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Wastelander's picture
Joint Lock "Throws"

I recently had a brief discussion with a martial arts friend about throws that use joint locks to execute the throw. That got me thinking about these techniques, and how peoples' expectations of how they work don't tend to line up with reality. I wrote this short article about it and, since this forum is focused on a pragmatic approach to karate, I figured some people might find it interesting.


Paul_D's picture

Thanks for sharing. I think that often puts people off, they see Uke's flyign through the air and thnk "that's nonsese" not rasling thet the idea like yo usay os not to throw someoen like that, but that Uke only does it to prevent injuy.  The other point of course is that they oftne look liek they won;t work as they the atemi are taken out when prectising, and joint locks throws etc aren't meant to be done in isolation. I was at a seminar ealrier in the year with our chief instrcutor and he said that our throws were there to "help" the enemy to the ground after atemi. That made us chuckle :-)

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Good article! Thanks for sharing!

danpt's picture

Coming from an Aikido background, I absolutely agree that this is a good article that highlights a very common issue. I see it mostly a failure to seperate the "Art" aspects out and look at what is likely to happen in different circumstances than the dojo. Nothing wrong with pretty flips for pure artistic practice ;)

My opinion is that, while very true, there are a couple of things more to consider with this topic.

The article talks about a specific type of joint lock throw, where the "throw" is mostly the other person trying to avoid damage or pain from the lock.

That is not the only use of joint locks for throws/takedowns. We can also use them to lock the joints to give us better transmission of power into moving the opponents spine, thereby enabling us to move them and displace their center of gravity more effectively. Preferably to make them fall over. Usually this involves the shoulder joint or the neck. The result is not as pretty but a lot less optional.

I would say a striking analogy could be the difference between hitting an opponent in the ribs to hurt/damage them until they no longer wish to fight or striking them in the jaw to make them pass out and not be able to fight, regardless of their wishes.

These are less commonly practiced, I suspect because on a compliant partner the flippy stuff is easier and looks cooler...

The point Paul_D made above that they are not supposed to be applied in isolation is also absolutely true. In addition to striking the "negotiable" joint locks should always have a component of capturing momentum in them, like in "proper" throws. The joint lock bit is just an extra to nudge in the right direction or do some damage on the way down maybe.

Drew Loto
Drew Loto's picture

I was once in a demonstration where I performed a shoulder lock.  My uke, by way of counter, backflipped out of the lock.  It was the type of technique where, were it an actual opponent, I might have wrenched his shoulder out of place.  I spent the next month having to explain to people who attended the show, that I did not, in fact, make my uke flip six feet in the air.  For both the trained and untrained, it can be difficult to distinguish between practices that facilitate safe, good, and fun training, and practices that are meant to simulate reality.  

I have also found that joint locks tend to have a certain flash appeal for people.  I am sometimes cautious to introduce newer practitioners to such techniques because then we see many cases of them trying to "hunt" for the lock.  Locks are only there if they're there, and usually that's a result of some sort of initial technique that broke your uke's balance in some way.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Drew Loto wrote:
I am sometimes cautious to introduce newer practitioners to such techniques because then we see many cases of them trying to "hunt" for the lock. Locks are only there if they're there ...

That’s a very important point. Gichin Funakoshi echoes that in Karate-Do Kyohan. After explaining that throws and joint locks are a part of karate, he goes on to state, “Never forget that the essence of karate is found in finishing with a single blow. Great care must be taken, not to be defeated, by being overly concerned with applying a throw or a joint lock.”

My favourite way of expressing this sentiment is “all locking is accidental or incidental”.

Unfortunately, I have no idea who originally said that! I’ve asked people for years and yet no one has being able to confirm it for me. The back of my mind thinks I read it in a book by Dan Inosanto or Larry Hartsell; but I’ve not been able to confirm that. So if anyone knows, please let me know!

The quote, whoever said it, is bang on the money for me. Locks are “incidental” because they are not finishers in and of themselves (outside of submission based competition) but can be used to locate the head, break posture, etc which can in turn facilitate a finishing blow. Locks can also be “accidental” because we find they are just “there” and hence we take them because they presented themselves to us; as opposed to us deliberately seeking them out.

For self-protection purposes, locking has a minor role and preference should always be given to striking as that is a much more effective and simple way to ensure incapacitation and escape opportunities.

I feel it’s probably wise for me to pre-empt the question of joint locks not being finishers in self-protection circumstances. There are only two ways to ensure safety in self-protection:

1, Stop the enemy

2, Escape from the enemy

For the purposes of this discussion we can further divide things and say there are only two ways to stop the enemy:

1, Physically incapacitate the enemy

2, Remove the enemy’s desire to continue

The first generally means unconsciousness (or close to it). Joint locks do not cause unconsciousness. However, it is possible that a joint lock applied to the point of injuring or breaking the joint could remove the enemy’s desire to continue … but then again it may not.

