Dealing with wrist grabs


In my article "Gorillas in the midst: the question of wrist grabs" I wrote about the common misconceptions about wrist grabs: their occurrence in attacks, their function in "setting up" techniques and their use in martial training pedagogies.

But recently a correspondent's query made me realise that I haven't yet addressed the question of how to deal with wrist grabs. In this regard, Nathaniel wrote:
    "As a small man (140lb), I've found that people frequently grab my guard. They use these grabs to easily break my structure and make me feel quite foolish. I've been having a lot of trouble countering these grabs, especially double wrist grabs. I don't suppose you'd know anything I can do to improve this without anyone physically there to provide resistance, do you?"
The occurrence of wrist grabs

Nathaniel's comments provide an example of what I believe is the most common use of wrist grabs.

Yes, you don't see wrist grabs in MMA bouts (other than the odd, brief, set up for grappling etc.). But this is precisely because of the context in which those bouts occur. MMA fights are typically between two fairly evenly-matched opponents who have the particular goal of winning the fight. You can't win an MMA fight by wrist-grabbing!

This contrasts with many civilian defence situations where the perpetrator of the violence is a larger, stronger person picking on a smaller, lighter "easy target". The purpose of the grab isn't to "win a bout" but rather to effect a specific result, namely:
  1. to restrain you for the purposes of effecting a serious criminal offence (eg. a murder, sexual assault, abduction or robbery); or
  2. to effect some form of lesser abuse against you (involving harassment, humiliation or other domination) - whether through the restraint itself or some follow-up measure that relies upon the restraint.
In my previous article about wrist grabs, I referred to a particular case I was involved in prosecuting, where a woman was dragged out of sight of a surveillance camera. Had she resisted or otherwise been able to deal with the wrist grab for another 15 seconds or so, two people passing by would have seen her and might have come to her aid (or at the very least, their appearance might have caused the attacker to abandon his attack). So for a smaller person, I believe there is a very real need to learn how to deal with wrist grabs.

But the "lesser assault" cases are probably going to be of greater concern to my average reader, simply because they occur more often – in a park, on a train, in a domestic situation or even in the dojo. Some people are bullies. And wrist grabs are often used by them to dominate smaller, lighter people. The bully will use a wrist grab to assert dominance: to inflict humiliation and to cause distress.

Even if you aren't the victim of a bully, you might find yourself being overwhelmed by a larger person in honest dojo sparring; the larger person might unconsciously revert to wrist grabs because he or she can do so relatively effectively. I think this is totally contrary to the purpose and spirit of sparring, but I recognise that it might not be conscious or deliberate. In other words, it happens.

(In the above pictures and the video below , you'll see me "dominating" a student – but I did this reluctantly and only for the purpose of this article! The student got to throw me around at the end to make up for it!)

A video where I discuss dealing with wrist grabs

"If someone grabs you, just hit him!"

Bruce Lee famously said: "If somebody grabs you, hit him!" And that makes a lot of sense in the "more serious" offence situations. But it also assumes that:
  1. you are able to hit the person who has grabbed you (eg. you have enough strength and skill and the grab hasn't incapacitated your own ability to attack); and
  2. your strike is likely to be effective in dislodging the grab; and
  3. hitting the grabber is appropriate in the circumstances (ie. the grab is not one of the "lesser assaults" where causing harm is uncalled for, and you won't simply be escalating a situation to a new level of violence that is even less desirable to you and that would otherwise be avoidable).
Regardless, I shall take as a given that the simplest response is always the best one. If you can strike someone who has grabbed you and it will be both effective and appropriate for you to do so, you should do this rather than go through some more elaborate escape, lock or throw. In that case, the grab is really just an incidental part of a larger altercation.

But for the most part, people (like Nathaniel) who are concerned about grabs are looking for a response that is less "violent" and will be appropriate to a wider variety of situations than a "full blown fight".

Learning how to "escape" from a grab is the first step to dealing with grabs in this wider context. (Note that strikes can, and in serious cases should, accompany any escape from a wrist grab. They can assist in the escape and also permit a "follow up" to deter or even prevent further attacks.)

Escaping from wrist grabs

So how can one best escape from a wrist grab?

The answer to that question is really quite straightforward, even for a relatively small person. Obviously if the size/strength disparity is too great, it might be past the "tipping point" – ie. where you are no longer going to have enough physical strength to escape from a wrist (or any other) grab. A simple (absurd) example would be if you were grabbed by King Kong.

But for the most part, pretty much any adult will be able to escape from a wrist grab by another adult. This is because of one simple factor: if you do it correctly, you can use your entire body to aid the escape, while your attacker will be relying on his or her finger muscles (and to a lesser extent the muscles in his or her arms).

So how should you go about escaping from a wrist grab? Here are the general principles:

Act quickly

If you want to escape from a grab, it is always best to do so as the grab is being effected – not after it has been firmly established. The less secure the grab is, the easier it is to escape (using the principles to which I refer below). You need to act quickly, decisively and with as much vigour as you can muster.

As you are grabbed, keep your elbow(s) low and close to your body

This might seem to be obvious advice, but it isn't widely known. In much the same way as the uninitiated will try to escape a grappler by turning their backs (only to find themselves in an even worse situation), smaller people will often struggle with a wrist grab and raise their elbow in a futile attempt to find an escape route "upwards".

