Sunday, March 15, 2015

On Locking

While it is plain to see that anyone who has studied Kali Majapahit will have similar basics (including some of the KM "signature" moves), beyond a certain point all of us will express our flow in a slightly different way based on our unique backgrounds and personal preferences.

Some of us who come from boxing/kickboxing lineages will express KM principles with brutal and effective Panantukan/Sikaran styled Filipino "dirty boxing", while others with a JKD background may prefer a KM flavored "straight blast" or Hakka-inspired trapping.

My pre-KM lineage is mostly Japanese traditional martial arts including sword styles (Iaiajutsu/Kenjutsu), percussive styles (ninjutsu) and Japanese locking systems (Aiki).  That means that locks and locking show up pretty frequently in what I do and what I teach.  Lately some of my beginner students have been asking me about locking, so I'd like to explain why I think these systems are so important to learn, and a few pointers to improve your skills in this area of fighting.

During the recent Peaceful Warrior Camp, Swedish expert instructor Stefan Linarsson (6th Dan) gave a Locking class and the question was raised "Why bother locking?"  I think locking is essential for several reasons:

Locking involves being in close contact with your opponent.  In order to lock successfully, we must be near enough to take firm control of whatever limb or joint we are planning to secure, and keeping contact allows us to "feel" their intention and quickly/smoothly react to any changes. Staying close also puts us inside their punching and kicking range, and this makes it a great toolkit for use when the opponent is larger and has longer reach.  This also makes locks an excellent response when opponents enter CQB distance with us first.

By locking well, we are able to precisely control the amount of pressure we exert in order to gain the compliance we need.  In some situations, unfortunately, it is necessary to injure someone in order to stop their aggressive intent, but unlike striking systems, locking allows us the ethical chance to submit without injury.  This can be useful for dealing with people who are drunk or who otherwise do not warrant an aggressive and overly violent response.  Done well, locks offer a great option as part of an integrated weapons defense/disarming, since one principle for neutralizing a knife is to immobilize the knife arm to prevent the knife from making contact and moving to cut.  Lastly, many locks and holds can be properly applied while still standing, and this allows us to put multiple attackers in each others' way when needed.

Locking into a submission gives us the option of pain compliance to stop an attacker, versus striking arts where compliance comes as a result of the knockout - which can have more dire consequence of injury.  Law enforcement professionals often use locks as part of R & R (restraint and removal) as a step in applying handcuffs or plastic restraints to suspects.

Furthermore, since we will only ever fight when provoked or in defense of someone else, this suggests the other party has broken the law by committing assault.  Locking is an effective way of executing a citizen's arrest and immobilizing the suspect while law enforcement arrive on the scene.  While laws of countries and jurisdictions may vary, in general the reasonable use of force is allowed for citizen's arrest.  This may not include repeated kicks and punches to the head or use of weapons, but often will include locking.

Chokes and Strangles
Along with breaks, chokes and strangles are the most serious of the locking arsenal.  Locking the head/neck is always potentially dangerous, and can easily result in permanent injury or death.  As such these holds should be practiced with care and only used in very serious situations.  That being said, locking the head/neck is one of the fastest and best ways to get an attacker to stop. The sudden "black tunnel" of a strangle or the pounding of the temples and the shock of struggling for breath that a choke causes get just about anyone to submit.  Done properly, these techniques apply and finish so quickly that the opponent often has little chance to resist.

For clarity, chokes are head/neck locks that seek to block the opponent from breathing, while strangles target the arteries to stop blood flow.  The results can look the same (opponent passes out and goes limp), but the means are completely different.

So what are some keys to locking??

Isolate the target joints
Locking is usually done against (at least one) specific joint(s).  For each lock, take care to understand the specific area being targeted and learn how to isolate it.  This means that we immobilize the joint in order to limit its range of motion.  To effect the lock, we then apply pressure to the joint, usually against the typical range of motion.  This can result in pain compliance as the joint hyper-extends, or ultimately into a break.  All joints are not created equal, and some joints are simple hinges (elbow/knee), ball and sockets (shoulder/hip) or radials (wrist/ankle/neck).  As the above clearly illustrates, most locking principles work equally well on both high and low-line variants (elbow/knee, wrist/ankle, fingers/toes).

Angles matter
Precision is key when locking.  Especially when locking the elbow and knee joints (which is fairly common).  For example, finding the elbow lever position is easily done by aligning with the little finger on the hand, since the little finger always identifies the direction of the elbow hinge, even when the wrist/hand is rotated.

NO Slack
In order to quickly and effectively execute a lock, it is important that we remove any slack from the target joint.  This means that if the opponent's arm/leg/head can still move around, the lock will be loose and take more time to work, or may not even work at all.  Good locks do not offer any escape for the joint, and the opponent is not able to move the target in any direction except against the usual range of motion.  The most common reasons for slack are that we are too far away or are too shallow in isolating the joint.

Use Leverage and Torque
Once a joint is properly immobilized, we can begin applying pressure to it.  Most beginners try to do this using their arm/shoulder muscles.  This can work against a weak joint (elbow/knee) when the opponent is weaker or already compliant but can be challenging otherwise.  The best locks allow us to use our large muscle groups to apply leverage.  This means we should seek to use the muscles of the back, hips and legs primarily, or to deliver the full body weight in order to make the lock more effective.

Thus, when learning locks you should consider how the lock can be applied using the largest muscles available and how your body weight can aid delivering the lock.  Often, this means arching the back to extend the pelvis and deliver the back and legs into the lock.  In other cases, the lock takes advantage of the large chest muscles and back muscles in combination (especially pulling as you would in a "seated row" movement).

Lastly, relaxation is important to allow larger muscle groups to deliver the lock.  Tension in the arms/shoulders will prevent us from using the back/hips/legs and weaken our locks and make them hard to maintain.  To borrow an example from rock climbing, the arms/hands are used to set position and take balance, but the back/hips/legs are used to drive and deliver power.  This is exactly the same in locking.

There are many locks which apply torque or rotation to the joint.  Wrist locks almost always involve rotation/torque.  When this is part of a lock, it doesn't work well without it, so it is important to apply the torque fully when a lock includes it.  many students will focus on another part of the lock and miss the rotation of the wrist.  This makes the lock incrementally more difficult (or impossible) to execute.  Torque is a key to taking away balance and structure, and can be an essential part of the locking series.  If it is in the movement, don't forget it!

Speed and Simplicity
While there are some very involved and complex locks, I am more a fan of locks which can be executed very quickly and involve only one or two movements.  In the chaos of a fight filled with high adrenalin and stress, I find that slower, more complex movements fail, or are contingent upon injuring the opponent before application, neither of which are a preferred result for me.

It is highly likely that an initial hit will be required to disrupt the balance and concentrated before a lock is applied (called "atemi" in Japanese), this can usually be done with a good slap rather than a punch or elbow, and can be more about pain/distraction than injury.

A good lock should be on before the other person is aware of it and over before the other person can react to it.

Once these principles are well understood, smaller people have little trouble locking bigger people.

I hope the above will spark your curiosity in exploring the wide world of locking and in finding new effectiveness in your locking training.  These techniques should have a valuable place in your fighting arsenal.

See you on the mats!

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