I personally know of people who have snapped joints clean only for the enemy (under the influence of adrenaline, drink or drugs) to continue as if nothing had happened. I also am aware of the converse where people have had bones and joints broken but, under the extreme stress of conflict, they did not realise it at the time. Of course I also know of people who have had joint broken and were in excruciating and debilitating pain … but the point is it CAN’T be relied upon.

We can never rely on removing the enemy’s desire because that is in their control. Therefore we need to strongly focus on “type 1” i.e. physically incapacitating the enemy.

People can still function with a snapped arm. They can’t function when unconscious through impact. Joint locks rely solely on removing the enemy’s desire to continue. Strikes remove the capacity to function.

Because it is essentially an “unknown” if a correctly applied arm lock will incapacitate, preference should be given to methods that are easier to apply and are much more likely to yield results.

Personally, I really like locking and find it an enjoyable form of practise. It’s also a great way to get the win in a “duel” or mutually consented fight. For self-protection purposes, however, locking falls further down the hierarchy of methods due to the changed context and differing objective.

To return for original theme, it is for this reason that “all locking is accidental or incidental” and is very much secondary to the escape and incapacitation though impact that we should be primarily seeking.

All the best,


Wastelander's picture

Thanks for all the feedback, everyone! To danpt's points, I can only speak to what I've seen and experienced, and my exposure to Aikido is pretty limited. I would love to see some videos of the techniques you describe as using the lock to transmit power to put the opponent on the ground. I may have seen them, but I'd like to know exactly what you mean.

With regard to the use of locks, in general, I'm in agreement with Drew and Iain. I think people sometimes think I do nothing but joint locks with my karate, because I talk about them so much! Mostly, I talk about them a lot because they tend to be more obscure and less well-known. Joint locks, chokes, and throws are great, and I do use them quite a bit, but striking is pretty much always my primary mode of offense.

My favorite quote about this comes from Dr. Yang Jwing Ming, in his book, Comprehensive Applications of Shaolin Chin Na. In his description of pretty much every lock, he includes it as a caveat. "If it doesn't work, hit him in the face." :)

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Wastelander wrote:
My favorite quote about this comes from Dr. Yang Jwing Ming, in his book, Comprehensive Applications of Shaolin Chin Na. In his description of pretty much every lock, he includes it as a caveat. "If it doesn't work, hit him in the face." :)

i like it! :-) I joke at seminars that karate's Plan A is to hit the enemy hard in the head ... Plan B is "Refer to Plan A" :-) Of course it's more sophisticated than that and other methods have a vitally important role to play, but the percussive methods are definitely of prime importance.

It's also interesting to see how the kata inergate the various methods as it falls in line perfectly with the sentiments discussed.

Dr. Yang Jwing Ming's Chin-Na books are highly recommend. There is a strong correlation between the methods he shows and the simular methods we see in kata. I've never met him, but I have taught alongside his son who is extremly impressive.

All the best,


Spaniard's picture

For my part, I do like joint locks, but I remember looking for them is not good and when I find them, I like to think that it is just a "chamber" for a strike and I love when that happens.

When teaching Kajukenbo (Kenpo based), I remind them that throws are "hitting someone with the ground". :)


Wastelander's picture

@Spaniard - We actually had a very similar saying when I was actively training in judo. The instructor would often remark that, no matter how hard you try to hit someone, you'll never hit them as hard as the planet can hit them :P

Stevenson's picture


There is a dimension I think you are missing in your post which you often talk about - context.

For sure, I agree with everything you say with regards to self-protection, but there are contexts where hitting or disabling a threat is either disproportionate or undesirable, and this is where joint locks become important, even vital.

A typical one might be the drunk uncle, or subduing an out of control teenager or weaker smaller person. A good example was related to me by a colleague where I train. He was in a lift at a train station and a man and woman entered and the man was harassing the woman who was trying to get away from him. He had good reasons to be hesitant to intervene, but eventually felt he had to speak up. When the man became threatening to him he restrained the man with a lock and calmed him down. It really wouldn't have looked good for him to have moved straight to striking, and because he handled the situation proportionately, he didn't have to face any legal consequences.

I should add, should the restraint fail and having commited to intervention, the next recourse is striking - that should always be ready to go. But there is a case for using locks and restraint as part of an escalation strategy depending on the context.

Another point to add, that this was a fairly experienced martial artist and I think you have to be pretty confident about your locking and grappling skills - something that comes after first learning to strike - before trying to apply them in a real situation. I think that's the right way round. The first priority is you learn to protect yourself as effectively as possible, and the most efficient and quickest way is striking. But then after that you can also try to protect the threat from your strikes with restraint techniques and locks. Should they fail you fall back on your primary techniques.