Tag Archives: wrist lock

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.


Hey! Love your blog. If this has been discussed, forgive me, but I was wondering if you could talk about holds that a character might employ when they do not want to fight or injure their opponent but want to stop them from attacking altogether. Also, what options might a character have for getting out of a hold? Are there other holds a character might use if they didn’t care about causing injury? Thanks!

Well, despite someone’s best intentions fighting pretty much always means that someone is going to get hurt, even in Martial Arts like Aikido that are supposed to specialize in ending a fight by simply defeating an opponent but leaving them uninjured. The idea is basically that if you prove yourself to be an insurmountable obstacle that they’ll give up and go away. This philosophy is very rooted in Shinto and it pretty much only works in Japan (if it works at all). For an example, you see this philosophy at play a lot in Japanese Anime with villains or anti-heroes who change sides after they are defeated by the hero.

In real life people usually aren’t that amenable. They don’t just give up and go away. A character just saying they are better, knowing they are, and showing they are isn’t necessarily going to be enough. The other character may assume that because they didn’t feel pain this time, that the character cannot cause pain. They’ll come back and try again, even in a losing proposition. They need an incentive to stop, something more than just “I’m better than you” and pain can be a very nice incentive.

So, holds. A hold means holding your opponent, so all holds have several different stages that a character can upgrade to if the person they are holding is misbehaving. There are loads and loads and loads of holds a character can use that don’t involve injuring their opponent and almost all of them can be upgraded into a broken bone, limb, or genuine choke. It’s a dual usage technique.

A character will always operate on the basis of what they know how to do, the point where they stop is ultimately up to them. Two different characters with two different outlooks can use the exact same technique to achieve very different results. Focus on what the technique could do and whether or not a character takes it there, not whether or not the technique is appropriate to the situation. Your character only has enough time to learn so many things, what they do understand how to do is the basis of how they fight. Always remember that what they want to do and what they can actually do are two different things. Also, what they want is not always up to them, a fight involves at least two people.  Another character may force the first character to hurt them, simply because they won’t stop. Situations aren’t always amenable to our desires, even when we do everything right.

There’s one more thing to consider: after they have them in the hold, what do they do next? No, really, this is an important question. They can’t escape from the situation carrying the bad guy with them. The bad guy will probably still be fighting back and may not have realized yet that they’ve been subdued, or they may be playing for time until their buddies show up. Either way, your character is still going to have to call someone like the cops. This means (if it’s a two handed hold like a headlock), they’ll have to transfer the person their holding into a single hand hold, which gives the person the opportunity to escape. They’ll have to make the 911 call and talk to the dispatcher, they’ll be distracted, again giving their opponent the opportunity to escape. Today in the US it can take the police 15 to 20 minutes to show up, if they show up at all. This is a very long time to be holding onto someone, especially if you consider that the average fight only lasts about 30 seconds. The character’s legs and arms will begin to cramp, their muscles will start to protest, their hands will be slippery from the sweat, they may lose their grip. Again, giving their opponent the opportunity to come back around at them. This time, their opponent will be much fresher than they are because (assuming their opponent still has their wrist, arm, or leg intact) they’ve actually expended less energy over the long run trying to break free of the hold than the character has expended to keep them there. Ironic, isn’t it?

Finally, the discussion of escapes. To talk about escapes from holds, we’d have to discuss technique, theory, and practical application. We don’t really have time for that in a question format. But for the moment: the easiest answer to escapes is take the path of least resistance. In a wrist grab, roll the wrist against the thumb and yank, instead of pulling against the fingers. To escape from a two handed choke: drop your chin, bring the hands up between the opponent’s two hands (inside the wrists) and push outwards. In the bear hug, drop your weight. If someone has trapped you against the wall with two hands on either side of you: duck under one arm and leave.

This is the path of least resistance. For more information on holds (before we do an article ourselves), check out the Junkyard Aikido video under our Michael Janich or Michael D Janich tag. He goes over a lot of the different principles for holds and that might help get you thinking.