We have previously discussed how bones in a joint might be damaged by forcefully pressing a joint into hyperextension. But other methods for causing joint distress can actually be much more effective for controlling and manipulating someone. These are commonly called joint locks, but they are really control or injury inflicting methodologies. Let’s look at a few possibilities.
When manipulating or locking a joint you need three fundamental things. You need a base, a fulcrum, and a lever. Without any one of these a joint cannot be effectively controlled, making it easy for someone to escape from the lock.
Joints in Hyperextension
As an initial example we will cover causing distress to the MCP joint in a finger. To establish a base we will curl our small finger around the opponent’s finger. The outside edge of our finger rests on the back of the opponent’s hand just proximal to the MCP joint of the affected finger. Our finger will then encircle the MCP joint. This will be our base. The base need not be used directly in subsequent actions, but it is there primarily to provide a fixed position upon which subsequent actions will depend.
Now we will create a fulcrum. This can be done by pressing the ring finger into the back of the PIP joint of the target finger. Again, this finger will take up a fixed position and while essential, is not going to move while we are distressing the joint.
We now need a lever. This can be created with either the pad of the thumb or the inside palm at the base of the thumb. Which you elect to use is largely a matter of convenience and relative positioning between your hand and your opponent’s hand.
To stress the MCP joint we now hold our base steady, our fulcrum steady, and press the opponent’s finger toward hyperextension. The nerves in the ligaments, tendons, muscles, and soft tissues of the distressed finger will not be happy. This is a very painful activity for the opponent.
The pain can be amplified by applying a little more pressure with the lever, or by twisting your wrist slightly to pull the base closer to your center. This is effectively increasing the pressure from the lever, but it is done by slightly changing the position of the base. In this way it can be much easier to control, move, and manipulate an opponent instead of having to rely solely on the position and actions of the lever.
This action will cause substantial pain, potentially driving an opponent to his or her knees (which may increase the angle between the lever and base, potentially causing increased pain). When practicing with an Uke you need to be extremely careful. Go very slowly when applying pressure and look for signs of distress or a tap out from Uke. Be prepared to release your grip immediately in such cases or you may cause ligament, muscle, or tendon damage to Uke’s finger.
It should be noted that this method can be used to entrap and distress a single finger, but it can also be used when you grasp two or more fingers as well. It works well with up to three fingers but has decreased effect when you attempt to use it while holding four fingers. With four fingers it becomes too easy for a person to twist his or her wrist to initiate an escape. Your mileage may vary, but I would suggest you are safest when applying this type of lock to limit your grasp to three fingers. But in the heat of conflict if you grasp four fingers use them rather than trying to reduce your grasp to three fingers. You won’t be able to reliably reduce the number of fingers you hold in a dynamic conflict situation.
The same process of establishing a base, fulcrum, and lever applies to controlling, manipulating, and distressing any joint. Here are a few more examples.
The wrist can be pressed into hyperextension by placing both of your hands on top of Uke’s hands such that your fingers are on the back of Uke’s hand while your thumbs rest in Uke’s palm. Use your pinky fingers to form a base just proximal to the wrist joint. Press your remaining fingers into the back of Uke’s hand to form the fulcrum. Now pull down on the base slightly while pressing upward with the lever (your thumbs). Again go slowly as this sequence can be quite painful and potentially damaging to Uke.
This type of hyperextension wrist lock can be done with a single hand as well, but it takes practice to ensure the lock is in place before your opponent thinks to twist his or her wrist to effect an escape. A single handed wrist lock is simply harder to implement and more difficult to control than one in which both hands are used to encapsulate and control the entire hand and wrist. Nonetheless, you will want to practice using a single hand because you never know how things will transpire during a conflict. You’ll want to be able to utilize anything that comes your way, even it is only a single handed wrist lock.
You should also consider the use of a different lever with a wrist lock. Consider how your shoulder, chest wall, forearm, or bicep might be used as a lever. These work well if someone has already grabbed you. You then use your full hand to trap the opponent’s wrist (grabbing the arm must above the wrist). This hand is your fulcrum. You might move your opposite hand to pull the opponent’s elbow forward, putting additional stress on the wrist. This hand forms your base. The principles of lever, fulcrum, and base still apply here, but their application and locations have changed somewhat.
Ah ha, you might say. How do you use a base, fulcrum, and lever when distressing the elbow joint? You don’t have enough hands to do all of these things at the same time. Well, that’s essentially true. But we’ll still use the same three principles to distress the joint. We will only need to establish the fulcrum and the lever, however. The Uke will provide the base. The base in this case is his or her thorax and shoulder joint, which can be positioned to be relatively immobile (at least for our purposes) by simply rooting Uke. We now need only create a fulcrum by placing our hand just proximal to the elbow joint. A lever is created by grasping Uke’s arm at the wrist. Now hold the fulcrum steady (while also ensuring it presses somewhat into the shoulder joint to ensure the shoulder functions as a stable base) and pull the wrist so the elbow moves toward hyperextension. As with all of these hyperextension skills be sure to go slowly to avoid injury and excessive pain.