In this regard, I often think of the 1950s horror movies I used to watch as a kid. Inevitably the plot would feature a woman running away from a werewolf/vampire/monster, somewhere deep in a forest. The woman would trip and fall and the attacker would grab her by the wrist. She would scream and flail about – and lift her elbow! It wasn't till I watched surveillance footage of attacks on (untrained) people that I noticed how accurate this Hollywood depiction actually was.

Lifting your elbow as you are grabbed is the absolute worst thing you could ever do. Trust me. Keep your elbows low and close to your body. This will help you use more of your own bodyweight, while any distance your attacker keeps (eg. through a straighter arm formed by trying to pull you) will work against him/her.

(The only thing that you need to be careful about is not to let your opponent jam your elbows into your abdomen; for that reason, always keep your elbows about a fist distance from your body - don't rest them against your ribs. This allows you enough room to wiggle out from an attempted downward "jam" by your opponent.)

Move your body in towards your elbows

In order to keep your elbows close to your body, you will probably have to move your body towards your elbows and not the reverse – particularly if your opponent is much stronger than you are. I mention this as a separate point to the preceding one (even though they are really one and the same instruction) because people tend to try to pull away from their attacker. "Moving in" is often the last thing people will do reflexively.

So make sure you move into your opponent as the grab is being effected, keeping your elbows low as you do so. This will ensure that you will be able to use your whole body in levering your way out of the grab.

Attack the gap between the thumb and the fingers!

One of my first teachers used to say that "God didn't made your hands perfect for grabbing – he left a gap!" (and he would point to the gap between the thumb and fingers). I used to imagine a human hand comprising a solid, cylindrical band of flesh, and wonder how one could ever use it to grab something in the first place. But of course this was just my instructor's humour.

The fact is that with all but the most disproportionately large attackers (I'm thinking of King Kong again) there is a gap. Even if there isn't a "gap" there is a weakness. And it is this gap/weakness that you must exploit. Get it right, and you'll be levering your wrist through the gap with the whole weight of your body – while your attacker is left to resist the escape with his or her finger muscles. That is the "ideal" you're striving for. In reality, you'll end up with something less than that. But the closer you get to this ideal, the better your chances of effecting an escape from the grab.

Turn the "thin" edge of your forearm into the gap

I haven't discussed this in the preceding video, but it is a point worth making. When you are "attacking the gap" between your opponent's thumb and fingers, turn your forearm so that you present the "thin" edge to the gap. This will maximise your chances of escape.

Use a twisting lever action to escape in one quick, decisive movement

In the video I show that even a slow lever action against the gap will make holding on to your hands impossible. But in reality, and given a possible size/strength disparity, you want to leave nothing to chance! So effect your breakout as quickly and with as much venom as you can. In doing so, you can use a twisting action – ie. one that rotates your forearm on its axis. This will make it harder for your opponent to hold on.

You can see this clearly in the cross-hand grab escape that I demonstrate, but it occurs in the same-side grab as well; my wrist starts off palm down and ends up in a "thumb up" finish. You should use your twist so as to present the thin edge of your forearm at the start of the breakout and to lever your breakout for the rest.

Use both arms if you have to!

Nathaniel specifically refers to situations where both wrists are grabbed. In that case, as well as in the case where one of your wrists is grabbed with two of your opponent's hands, you can always use both hands together to assist your breakout.

In the case of both hands being grabbed, the easiest, most basic and most effective technique is to clasp your hands together, bring your body to your elbow and lever the elbow up, twisting your forearm through the gap as you do so.

In the case of two hands grabbing one of yours (a daft attack since you still have one hand free to hit your attacker – but it still happens!) you can use the same tactic. All that changes is that you might have to grab in between your opponent's forearms. If you can't grab there, you can always grab around them (on your grabbed hand's little finger side).

An alternative to clasping your hands together is to make your grabbed hand into a fist, then grab the fist with your supporting hand.

Note that "assisted breakouts" can also be used against single-handed grabs to make up for a significant size/strength disparity.

Counter if you need to!

One thing I didn't show in the preceding video is that you can and should effect a counter after your escape if the circumstances warrant it. An upwards levered breakout can easily be followed by a "reversal of momentum" bringing your fist onto the bridge of your attacker's nose, for example.

Taking advantage of your opponent's grab

But breaking out of a wrist grab isn't the only thing you can do. Even a relatively small person can use being grabbed as a platform for "turning the tables" on an opponent.

I discuss using wrist grabs to your advantage (video set to start at the correct point)

From about 5:22 onwards I discuss such strategies for exploiting wrist grabs. There are simply too many to enumerate here. It is sufficient to note that if your opponent has his or her whole attention fixed at grabbing you, your opponent will be preoccupied with that (foolish) task. This will leave you plenty of scope for exploiting that preoccupation.

One way in which you can do so is by using the grab to lever your opponent into a lock or throw. That might seem incredible for a smaller person, but you'll note in the above video that good lever locks/throws don't require much strength. In particular, note when my student locks/throws me towards the end of the video. This wasn't rehearsed nor was I "acting" or making it overly easy on my student (other than the initial pause when I invited him to throw me).

The secret behind this method is to realise that a grab is really a kind of "platform" for your own techniques. I call it that, because a firm grab provides a level of certainty. The firmer it is, the stronger the foundation for your technique.

