How Joint Locks/Manipulations Work in the Martial Arts

Joint manipulation in the martial arts is used to control a subject, take them to the ground, or immobilize the affected limb. Because it’s a fine motor skill, they generally take lots of practise before they can be used effectively. There are different ways to approach learning joint locks depending on the traditions of the martial art you’re learning, all with different benefits and drawbacks, but as a general rule, they combine two principles, pain compliance and structural manipulation.

Joint Locks for Pain Compliance

To achieve pain compliance when applying a joint lock, basically you twist or apply pressure to a joint in a way that causes pain which causes the subject to react by moving away from the pain. You can use their reaction to move them somewhere or take them to the ground depending on how the pressure is applied and directed. In general, it’s easier to learn how to manipulate a subject when the joint is locked to cause pain, but pain by itself is not necessarily the most efficient way to apply joint locks in terms of energy use. A person can lock a joint simply by putting their strength and weight into it and get the desired pain reaction, but this by itself is often not enough for smaller people to be able to apply the techniques on people who are resisting, especially those who are bigger and/or stronger than them. There are more technical ways of gaining pain compliance though, by twisting the joints from certain angles and using leverage to your advantage. Below is a video of Wally Jay, founder of Small Circle Jiu-jitsu, demonstrating technical methods of applying pain compliance for finger locks. He is one of the most famous Japanese Jiu-jitsu pain compliance technicians in modern times.

Structural Manipulation through Joint Control

It is also possible to control a subject through joint manipulation simply by affecting their body structure. For example, if someone grabs your wrist, you can push into their limb in a way that locks the joints of their arm, from their wrist up to the elbow and shoulder, in a way that affects their balance so you can take them to the ground without the use of pain as a motivator. It usually takes a lot longer to learn the subtleties of this type of joint manipulation without the application of pain compliance, but in the long run it teaches you how to be more efficient with your energy. Plus, it’s nice to be able to train without causing as much stress on the joints as pain compliance techniques do. Below is a video of Robert Mustard Shihan from Aikido Burnaby (7th degree black belt in Yoshinkan Aikido) showing a technique that uses structural manipulation of the joints at our dojo. Mustard Shihan came to our dojo yesterday to give a seminar on doing joint manipulation without pain compliance. Check out the photos on Facebook.

Combining Approaches

At the end of the day, the most efficient way to do things is somewhere in between when it comes to using joint manipulation in a real situation. Pain compliance, even with good leverage and technique, has its limitations, like if you’re dealing with someone with flexible joints or someone that is so drunk, high or enraged that they don’t feel the pain. On the other hand, if you only do structural manipulation, it may take you years, even decades of practise before you have a good enough sense of structure, balance breaking and timing to be able to use purely structural joint manipulation on a bigger/stronger person who is resisting. If you combine the two, and gain an understanding of both principles, you give yourself the best chance of using joint locks effectively. Ultimately, good structure manipulation can help you isolate the joints even better so you can apply pain compliance methods, and in many cases pain can be used to help break a person’s resistance so you can use structure, whether it’s through pain to the joint or just a swift kick in the shins.

What approaches do you emphasize in training joint locks in your school? Please share your experiences in the comments. 🙂

Comments (4)

4 thoughts on “How Joint Locks/Manipulations Work in the Martial Arts

  1. Hello, I read your article. I was wondering if there is any martial (I am currently doing Jujitsu. I signed up for six months) that emphasizes “Structural Manipulation through Joint Control”.

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