The same process works for the knee joint. If an opponent is lying on his or her back then the floor acts as part of the base formed by the hip joint. This holds the hip joint relatively immobile so it becomes our base. Place the opponent’s ankle so it rests upon your chest wall or on top of your shoulder. This is the lever. Now clasp both hands together and place them just above (proximal to) the knee joint. Hold the fulcrum steady and then raise your torso upward to apply the effects of the lever. You might also find it useful in this case to press into the fulcrum slightly, only because it is convenient, not because it is necessary. Again, use caution.
A question you may have is why can’t you simply use the MCP joint as the base similar to the way the hip and shoulder form a viable base. The answer is that smaller joints like the wrist and fingers are attached to larger and more flexible body structures (the wrist or arm, for example) that make it easy to wiggle free of your attempted joint lock. By establishing a firm base first it is then much more difficult for an opponent to escape from your lock.
All joint locks are based on the simple premise of a base, fulcrum, and lever. Experiment with different ways in which these principles might be applied to locks of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers, hips, vertebrae, and knees. Understanding the underlying principles will allow you to essentially invent locks when necessary, rather than having to memorize a dozen (limited) ways in which you might employ specific locks. It is always better to know why you are doing something rather than simply executing some fixed procedure.
Joints in Hyperflexion
Few joints in the human body can be used to generate controlling pain or injury via hyperflexion. It is difficult (but not entirely impossible) to generate substantial pain by bending the elbow or knee too far in its normal flexing direction. Intervening muscles often prevent the joint from being moved too far when bent normally. There are a few joints that do offer substantial control and pain possibilities and we will explore them here.
The most obvious example of a joint that is susceptible to hyperflexion is the wrist joint. If your wrist is bent too far forward (in flexion) you will begin to feel discomfort along the top outside portion (lateral side) of the wrist. If the wrist is bent further in this same direction them substantial pain and potential injury result.
We need to employ the same base, fulcrum, and lever model when putting a joint into hyperflexion. So we might elect to use both hands to envelop an opponent’s hand such that our thumbs are on the back of the opponent’s wrist while our fingers are placed in the palm of the opponent’s hand. Here the palm of our hand functions as the lever. Our fingers form the fulcrum. The opponent’s structure, including the position of the elbow and shoulder form the base. Because the base is formed by the position of the opponent’s arm it is essential to keep the arm from moving significantly. If the opponent can move his or her arm he or she may find a way to escape the lock. So pressure from your hands must be extended, via the opponent’s wrist, so that the opponent’s elbow is kept at or near his or her side. This is not impossible, but can be difficult to accomplish, especially in the heat of a struggle.
A more beneficial way to lock the wrist in hyperflexion is to grasp the wrist so that your fingers are on top of the opponent’s hand while your thumb rests in the opponent’s palm. Now trap the back of the opponent’s bent elbow to ensure a sound and stable base. Apply pressure with the fingers (which function as the lever) toward your thumb (which functions as the fulcrum). Using this more stable locking structure will allow you to control an opponent very successfully. You will be able to escort them nearly anywhere due to the pain compliance afforded by this form of lock.
In a similar way you might lock the foot in hyperflexion. This is clearly more difficult to do as it requires that you have the opponent in a position from which you can access his or her foot. You must also make sure your opponent is in a position from which they cannot employ the opposite leg to kick your or destroy your structure.
We will discuss the muscular system in some detail in your next belt and we will discuss the nervous system in a future belt as well. Here we will discuss a practical application of some of the knowledge you will encounter in later material because it is relevant to joint manipulations and the skeletal system from the aspect of conflict management.
Embedded within each muscle are sensors (we will cover this all in more detail in your next belt) that constantly monitor the current length of the muscle. When you stand these sensors detect when a muscle begins to relax and an automatic reflex will then be initiated to tighten (shorten) the muscle to ensure you remain standing erect. Without this automatic reflex you would find it impossible to stand for any length of time.
When the length of a muscle changes the sensors (called Somatosensory Neurons) detect the change and send a nerve signal to the spinal cord. Additional neurons in the spinal cord determine the appropriate response and will send a signal back to the muscle that will cause the muscle to respond in an appropriate manner. Some of these signals are sent by Lower Motor Neurons that initiate a reflex response. This all occurs millions of times each day as every muscle in your skeleton system contracts (or relaxes) as needed to maintain your body structure or to facilitate activities such as walking.
These actions are all completely involuntary. Your body automatically responds without thought to changes in muscle length. In part as a protective reflex, in support of normal skeletal movements, and in part to maintain a consistent posture or position.