For example, a stiff straight arm can more easily be locked at the elbow, a rigidly bent arm can be levered upward at the elbow, a firm grip on your wrist is almost as good as your own firmest grip (given the "grip reflex")... the list goes on!

By contrast, if your attacker's grab "evaporates" as soon as you start to try to apply your own lock, you have "nothing" upon which to base your technique.

So I teach my students not to be concerned about wrist or other grabs. For every hand your opponent is grabbing you with, he/she has one less to hit you with. And you still have your hands free to lock, throw – or simply strike.

Understandably, you can't actually strike in every instance (eg. in the dojo or when you and a friend are just mucking around) which is why I've concentrated here on "non-violent" counters (although I can tell you there wasn't anything non-violent about my student's last throw against me!).

High wrist grabs

I gather from Nathaniel's query that he is mostly experiencing high wrist grabs - ie. when his guard his being grabbed. This usually means that the grab is effected with your hand higher than your opponents.

I haven't really focused on that in the peceding video because it is really an extremely weak grab; it is generally much easier to break out of using the very principles to which I have previously referred. This is because all you will usually have to do to "attack the gap" and dislodge the grip is simply "drop" your hands. As you will see from the adjacent picture, this automatically weakens the grip and widens the gap through which you can escape.

Indeed, the same is true for a low wrist grab - simply raising your arm will weaken the grip and allow you to exploit the gap. The problem is, of course, that raising your arm uses much smaller, weaker muscles in your shoulders. Dropping your arms uses your latissimus dorsi (your "lats") - ie. your back muscles. These are some of the biggest, strongest muscles in your body.

So if somebody ever grabs you in a high grab, don't be too troubled. My first instructor used to call this a "goofy grab" because it is so inherently weak. The only thing you really need to worry about is the previously mentioned issue of having your elbows pushed down into your body. If your guard leaves a sufficient gap between your elbows and ribs (one fist distance is about right) then you should have no trouble wiggling out of this hold.

Otherwise, the adjacent pictures make it clear just how "transient" any wrist hold can be. You can test this with a simple "up/down" exercise where you take turns at converting his/her wrist grab into your own. If one side resists, you'll note just how much harder it is to do the rising conversion (from a low grab) than it is to do the falling one. It's simply phyisics and physiology. Larger muscles + gravity make escaping a high grab much easier.

If this is your problem Nathaniel, take a look at the following video, especially towards the end, for some tactics you can employ on high, double-hand grabs. Note of course that the escape is the first thing you should practice. Explore the weaknesses and the gap to see how best to effect it from any particular position.

Another video where I discuss locks/throws from double-handed grabs


So when your wrists are grabbed the main thing to do is remain calm. Keep your elbows low and move your body in towards them. Use a lever action and the thin edge of your forearm to exploit the gap between his thumb and fingers. Or use the grab as a platform for your own lock or throw.

Whatever you do, act confidently, decisively and quickly.

And remember that even if you don't succeed entirely in escaping/countering, you might well have impeded the attack sufficiently to permit your escape, allow others to help you or simply to make attacking you "not worth the effort".

Also remember that people who would grab you are normally going for an "easy target". If you are anything but that, they will be more inclined to leave you alone. Of course no one can guarantee this but you want to give yourself every chance...

Wrist grabs can and do get used in attack. Everyone should know, as a minimum, the basics of dealing with such an attack. I hope this article serves to provide some useful information in this regard.

To Nathaniel, I can say that while there is limited training you can do without a partner to grab you, you can, at the very least, practice the above basics on your own via simple drills (such as stepping forward into your elbow and effecting a twisting lever action with your arm). I would strongly recommend repeating this with a partner as soon as you can find one.

Remember however that no video, book or article is ever going to be a substitute for a good instructor!

Copyright © 2012 Dejan Djurdjevic


  1. Great article Dan! I believe that wrist grabs are usually precursors to strikes or other techniques and knowing how to properly extricate oneself from such is important. Once a person is confident in their ability to free themselves from such grabs other venues can be explored (like striking while purposely allowing the attacker to hold one as a distraction, kicking the legs etc.).

  2. Thanks Jo. Yes - they are precursors and set up lots of different techniques. The cry "No one grabs your wrists" is a huge overstatement. What people mean is that no one grabs your wrist in the stilted manner of basic practice - but that is another story! Thanks again!

  3. Just this last weeks we have been training these basic techniques at the dojo :P Of course, they are not the same, but the principles are all there.

    And I guess it's the principles that count when you get grabbed in an uncontrolled environment.

    Thank you as usual ;)

  4. Great discussion, Dan! I always try to approach teaching escapes from wrist grabs from the premise that the person grabbing will probably be bigger/stronger than you. Great minds and all that :-)

    I gotta admit, though, when I first glanced at the blog stills I thought "Who is that big brute tugging on that other guy?" So, I'm truly sorry for thinking you a big brute :-)

    Thanks for sharing, Dan!

  5. How do you get a grip reflex? Because when an aikido instructor told me to grab unto their arm strongly, I tried to do so, but the moment they carried it past the point where my natural grabbing range was, my hands seemed like they let go automatically and the instructor said that I wasn't using a strong grip.

    Later I figured out that if I hadn't done so, my torso would have been bent and pulled forward, making me off balance. So I have to try "extra hard" to make myself get a "grip reflex". The idea that I'm going to train to hold unto things that will make me unbalanced, was perhaps not very natural to me. These "instincts" of mine only make sense after I do some backwards engineering of the techniques. Almost always I find that the instinct was correct even though at the time I had no idea why that was so.

