Arm locks typically involve both the shoulder and elbow joints. They also often involve the wrist or finger joints. Typically the elbow is held straight to impact both the elbow and the shoulder joint, or the elbow is bent and held in an awkward position to affect the shoulder joint. So while a lock may appear to affect the elbow, it might in fact really be controlling the shoulder joint. Often it locks both concurrently. You’ll want to gain an appreciation for what joint or joints are impacted most by any arm lock.
The various joints in the arm have typical ranges of motions that, if exceeded, can cause discomfort or pain or result in mechanical restriction. Here are some of the limits with which you should become quite familiar.
- The elbow can normally move in flexion from 0° to 150°. In most people the elbow cannot move in extension (i.e. the movement in extension is limited to 0°). Some people with hypermobility can move the elbow in extension perhaps up to 10°. In some rare cases the extension could be greater than 10°. Due to the motion of the shoulder joint, the elbow can move in rotation 30° in either direction.
- The shoulder joint is a very unique and quite flexible joint, allowing the arm to move in a great many different ways. Here are the arm movements possible due to the shoulder joint.
- Abduction is measured by placing your fully extended arm down until your open palm touches your thigh. Now raise your arm out and upward while keeping the arm straight. Your arm will move in an arc of approximately 150°.
- Flexion is measured from the same starting position as Abduction. However the arm is moved forward and up with flexion, rather than outward and up. Flexion has a normal range of from 0° to 180°.
- Extension begins with the same arm-at-your-side position and measures how far back and up the straightened arm can reach. Typically this range is from 0° to 45°, though it is not unusual to find people with a range of up to 60°.
- External Rotation is measured by first raising your arm at so it points directly outward and parallel to the floor. Now bend your elbow 90° so that your hand points directly forward while your entire arm remains parallel to the floor. Next, rotate your arm so your hand moves upward toward the ceiling while keeping your upper arm parallel to the floor. This demonstrates your rage of shoulder external rotation. The typical range of motion for External Rotation is from 0° to 90°.
- Internal Rotation is measured using the same initial hand position with your hand pointing directly forward while your upper am points outward and level with the shoulder. While keeping your upper arm parallel to the floor, rotate your hand toward the floor. This is the standard method for measuring Internal Rotation. For most people the arm can rotate internally from 0° to 70°. Some people are able to easily rotate internally up to 90°.
Empi Kansetsu Waza (Elbow Locks)
Elbow locks are widely used in the martial arts to control an opponent, either momentarily or for a longer duration. The types of locks are quite varied and there is quite an abundance of lock ideas available to consider. You should study locks carefully, however. Many locks that purport to lock the elbow really are using the elbow position to lock the shoulder. It can be a minor technicality, but the distinction is also educational. You will want to understand and appreciate what is really being affected by each lock you study. Sometimes the results will surprise you.
Here is a series of elbow locks you might consider. In many cases these locks also affect the shoulder. It is often impossible to isolate one joint from the other in a lock since both joints are on either side of a single bone. Nonetheless, you will find that some locks are more focused on the elbow, but never think of any lock as affecting only one part of a person’s anatomy.
- Perhaps the most common elbow lock is the straight arm lock. You grasp the opponent’s wrist with one arm (typically your back arm) and then use the other arm to pull or push the elbow joint until it has straightened. You will notice that the shoulder joint is also affected by this lock. It is important to realize that you must stabilize the opponent’s hand or lower arm against your body so the opponent cannot wriggle free of your back hand’s grip. Pull your back hand in tightly against your body to limit the possibility of such an escape.
- Another common lock involving the elbow is the simple rear arm lock. Here the hand of the opponent is twisted behind the back until the opponent’s forearm rests against his or her lower back. The elbow is bent more severely and the shoulder or neck is restrained to increase the effectiveness of the lock. This locks the elbow, the shoulder, and possibly the wrist (depending on how you have grasped the opponent). There are innumerable well-known ways to escape from this lock so if you use it you should probably consider the lock to be quite temporary. Move on to some other control solution quickly before you are struck
- Grasp your opponent’s left wrist with your left hand and force a bend in the opponent’s elbow. Now step to the face side and place your right hand under your opponent’s elbow and then up until your right hand can grab your own left wrist. Your forearm should be placed just above the elbow joint of your opponent. Pull in with your right elbow while pressing away with your two hands to increase the effectiveness of the lock. This basic lock can be applied in a great many different orientations. Each make it appear to be a different lock, but in fact they are all using exactly the same mechanism. See how many ways and in how many different orientations you might be able to utilize this lock. You can probably find dozens.
- If the opponent has grabbed your left shoulder, raise your left arm and use your rising forearm to press into the opponent’s elbow. The intent is to use your forearm to turn the opponent’s elbow over so the elbow faces upward while also ensuring the opponent’s arm is straight. This also rotates your opponent’s center away from you reducing the chance of being struck with the opponent’s opposite arm. As your left arm rises, place your right arm at the opponent’s wrist to lock the opponent’s arm in place on your shoulder. Now use your left arm to pull the opponent’s elbow joint in toward your center. This puts substantial hyperextension pressure on the elbow. The opponent’s shoulder will be pressed downward.
- When someone reaches forward in a grab or strike you can step to the ear side and use your front arm to shadow the incoming strike arm. Hook your finger(s) just above the person’s wrist and then press your elbow into the opponent’s elbow. This forms a very temporary lock of the person’s elbow. Be careful, a sharp brisk movement can damage the person’s elbow. The effects of this lock are very temporary, but you could employ the lock, and them moment the opponents resists, abandon that lock and progress to a wrist outturn lock instead. This demonstrates that you can use a sequence of locks as a planned strategy, rather than attempting to solely rely on a single lock, that might fail. Learn to quickly abandon any lock that is not going to work and proceed immediately to a different strategy, whether that includes Atemi, Nage, or Kansetsu Waza.
Seoi Kansetsu Uchi (Shoulder Locks)
Shoulder locks are perhaps the easiest locks to perform, but they can be among the hardest to control and so often must quickly evolve into some other control method. This is not uniformly true, but it is a common situation. Let’s explore a few ways in which you might accomplish a shoulder lock.
- If your Uke attacks with a right overhand strike, step to the ear side as you parry the strike away and downward with your back (right) hand. As the opponent’s arm drops near waist level, grasp Uke’s lower forearm (or wrist) and continue the downward momentum of the arm and straighten Uke’s elbow. Now either press a Shuto into the back of the shoulder joint, or grasp the Uke’s upper arm with your free hand. Use this latter movement to force Uke’s shoulder downward. You may wish to concurrently pull upward with your right arm to establish better control. This, and a host of very similar locks, cannot normally be maintained for a long time, therefore it is quite common to press Uke to the floor, kick to the face, strike Uke’s back, or employ some other method to manipulate, control, or injure (someone other than Uke). If you do not act fairly quickly to initiate a subsequent movement then Uke will eventually find a way to wiggle free (roll, twist, re-center, etc.) of your lock.
- Moving such that your shoulder comes to rest between an opponent’s elbow and shoulder allows you to then wrap both arms over the shoulder joint and pull down briskly. The opponent’s elbow needs to be turned so the elbow faces downward.
- The movement initiated during Shiho Nage produces a shoulder lock. The elbow is also locked, but the joint primarily affected is the shoulder. Experiment with this lock by omitting the throw and just feeling the effects of the lock itself. Now see what transitions can be made to keep control of the opponent without having to throw him or her.