Tag Archives: joint breaks

Q&A: Joint Breaks

Is it actually possible to mess up someone’s leg by kicking them in the side of the knee, which seems to be really common in movies? If not, what would be a plausible, effective way to attack/disable the legs?

Yes, absolutely. Any joint you have that you enjoy using that bends in one direction, applying pressure in any other direction until it pops is going to be unhappiness. This is what joint locks do, and joint breaks are simply applying enough pressure or force to break it. It’s about leverage, not strength. Anyone can do it.

The common kicks for this are the sidekick and the shin kick, but you can also break the knee with your elbow, your hand, or a car door. Understand though, once the joint is blown, it takes major surgery to get it back if you can get the joint functioning again at all.

In a real life context, whatever you need to stay alive and escape. They can’t chase you without functioning legs. In a fictional context, you probably want to take this reality into account. This is a joint break, and the knee is a necessary part of a human being’s ability to move while on their feet. Blown joints are usually permanent, or have a long recovery time with modern medicine.

You’re going to want to take that into account according to your character’s own views on violence and it’s uses. The thematic aspects of violence in fiction are as important as the practical applications. Your character’s morals mesh with their approaches, regardless of what is or isn’t best or smart. Everything your character does says something about them, and if your character is one of the peaceable “Everyone must live!” types then a joint break in application creates implied hypocrisy and dysfunction. Catherine of Russia didn’t kill her political rivals, but she locked them up in prison, had them tortured, and this included children. So… what is benevolence? Breaking someone’s arm forever isn’t murder, but it’s also not a nice thing to do and weighing the morality of your character’s actions is something you should consider. One might consider locking a child up in a tower, away from their parents and the sun, refusing to allow them to learn to speak, read, or write, better than killing them. (That was the ultimate fate of Ivan VI.) Some might not.

The question is not just does the approach work, but does the action and its consequences fit with the character’s stance? The second is sometimes much harder to answer than the first, but, for me, the real problem is character actions not matching mentality and intention. Remember, “Does it work?” should always be followed with “Should this character do it?”


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Is it possible for someone to break another one’s wrist with a single movement? Or is it posible for someone to break their own wrist by doing a wrong movement?

It depends on what you mean by “a single motion”, usually when the techniques are taught, they are broken down into several different stages to ensure the safety of the trainees. When they are done in live situation, then yes, they can be done in a single motion or, at least, they are done so quickly that it looks like it.

The most common joint locks/joint breaks in the U.S. are the variants that come off jiu-jutsu, these are the ones that were incorporated into CQC and are the basis for several different self-defense disciplines. The beginning one’s are fairly easy to learn and at least one or two will be taught in most self-defense classes, even ones that only last a few days.

The common rule of thumb in combat is this: it is easier to kill someone than control someone. It easier to debilitate someone, i.e. breaking their wrist, than it is to just threaten them with the pain and the potential that you might. This is part of why martial artists and other trained combatants face a higher level of scrutiny under the law. They do know how to kill and maim, so it’s important for the police to discover if they tried other means first before jumping straight to manslaughter.

Joint locks are tricky because they rely entirely on forcing the joint to move in a direction it doesn’t want to or can’t go in until the pain becomes too much. A joint lock transitions into a joint break when the joint is stressed past the breaking point and snaps. (This is why joint-lock techniques are difficult and sometime ineffective against someone who is double-jointed. The same is true of pressure points against someone with a “dead” nervous system.) It’s very easy to do with the wrist and it’s exceedingly easy to do accidentally, especially in combat when adrenaline floods the system and emotions are running high. It can also happen in training if the students are stupid or have bad oversight from their instructor. It’s ridiculously easy to have happen if the students start going too fast or one decides to be brave/tough (stupid) and refuses to tap out. If you don’t tell your partner that you’re feeling pain, they may push it too far and break the joint.

Joint breaks can lead to losing a limb, especially without proper medical attention. It’s important to remember that the joints are part of what allows your body to move, when they break or are strained, you can’t move that body part anymore. This is why joints are popular for stun locks, such as punching the shoulder. Someone cannot punch if they cannot draw their arm back. By negating someone’s ability to fight effectively, you negate part of the threat they pose.

Joint-locks and throws are always practiced with a partner.

Recommended Reading/Viewing:

Junkyard Aikido: A self-defense instructional vidoe by Michael Janich talking about how to use traditional joint locking methods on the street.

Small-Circle Jujitsu by Wally Jay. Wally Jay revolutionized American jiu-jutsu with his techniques and his instructional book is worth the read. You can see application of his methodology in the Junkyard Aikido video above.

Taiji Chin Na: The Seizing Art of Taijiquan by Doctor Yang, Jwing-Ming. Doctor Yang, Jwing-Ming has spent his life dedicated to Taiji and Shaolin, he has several instructional videos and has spent much of his time trying to revive the combat art of Taiji. He also has a book entitled Shaolin Chin Na if you’re looking for the difference between joint locks in a “soft” versus “hard” style. I like this book in particular because it spends so much of it’s time discussing how the techniques work, how the body works, and what they affect. It’s an incredibly useful read.