    One should never forget that these H2H skills were often used to supplement weapons. Specifically, if you wish to use a weapon, you must carry a weapon. And if you carry a weapon, it can be taken from you or otherwise nullified. Or when wielding a weapon, it can be disarmed or locked via grappling techniques. A sword can be stalled by locking a person's wrists. A sheathed sword can be pushed into the person, throwing them off balance, then pulled out of the scabbard or saya and used to kill its owner. Thus aikido, aikijutsu, jujutsu, and the various other H2H methods often had this in mind when dealing with open handed grabs.

    I like the wrist escapes because it's one of the few things I can show to a beginner, even a true pacifist that does not believe in fighting or using strong words in anger, to give them an idea of what I mean by martial theory and principles.

    I use them in a demo form where I ask them to grab unto my wrist, and then I slowly rotate my forearm in a spiral and apply continual pressure to their thumb and index finger. I use the mechanical advantage that favors my movement over theirs. So if someone puts their hand on top of my forearm, I rotate to the outside, and then get on top of them, as I pull downwards towards gravity. The hips and other power sources are kept in reserve, since most people would go falling on their face to the ground if I used that much power. Sort of like those videos of Taiji users spinning large opponents around like marbles.

    One woman in particular seemed to utilize the elbow high thing in the beginning. To the point where she was the one applying the force that caused her pain, as she tried to twist her forearm in the middle of my grip, causing friction but no escape. If she stopped trying to apply strength and using her shoulder muscles to muscle out of it, it wouldn't hurt so much.

    I figured out that even if the person's grip is not broken, their balance will be if they attempt to keep their hold. Which means I have essentially dropped their defenses, opening up targets on the upper torso and face area to be destroyed. Much like the karate horse stance that pulls with one hand to pummel with the other. The hand they are using to grab is particularly defenseless, as it opens up that entire side of the face and neck. Whereas the other side might be able to defend that side, if it wasn't for the fact that they were stumbling forward or sideways.

    If it's not one thing, it's another. One trick I found to accelerate a person's learning development on this matter is to tell them to use their hand on their own forearm, and slowly learn to distinguish the feeling between the two. Both the grabber, and the escapee. I aim to be able to do such spiral energies without looking at anything. Purely through touch and kinesthetics.

  6. There are three principle goals for wrist grabs, each with two sides to the coin.

    1. To gain range control and keep someone in grappling range. This is often done to avoid other ranges where one is weak, preventing someone from going to their preferred range, escaping, or getting out of your preferred range. Also used to immobilize someone for your friend to finish off.

    2. To disable or gain control of the person's weapon.

    3. Used as an aid to verbal intimidation and verbal violence.

    Number 1 barely works on me. Number 3 isn't even something I worry about. Number 2 is something I am working on through self training.

    To train the offensive side of 1, one typically needs one of the Chinese 5 Core Principles called "combining your center with theirs". Another way of saying blending in aikido. You take their force and make it your own, and then use it against the foe. You thus control their momentum and position, allowing you to either throw them away (such as in aikijutsu so you can clear your primary weapon and kill them and their buddies attacking you), or keep them close as preferred by short style killing blows. Closer they are, easier they are to kill. The defensive side of 1 would be aikido and chin na escape techniques.

    2's offensive side is a little bit dangerous. Since it's usually you, unarmed, against someone armed. But if you can close the range, you can get a lot done. Disarming them. Using their weapons against them, etc. The defensive side would be counters and reversals of joint locks or disarms seen in aikijutsu for jo/bo/sword.

    3 is basically a toy people use to make loud sounds. So I'll leave that to others.

    2 is not a wrist grab per say used offensively. Japanese samurai wore their swords on the left, so the handle stuck out pretty far. Much more obvious than someone's sidearm. All someone had to do was "walk" up to you and pull it out, usually at handshaking distance (another reason why the japanese bow at a distance). The movement to grab the handle of your sword is exactly the same as that of a wrist grab. So, practically, they were treated as the same in techniques.

    If anyone had ever wondered why aikido does so many "let's shake hands" technique preparations before the technique, that's the reason. The guy sticking out his hand isn't going for your forearm. He's going for your sword. Or grabbing your jo/bo at close range.

  7. @Pablo - thanks and yes, the principles are what counts. That's why I didn't try to guess exactly how Nathaniel was being grabbed. He simply needs to lever through the gap with his body.

    @Felicia - Lol! I thought people might see me and think I was being "brutish". I felt quite bad doing it. And it wouldn't have worked on a big guy. So just for a change I thought I'd "act the part". My student did get to finish the video with 2 decent throws of "the brute"!

    @Ymar - the grip reflex means you will hold on for about half a second - or twice as long as your reaction time. Usually, this is more than enough time to have your grip reflex expoited.

    The problem with aikido techniques is that they can assume a grip for a great deal longer than that. Of course, after 0.5 of a second you'll let go. If throw assumes you're still holding on, then the whole technique falls apart.

    But then again, you have already observed that arts like aikido stem from controlling limbs used to wield swords. In classical Japan, there was a very good reason to keep holding on to the sword hand: to stop him drawing his sword! This could (and did) result in people "hanging on" well after their grip reflex had expired and their other instincts were telling them to do something else. Fear of a deadly sharp blade can do that to you.

