Joint locks in self-defense

Used correctly joint locks are powerful submission technique. In modern Olympic Judo joint lock list limited to elbow locks in newaza only. In their pure sport form most of those locks (as locks of other sport Judo styles – SAMBO and BJJ) have very limited self-defense application. However, most popular of all (and least applicable) arm-bar lock often depicted as a combat technique and Eli Avikzar even included it in the short list of grappling techniques in his Krav-Maga instructor’s class, I attended in 1991 (Eli had very limited Judo background and his version of arm-bar won’t work on minimally qualified judoka or wrestler – he was not been able to hold me down with this technique for more then three or four seconds, not to talk about getting submission).

Joint lock tactical goal is to get your adversary compliance (submission to your actionable requests) by threat of pain and (potential) injury. Under usual circumstances application of moderate pain is used, as it showing seriousness and at the same time leaving room for escalation in case of non-compliance. 

The problem with using arm-bar in combat and self-defense is in two vulnerabilities:

style="margin-left: 39.75pt; text-indent: -0.25in;">1. Vulnerability of your position for attack by third-party or your adversary supporter

style="margin-left: 39.75pt; text-indent: -0.25in;">2. Lost of mobility during application and the problem of disengagement

First point is pretty clear: You’re holding your adversary arm with both your legs and arms while laying on your back in a static position and anyone who can get to the striking distance to your head can do a lot of damage to you.

Second point: Even if you are in one-on-one fight in complete isolation (difficult to imagine combat scenario, but lets assume it’s possible for the sake of discussion), you facing an issue of how to stop the fight. When you’re performing arm-bar and your adversary screaming from pain and agreeing to all your demands, in order for you to get up (and get away) you need to let him to go first. You don’t have any secure option to induce pass-out (unless he’ll pass-out from pain shock, but you can’t count on it and you can’t check if he’s “playing opossum” or not until you’ll let him go) and you don’t have any means to control him at that moment (if you have knife or gun to thread him – you won’t get to the arm-bar in the first place). As you let him go, by virtue of arm-bar position, he’ll regain mobility first and can attack you as you getting up as you still in vulnerable posture. As he lost his arm to you and been humiliated in his own eyes, he’ll be in revenge rage when you’ll be assured in your superiority and in the post-fight mode. This will make his vicious attack hard to repel, even he has impaired arm. To assume anything less than this will be dangers underestimating.

First consideration is applicable to the most of ground-fighting submission techniques. Second is applicable to many, but not all (to many is because in order to be effective, ground-fighting submission technique should assure that your opponent can’t “run away”, so you benefit from lost of mobility in sport ground-fighting – consideration complete opposite to combat and self-defense). The highest common denominator, first consideration, is effectively disqualifying vast majority of sport Judo (including SAMBO and BJJ) submission techniques (locks, chokes, and pins) from been applicable for combat and self-defense.

So, what are joint locks that can be used in self defense? All joint locks when you are in standing or semi-knelled position (position of your adversary is irrelevant). Those techniques are core of Aikido arsenal, Combat SAMBO, and combat Judo. They can be used as means to control your adversary movement, as means to insure cooperation (arresting techniques), or as an element of throwing technique.

None of those techniques permitted in any sport styles (semi-knelled position considered to be ground-fighting in sport SAMBO and, therefore, joint locks permitted, but in practice it’s not secure application and rarely, if ever, used).

Sure, if your had a misfortune to find yourself in the ground-fighting, use whatever means necessary (and whatever technique fit the moment) to get out of there.

When training self-defense joint locks the full attention should be given to finishing / disengagement considerations – part that, more often then not, getting no attention at all.

Remember: it’s easy to start a fight, but not easy to end it. You have to plane your exit from hostilities before you enter into it.



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