Martial Arts:

There are many martial styles that incorporate joint-lock/joint break techniques. You don’t need to just go with Japan. Much like wrestling and ground fighting, every culture that practices warfare develops their own methods to control and break the human body. However, outside of Japan, joint locks/joint breaks/wrestling/ground fighting tend to be components and aspects of a martial style, instead of what it’s entirely devoted to.

Japan: Aikido, Aiki-jutsu, Jiu-jutsu, Judo, Ninjutsu

China: Chin Na (Chin Na is a bit of a misnomer because it basically relates to “seizing” which is a component practiced in all Chinese martial arts as opposed to being a style of it’s own.)

Korea: Hapkido

Thailand: Muay Thai, Muay Boran,

Philippines: Eskrima


makomorimakomori said: Eskrima is Filipino.

You’re right. The sad part is I know better than that. Apparently, my brain just took a shit and died today.


Fight Write: The Only Unfair Fight is the One You Lose (Part 2: Brutality)

This is the second part of our article “The Only Fair Fight is the One You Lose”, if you haven’t read the first part “The Nietzschean Defense” please do so. This article refers to some of the other more brutal aspects of combat. Again, we believe it’s important for every writer who wants to work with combat to understand it in its entirety. This includes the bloody, uncomfortable aspects of it.

Knowing when, where, and how far to push your character is a key part of writing a combatant. If you don’t know where the upper limits are, how can you write a character who defies them or worse, how can you write a character who goes there? This part of the article is the slightly gentler side of things. You know, if, for any reason, you don’t want your characters psyching out their enemies by becoming a monster in their personal horror movie. Below are are a few more mild options. These focus on ending the fight definitively and quickly before the fight has even gotten started. Again, we’ll be listing this with a trigger warning.

Joint Break

There are two kinds of joint breaks, elbow and knee. Elbow breaks are strictly defensive counterstrikes designed to cripple the attacker’s arm. Knee strikes exist as both defensive and offensive strikes.

Most elbow breaks rely on catching a strike, twisting the attacker’s hand like a normal arm lock, but, instead of applying force against the elbow to subdue the attacker, the martial artist follows with a hard strike to the back of the attacker’s elbow. If properly executed the strike will hyperextend the limb, tearing muscle tissue, and destroying the joint.

Defensive knee breaks work off a similar system; trapping the attacker’s leg during a kick, and delivering a hard strike to the knee.

Knee breaks also exist as a variety of kicks to the leg, designed to force the joint to tear. To break the knee all your character needs to do, is strike it so it bends in any direction except the one it had originally.

As with the attacks in the previous article; joint breaks are viewed as very egregious in the real world. These are injuries that will never properly heal without significant medical attention and surgery.

About 14 years ago, I hyperextended my knee while running. While, this was substantially less destructive than an actual joint break; I was on crutches for about a month, and was still using a cane to get around six months later. Even with physical therapy, this is an injury that’s never fully healed.

Breaking an enemy’s joint will effectively remove them from the fight, as they’ll slip into shock.

The Head Slam

We’ve talked about hair pulling, but this is the real payoff. The character seizes their opponent’s head, either by the hair, across the back of the skull, in the grip described in the eye gouging section, or by grabbing their face. They then start pounding the head into any nearby solid object with as much force as they can muster.

This works best as a preemptive strike. While a large character could grab an enemy mid fight and start slamming their head into things, jumping a character and using the force to repeatedly slam their head into the pavement is just as viable for a smaller character.

Films are somewhat fond of using these attacks, though they often downplay the danger involved. One or two strikes to the head will seriously impair any combatant.

Strikes to the front of the skull are slightly less effective, because of the heavier bone structure in the forehead, but with these attacks, exterior physical damage isn’t the point; inflicting brain damage is.

Head slams have an advantage over normal combat techniques: there’s little to no risk of hand injury from them. There’s also an equally serious disadvantage. Head slams can easily kill the other combatant, and the factors which control this are completely outside your character’s control. Bounce the brain off the skull to hard, or in just the wrong way, and they have a corpse to contend with.

The Groin

Everyone reading this should have some general familiarity with the concept of groin strikes. “Kick ‘em in the nuts, and down they go.”

This actually works on combatants regardless of their gender, though kicking women in the genitals requires slightly more accuracy to be effective since the striking region is much narrower. (Michi Note: I received an accidental knee to the groin during my third degree black belt test and it wasn’t much more than a clip, but it hurt like a…anyway, it’ll knock a girl out of the fight as same as a man.) If you’re wondering why: the clitoris is just as sensitive as the penis and has as many (or more) nerve endings. It’s just smaller, so it’s harder to hit.