  8. I watched your video after I wrote my comments. The xingyi application of these principles is based upon linear acceleration and center line advantage, I observed. Meaning, aikido and various other spiral arts utilize much more circular, indirect, methods. Which requires advanced timing and kinesthetics, such as blending or body weight combining. If achieved, this can render the less skilled user completely vulnerable to a killing blow or lethal/crippling throw. However, if the other person does not in fact give you their center of gravity for you to manipulate, and either lets go or prevents you from pulling them in another fashion, then xingyi's quick retractions would be extremely useful. They are not designed to open or close the range, but rather to drop the opponent's center line advantage, even if his hands are still on yours, and power through that gap and destroy the foe. If the person attempts to stick to your arms to immobilize it and prevent you from striking, xingyi applies bodyweight and the other arm (double shoulder power on) to overcome the enemy's force. This will work since the enemy will be slightly off balance, unable to correctly exert neutralizing force or indirect deflection since they have devoted too much time and energy to grabbing your stuff. But if the opponent lets go and you break the grip, xingyi will already have the arm in a perfect center line to accelerate and penetrate into the target. Even a difference of one degree, will mean xingyi center line advantage will hit first over the opponent's requirement to realign due to even a .1 second delay. Other arts like Bagua, utilize the same concepts, in somewhat different fashions. Aikijutsu used to utilize linear and rotational methods, but aikido has almost discarded the linear applications.

    Circular methods like aikido, if the aggressor just lets go, will just end up with the aikidoka breaking the grip and moving into a circle. Which can be very beneficial when doing an iai draw and cutting off the opponent's arms and legs on the reverse rotation. But not so good if you are doing H2H and you turn your back on the foe. The more pragmatic aikijutsu techniques always at least used some linear components, and attempted to be more efficient. None of this "ring around the rosy" circle dancing you see a lot of times. Those "circular" methods are not for beginners to use in the first place. They are optimally for when fighting 2+ opponents/assassins. You circle around, witness the battlefield, then throw your enemy into another enemy, decreasing the enemy's ability to surround you. There's no teaching a student how to fight multiple opponents when they can't even take down one opponent easily. There's a reason why aikido has a reputation as either an advanced and hard to learn art for beginners or an impractical one.

    But every beginner in aikido is told to focus on these circular methods and drills first. I suppose people think it allows them to generate power. But that's not true either. They first need to understand the martial theory and difference between linear and rotational power sources. Then they can start generating that power. As arts get further and further away from the practical battlefield applications, I see more and more out of order training methods which simply delay a person's progress to proficiency and competence. Which also delays their learning of any truly advanced concepts and methods. It's like telling a child to multiply numbers, when they don't even know how to add. Sure, they can memorize the multiplication table (for years), but the moment it gets higher than 12X12, it all breaks down. Fake proficiency, in other words.

  9. Dan, you are correct in noting that aikido often assumes or requires (better assume than require) that the aggressor is going "all out". That can mean many things. But what it means in practicality is that blending and combining centers now becomes very useful (sen no sen). My research shows that this is normally how the Japanese fought. They "went all out". There was no circling around each other, no patty cake playing around. Then again, this culture created harakiri and anime, so that's to be expected. Death lighter than a feather, duty heavier than mountains.

    The thing is, I don't hear any of this stuff from American aikido instructors or students. I hear "blending" often times, but that's like a parrot repeating what humans say around it. Copying, not invention or original thought. There's a severe, severe, lack of martial theory in forming a student's foundations here. The Japanese have several Kanji based concepts, some derived from kenjutsu, others from Chinese classics. The American cultural basis long ago lost contact of Western swordmanship. Long long ago. The concepts no longer even exist, even in literature.

    Anyways, my point is that more instructors should develop material on teaching students martial theory, as you have, Dan. Things would be a lot better overall in terms of teaching proficiency.

    As for the semi free spar video, Dan just looked like he was playing around. But I'm unsure what level the student was acting on. Was he exerting full effort at half speed but did not know how to break the holds? Was he able to break the hold at the end because you told him which technique to use and he used them due to muscle drill memory?

    For double hand drills, the student should really be proficient in trapping or at least have a basic kinesthetic awareness on "both" hands first. Both. Neuro plasticity is a field in which studies how intertangling the communications signal from both brain .... uh what's the word, hemispheres? It's a field that studies the benefits and effects of crossing the signals going to both sides of the body. It's said to be good for overall health and also stroke victims in rewiring the brain. For fighters, it's key to developing full body coordination, so you don't end up with a "strong side" causing you put your "strong leg" in front all the time like a robot.

    Neuroplasticity is the reason why natural genius and talent does not always produce a Miyamoto Musashi or Sun Tzu. There are other factors involved.

    Due to this, a lot of the more complicated techniques shown in the last vid, I wouldn't focus on teaching to beginners in the field because it presupposes one has certain skill levels that beginners on this matter at least, lack. Specifically, "changing hands" from one grip to another. That's always a killer for beginners. If you don't even know how to do simple twist escapes from one arm grabs on your body (body, not just wrists and forearms), doing hand changes for double stuff, is too steep a learning curve. Even though Taiji Chuan is said to be "advanced", their methods for double wrist grabs are easier to learn, since the movements are gross based. The power generation is what's hard to learn.