When a doctor uses the small rubber hammer to tap just below your knee cap he or she is testing the viability of this automatic reflex in order to determine if you have certain physical or neurological disorders. When the doctor taps your knee your lower leg will normally lurch forward in response. What is occurring is that the doctor is tapping the patellar tendon that stretches from your thigh muscle (quadriceps muscle) to the tibia bone in your lower leg. Tapping this tendon causes it to be depressed inward which in turn causes the thigh muscle to be suddenly pulled and lengthened. The Somatosensory Neurons detect this sudden elongation of the muscle and transmit appropriate muscle length change signals to interneurons in the spinal cord. The automated response is then invoked and signals are sent from the spinal cord to the Lower Motor Neurons that will cause the quadriceps to suddenly contract in response. This will pull on the tibia, causing the lower leg to spring forward briefly. A second concurrent signal is sent to the hamstring muscles causing them to relax so they do not tense up or otherwise inhibit the reflex response. This entire process takes place quite quickly, resulting in movement of the lower leg in well under half a second in a healthy individual.
This same type of response is possible when striking the Achilles tendon, tendons at the back or front of the elbow, in the wrist, or practically any other location in the skeletal muscular system. Changing the length of a muscle in this way will generate an automated response which does not require or utilize any brain activity. All of these responses are controlled by neurons in the spinal cord.
Therefore it may be possible to cause a muscle that is being contracted, say someone is pulling his or her arm in tightly, to be involuntarily extended outward. This might provide you with an opportunity to gain a momentary advantage or point of further manipulation.
It is not always necessary to strike a tendon to generate a beneficial response. Often you can simply compress a tendon to cause a beneficial reaction. A good example of this is when you are holding someone by the wrist with your front hand while the person is bending forward. You will find it difficult to cause the person’s arm to go straight simply by pulling on his or her wrist. So you seek some form of additional assistance from your back arm, movement, or gravitational forces. One additional element you might now employ is to use your back forearm to rub over the triceps muscle just above the elbow. This may result in the opponent involuntarily extending his or her lower arm just long enough for you to gain the full extension you desire.
Targeting a tendon is not a foolproof way to achieve an objective. If the opponent is moving an appendage in the direction opposite to the manner in which you would like them to move then striking an appropriate tendon may have little or no beneficial effect. It would be imprudent to think of tendon manipulation or striking as a sole method of dealing with any given situation. It is merely one of the tools you might be able to use to increase the possibilities of a beneficial outcome.
There is a fundamental difference between joint locks and joint strikes. A joint lock is used primarily to control or manipulate an opponent in some manner. A joint strike is intended to damage the joint being struck. Such damage may be quite debilitating to your opponent, perhaps causing permanent injury or even death. Therefore these strikes should only be employed in the direst of situations.
The joints most often struck are the elbow and the knee. These are large, easily targeted joints that when struck can cause debilitating injuries to an opponent, perhaps rendering him or her incapable of continuing a conflict.
The elbow is most easily struck when you are holding the opponent’s wrist with one hand and the striking with the opposite hand or forearm. The hand grasping the wrist usually turns and positions the arm such that the opponent’s elbow faces upward or in some other ideal striking position. The striking portion of your anatomy then slams into the outstretched arm at the location of the elbow joint. Often your hand holding the opponent’s wrist is also pulled in so that the opponent’s wrist is moving toward you as you are forcing the opponent’s elbow away. This increases the forces applied directly to the elbow joint and substantial damage to the joint is likely.
The knee is somewhat easier to damage, especially of the opponent has become rooted on the leg that is to be struck. Now it is a relatively simple matter to strike the knee such that the knee is pressed directly back in a forceful manner. Yoko Kekomi Geri works well for this purpose, though many other strikes can also be used effectively. It takes roughly fifteen pounds per square inch of force to cause substantial injury to the knee joint. Roughly half this force is needed to cause similar damage to an elbow joint.
When using a weapon the wrist is a common target. Around the wrist are numerous hard bone targets in the hand, wrist joint, and lower forearm that are easily damaged by a blow from a weapon. This area can also be struck using traditional Karate strikes, but often you will find these strikes are most beneficial if they are limited to bone surfaces at the back of the hand and near the ends of the radius and ulna bones where ample nerves may cause intense pain. Strikes to this area with normal hand strikes (excepting movements designed to lock and subsequently stress the wrist joint itself) are unlikely to cause much physical damage, but they can be quite painful.
The most obvious joints to strike are those that will somehow inhibit future movement or stability of the opponent. This suggests that the ankle, knee, hip, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and neck are the most viable joint targets. The knee and elbow are perhaps the most readily damaged, while the hip and shoulder are harder to damage but more debilitating if successfully injured (note that the collar bone can be just as effective at disabling the arm and it is usually much easier to break). Striking to the foot and ankle (we are talking about strikes here, and not locks or pressures) are perhaps least likely to cause injury, but may result in substantial localized pain.
Striking to the neck is likely to be the most damaging. Depending on the intensity and location of the strike the results could range from movement restriction to unconsciousness and even death. You should strike to the neck only when the prevailing conditions suggest you are in imminent danger of great bodily harm.
If you were to break a joint when executing such a strike then the opponent will likely find that parts of their anatomy distal from the break are no longer useful or easily moved in a reliable manner. This can be useful if the opponent is wielding a weapon or if an extremely aggressive opponent would likely have the ability to overtake you if you decided to flee. No matter how determined an individual may be they will not be able to run quickly with a broken leg.