’ve made quite a few very good friends doing it, it has a spiritual side… Eventhough I’m beginning to explore other arts which are complementary (forms of kickboxing, weapon-arts…) which have alot of offer too ju-jutsu is still my base and foundation and I’ll always come back to it and continue to refine and deepen my knowledge and feel for it.

What I would like to do sometime in the future (hopefully sooner than later but there are circumstances beyond my control) is to start practicing and exploring the origin of the art and the koryu-styles (daito-ryu, kukushin-ryu…): what I practise now is a modern form of ju-jutsu (mixed with elements of many other styles, Japanese and non-Japanese, so hardly original if there indeed is such a thing) and while it’s quite effective I’m just curious to see how different and effective the original styles are (sort of like finding out you’re adopted and wanting to meet your biological mother or father). I think ninpo and kokusai-jujutsu would be great for this.

Anyway, I’ve written more than enough already (alot of it off-topic too) so I’m signing off.

Interesting post,


Lori O'Connell said...

Thank you Zara, for your very insightful comments. I agree with everything and particularly like your explanation of lock flow. Our style is a modern traditional adaptation as well (Can-ryu). Out of curiosity, what is your style and where is it practiced?

Anonymous said...

Hi Lori,

Originally I was trained in the Asahi-Ryu-Jujutsu (‘asahi’ meaning rising sun as I’m sure you know), founded by Soke Ernest Debrun (in 2005 he got inducted into the Universal Martial-Arts Hall of Fame, for what that’s worth). He trained in several styles of modern ju-jutsu, judo and karate and eventually founded his own style based on his interpretation of the martial-arts.

The dojo is situated in Belgium and I trained there for about 6 years, achieving brown belt. A few years ago Soke decided to retire and there was a big fuss about his succession: basically the choice would be between someone with who was at the time a Nidan, sempai and dojo-leader (meaning he was in charge of discipline) with 12 years of experience behind his belt and a guy who only trained there for about 6 years (a little less than me) but had some sort of official sports-degree and experience in Savate (both competing and teaching).

To make a long story short: the Savate-guy won (eventhough he was only a Shodan at the time and in my opinion was seriously lacking in technical skill and expertise) and the Nidan walked out and founded his own club (this is where I train now).

He’s a good friend of mine and has trained and is still training in several martial-arts besides ju-jutsu (mainly JKD, escrima/panantukan/silat, thaiboxing and mixfight/MMA), our school or dojo doesn’t really have an official name but we call it simply ‘ju-jutsu/self-defence’: the foundation is still ju-jutsu (mainly for the principles – ju, maai, irimi, tai-sabaki… - and of course for the locks, throws and chokes) but we’ve added elements of the arts my sensei trains in (the most effective ones and those most suitable for self-defence). I guess you could call it a modern form of goshin-jutsu, based on my sensei’s experience and more or less guided by Lee’s Maxim ‘absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own’.

I read somewhere the striking-system in your style is mainly based on boxing/kickboxing: I like that. In my opinion boxing simply is the best striking-system there is (at least for punches): it’s simple, very effective (both in defence and offense) and a great addition to any other martial-art or system. Originally we used atemi borrowed mostly from karate but while some of them are pretty effective (we still use shuto, tettsui and ura-ken) the punches, stances and defences are not. I had quite a discussion with Marks on this (among other people) and he agreed the traditional karate-punches are just too slow to be used effectively in a self-defence situation.

Also: I just do not see the point in using age-uke to deflect a punch to the head when it’s much easier, safer and quicker to just parry it. While these blocks still have some uses (a modified age-uke can be used to block hooks to the head or overhead-blows, gedan-barai can be used as a last resort against a kick to the groin or a wristgrab) in general I think they are outdated. The stances are even worse: there is only one effective fighting stance and that is with one side to the enemy, feet spread slightly with the weight-ratio 50/50 and hands covering the head, all the rest is simply bullshit. Stand forward and he’ll know you’re thinking about attack, stand backward and you’ll signal a defensive attitude and while you’ll use them intuitively while moving, attacking and defending they are not ‘stances’ per se but rather transitory positions.

Anyway, I’ve trained in this dojo for close to 2 years now and in a few months I should be able to take the dan-test (that is if I can find the time and training-partners to train extra) and then we’ll see. Belts just aren’t very important to me but still: they are some sort of recognition and I do like a challenge. Besides: if my sensei thinks I’m ready I’m ready (sensei’s always right, even when he’s clearly wrong lol) and I think it would please him to see me get Shodan. An added benefit is that I’ll be able to bully the other students even more (lol).
I hope this answers your question.


Lori O'Connell said...

Yes, that does answer my question. Thank you very much! It's always interesting to hear about other styles.

You are correct that our style uses boxing/kickboxing as the base for our striking. We do, however, use a lot of more traditional strikes, but from more of a boxing style stance, including elbow and knee strikes, hammer fist, back hand and ridge hand strike (specifically to the brachial plexus origin), forearm strikes and even head butts (not exactly "traditional" but still useful for self-defense).

It sounds like you're learning some good stuff at your dojo. Good luck in your preparation for Shodan!