    "I haven't really focused on that in the peceding video because it is really an extremely weak grab"

    Weak? How about non existent. As in, it doesn't even exist to me. It's like some wind blowing across my hands... This is a person giving you a free shot to their vitals. This is someone asking to be killed, putting out his hand as in "please kill me".

    If Nathaniel is using boxing gloves, he won't be able to do some of the simple spiral reversals for lever advantage.

  10. Boxing and muay thai external hand guards tend to flare out the elbows. It's designed to utilize the shoulder as a catapult, more or less. Not so good against trapping where you want the shoulder seated in the socket and the elbows down and along/near the center line for max leverage.

    A boxer or MMA competitor, will often feel like they are floating like a bee. To exert the maximum force via grappling moves, one must due to necessity feel like a rock. Or a tree with 50 mile deep roots into the earth.

    For beginners or those yet uncomfortable with these hand traps and forearm kinesthetics, I still recommend they use one hand to grab their other arm, and have one be the gripper and the other one tests to see where the weaknesses are. First use your eyes to help, afterwards close your eyes. In fact, if you blindfold yourself in drills, you will improve faster in all sorts of ways.

    The reason why I say Dan was playing a game, is because he should know the flare up uproot counter to that move at the end. The arm bar method, which ended up with Dan on one knee. By using the body's entire structure together and focusing it on his elbow, Dan through Taiji power generation, can lift up his opponent, even if that opponent is pressing or falling down on his elbow to break it, and send him flying up into the air. Maybe 20 feet up into the air. Games are where people try out new things for fun and learn, but it's not what I would call a brutish bullying Dan, so to speak.

    Although that does raise another question for me. Are your students told to leverage the arm bar on the elbow or at the shoulder for safety?

  11. @Ymar:

    "As for the semi free spar video, Dan just looked like he was playing around. But I'm unsure what level the student was acting on. Was he exerting full effort at half speed but did not know how to break the holds? Was he able to break the hold at the end because you told him which technique to use and he used them due to muscle drill memory?"

    I didn't ask him, but I think we both understood that he would not attempt to "break out" of the grabs or otherwise convert them initially, so as to simulate for the video how one might be "bullied".

    I didn't give him any clues as to what to do when I signalled that he was free to "convert" the grabs: the first arm bar and the subsequent elbow lever throw were both trained, spontaneous reactions on his part. You have to remember that I've chopped up different videos here. In fact, the part where I was "bullying" him and the part where he "converted" the grabs followed one after the other, and before I demonstrated any responses to grabs.

    "Are your students told to leverage the arm bar on the elbow or at the shoulder for safety?

    Shoulder and elbow levers are different techniques and I've found, if anything, that shoulder levers are more prone to cause injury (particularly rotator cuff issues) when students go too hard. So I tell my students to apply the lock sufficiently so that it works, but not so hard that it causes injury. This is a fine line towards which we work up, gradually. Sometimes there are errors, but generally things go fairly smoothly. For safety, one should always use less force initially.

    In any event, a good lock will work with little force (especially when you don't even have a fully resistant partner) so if you're putting a lot of force into your locks, you might be disguising poor technique.

    For example, when I do the xiao chan ("small wrap" lock known as "nikkyo" in aikido/jujutsu) I typically use almost no force at all. If it doesn't work, I re-examine my angles and try again. I don't just "add more force". The need to add force generally equates to there being something wrong with your technique.

    So, we control safety through a cautious, gradual "lead up" in training to apply locks and throws.

  12. okay, thanks for answering. I understand the point you've described concerning the locks. How about the middle ground where the arm leverage is applied between the elbow and shoulder for the arm bar? Specifically, the triceps.

    Many people who do not have a martial arts hobby, are the ones I talk to the most using the wrist escape example. While I've heard that many people think it's either pointless or impossible to get beginners to understand advanced nuances, I have found the opposite to be true. Experienced or semi trained users in the arts, tend to have preconceptions. The ones that only watch MA and MMA from outside, see it as mostly a contest of force. To then show them how to achieve a goal without using force or strength against strength, finds fertile ground somewhat more readily because they've only seen force used, but haven't become habituated to the use of force (rather the opposite for civilians). But a person that has spent months or years training for strength and speed, will have a slightly different reaction. They will try to use what has worked for them, strength, size, or speed, and thus miss the point entirely.

    If you hadn't been smaller than average, Dan, if Nathaniel hadn't been unable to achieve his goals using his size, speed, or strength, then the higher echelon concepts and abilities in the martial arts may never have been unlocked. Because there would have been no desire to seek it out. Personally, I don't want to wait until I'm 40 or 60, and my bones and muscles become atrophied, before starting on the path of the true knowledge. And I think when people are given a free and fair choice, they would choose the same more often than not.

    The number one common trend I've observed is that small martial artists, like Hawkins Cheung, have always favored internal methods, even from the beginning. Because nothing else "worked" for them. Whereas those with superior physical abilities, like Bruce Lee, naturally gravitated towards external methods, at least in the beginning. Path of least resistance.

    One woman over at YA, has spent 10-25 years in karate competitions or competitive karate stuff, and she always complained that her initial karate instructors had techniques that worked for them because they were big and strong, but ultimately failed for her because she lacked those attributes. She is now partially training in Taiji Chuan, but unable to use the power generation or footwork for battle or applications. She never realized why things were harder for her until she started training in softer methods; she always assumed she was simply deficient in learning rate or skills. I wonder how many years students have wasted because of these deficiencies on the part of MA instructors, aggregated together. Where would she be now if she had someone who understood the depths and highs of martial theory and application when she began? There is almost no limit to what someone could achieve.

    P.S. I don't like limits or genkai.

  13. I too dislike limits. I'll be writing an article on this topic soon.

    As to levering between the elbow and the shoulder, I don't use this.

    The lever point is just up from the elbow (ie. just past the joint, moving towards your shoulder). Once you get into the mid-tricep your lever becomes quite ineffective and you have to substitute a great deal of brute strength. The area from the "sweet spot" (just up from the elbow) and the shoulder (different lever altogether) is a "no man's land" and you don't want to be pushing there; it is like the fulcrum of a see-saw.

  14. When I was taught the various aikido techniques for arm bars, we were told to apply the leverage at the triceps for safety reasons. Later I deconstructed the methodology and hypothesized that this was due to a couple of factors.

    1. Obata Toshishiro had at one time complained or voiced his complaints to the instructor (his student) that the aikido federation/organization he was part of was devoting too much time and energy on promoting students. Which resulted in a higher rate of injury due to training newbies in techniques like sawari waza. This resulted in Obata leaving to form his own org, so his promotion system was not affected or controlled by the higher ups.

    2. The dojo I trained at had a relatively high turn over. Thus there weren't a lot of higher belts who could do things without accidents.

    Considering some of the skill levels and things I've seen with people who do this, I'm half in favor of it and half not in favor of it. The half that is in favor of applying leverage at the triceps, realizes that aikido focuses on body weight rotation and momentum generation, and at least tries to get people to "slow it down" (they don't really slow it down though if you ask me. Not the right way at least). Thus since students are often told not to activate the muscles to push, and instead use body weight, there are circumstances where an uncontrolled movement of the body weight will propel too much body weight too fast and snap the joint before anyone realizes anything. Sufficient ukemi or nage skills will preclude this, but then agian, assumptions like that is what causes accidents in the first place. If ukemi is good or nage is good, fail safe = good. But if both ends up making a mistake at the same time, bad things happen. Thus the tricep leverage point allows for a far greater fail safe proof methodology.

    On the other hand, this training methodology intentionally divorces students from practical application visualization and methods. Leading to abstract thinking or a distorted mind-body connection as individuals continue to train for years. They might unintentionally touch the triceps and apply force, because that's how they trained to do, when in reality they should have chosen a joint to lever in the real fights.

    Body weight is not a very easy thing for people to control. Especially beginners, but also shodan or niidan rank holders as well. A little incident taught me very effectively that rank did not mean mastery.

    That kind of "jerky" see sawiness in terms of technique is similar to beginners in kind, but on a very different magnitude level. My standard for someone on the road of mastery, not simply proficiency, is that they can absolutely control the consequences of their techniques, to completely avoid bad consequences and favor good consequences. Thus they intend for things to happen and it happens. They avoid things they don't want to happen, and it is avoided. There is no "try". There is only the result.

    While I had a 100% safety record and still do, even with shinken kenjutsu (which if you've seen the videos I linked to on my blog, may be more rare than I had thought), students were always safe from me. But the other way around wasn't always true. Some people had enough knowledge to make it work, but not enough to control the consequence sufficiently. Those individuals, I would warrant require the additional safety lockdowns.

    The tricep leverage wasn't used to bend the arm, but rather to move the person forward or back via body rotation. Bending the arm could still be done via the elbow control.

  15. Another difference may be that your students started joint locks after they have developed a feel for kinesthetics or body momentum. At least to a level where they know how to not have accidents on a regular basis.

    But in aikido, the pure beginner, without any body coordination, let alone body kinesthetics, is doing these advanced leverages, and applying body weight as a power source often far beyond their ability to control or visualize it.

    I am not entirely familiar with Japanese karate or Okinawan karate training schedules, but from what I've heard, karateka don't learn advanced joint locks until much much later. The young student you were sparring with, with the tanned forearms and untanned shoulders, may have needed to be brown or black belt before joint locks were taught to some of those in karate.

    1. My karate students learn basic locks like arm bars and figure 4 shoulder locks from day one. I dimly remember doing tricep "levers" in aikido with one instructor. They don't work! Imho there is no good reason for doing them.

  16. I don't think they were designed as realistic applications. Meaning, when people say they "work", they usually mean it works when the technique is reproduced 100%. In this case, a modification must be made. The point of the leverage is changed depending on the desired outcome. This modification is only somewhat difficult for those of sufficient skill to do. But very hard for those lacking this skill to reproduce in the heat of the moment.

    This would merely be the difference between using a drill to learn some components of a technique, and attempting to train the technique as close to 100% as possible.

  17. It is interesting that you raise this issue as it is precisely the topic of the article I'm currently writing.

    Suffice it to say that the "tricep" lever of the kind used in aikido (eg. ikkyo omote) is, in my view, a dilution of an internal arts (xingyi) projection which relies on the elbow lever (as it should).

    I see no justification at all for doing the tricep lever - other than a misunderstanding of how to get into the right position for the elbow lever. I was taught this (imo) "wrong" (inefficient) way in the early to mid-80s. After that I learned the xingyi equivalent and I haven't looked back. Wrong setup = tricep. Correct setup = elbow.

    My next article will explain. I'm not quite ready to post it, and your query requires me to add some discussion.

  18. I do not disagree about the effectiveness of the technique (probably because if anyone asks me, I would almost always say techniques are meaningless but that's a different subject). It's just that aikido is what many call a post WWII martial art, and this isn't all that foreign because a lot of other arts, even if it was never related to Japan, are also based upon similar ideas.

    Thus xingyi, originally a battlefield art designed only for life and death survival, will never be close in terms of direct efficiency as post WWII arts that rely on what some call civilian self defense or just non-military based non-fatal goals.

    This is complicated by the fact that Morihei Ueshiba's aikido is only one variant, with the other being Yoshinkan, and both have disagreements concerning how much of the aikijutsu stuff "should" or should not have been left alone.

    So I can definitely see the use to which arts, which do not want to or could teach their students how to kill or maim, would tend to avoid certain applications and methods early on. This of course goes back to the karate omoi bunkai vs ura bunkai controversy, but that's a different training methodology where individuals that start using one method but are required to switch to the "true" method later on have transfer problems.

    What I term the armbar is to me, described in this fashion. Control the fingers to control the wrist, control the wrist to control the elbow, control the elbow to control the shoulder, and control the shoulder to move the torso and head. Where the head goes, the body then must follow. It's not "just" a technique. So if circumstances require or allow someone to, safely, control a person's body using only a minor amount of force, such as drunks who can't feel pain as well, then the tricep can offer a large surface area to dilute force. Used not for martial or even civilian defense purposes, but something of a less intense nature.

    Off topic by Oyata recently passed away due to cancer.

    Interesting montage I was given of him. He came from Okinawa. Many say karate kata is meaningless and useless. That's probably because they learned kata from the Japanese or Koreans. Not from the Okinawans. Yet many disagree with me when I link Itosu's modifications to training methods as being the source, either the or one of, for the dilution of Japanese Karate.

    In military terms, this would be destroying your cadre and thinking you can train up a million man army in a year. No cadre, no army. First train the trainers. No trainers, no army. Just a dead field of people.

    I'll be looking forward to your article. The reason why I constantly remind people that techniques are meaningless, is because no single person's technique is the same. Not even described on the internet, thus there's no good way to communicate the essence and essentials using the techniques. It's something else that must be used. Whether my understanding of your xingyi elbow controls are the same as your understanding, is probably only a 25% odds. Something words were never designed to communicate. Touch was designed to do so, and there is no touch on the internet. Learning stuff on the internet is hard. Just imagine what it was like for frontiers people who could only carry 5 books with them, and that was it for reading/research material for 10-30 years.

  19. Thanks Ymar - interesting comments.

    To me, where to lever has not, and never has been, a question of "safety". "Safety" is how hard you apply the technique. Doing it "wrong" so that you can be "safe" is a very bad idea.

    Levers on the tricep just don't work - at least, not nearly well enough to rely upon them under pressure. And if you train using this kind of "lever" (where you're actually pushing at or near the fulcrum!) you're just grooving bad technique which will fail when you face a resistant opponent.

    Nor is the push on the shoulder done that way (ie. just above the tricep). The correct way to do a shoulder lever is very different.

    The footage of Oyata is indeed interesting: any person who would go about knocking his students out as an interesting demo is negligent at best, indifferent and criminal at worst. Being knocked out is not a good thing - for anyone. Just last year I accidentally knocked out a student with a submission (I thought I was still well within the safety zone, but he passed out just as I was letting go). I felt absolutely terrible. Knockouts are far from "good for you" and I do not wish any injury or ill health on my students - quite the reverse. To be an "agent" for injury is not my goal. I would never do this as a "demo".

    It's also clear to me that Oyata's students imbued him a great deal of "teacher chi". His "tricep lever" at 0:39 is not effective, both for the throw and the pin. Had his student actually resisted, the throw and subsequent pin would not have succeeded. This is my direct experience over 30 years of trying this sort of technique against resistant opponents.

    In my opinion you should never, ever, practice techniques that don't work - whether in the name of "safety" or otherwise. They don't help anyone. If you want to be "safe" do the technique carefully and with due regard to your training partner.

  20. "Levers on the tricep just don't work - at least, not nearly well enough to rely upon them under pressure."

    That's because it is not a lever. For someone that cannot moderate force on a joint because they lack the kinesthetic or patience for it (and you've seen these people I know, because they're around no matter what hemisphere of the world one is in), telling them to reduce force on the joint, the lever that provides mechanical advantage, sometimes doesn't avoid accidents. So in order to idiot proof the avoidance, one necessarily changes the lever point to something that can't be used as a lever, like the triceps.

    While I agree that the preferred method is to develop control and feeling sensitivity so that one can moderate/control force, that is a skill only proficient users have. And when we speak of non proficient users, the qualifications change quite a bit. There are more non-proficient users around me than proficient, I dare guess.

    So the tricep is not a lever (that provides mechanical advantage), thus making it the lever can idiot proof certain techniques to avoid injuries. Injuries which slow down any person's rate of progress in the short/long term. The goal is different (safety vs effect), thus the methods are different. Also, not every instructor has the same goals or teaching ability. So they often find it easier to go with the guarantee over the one that requires skill or people paying attention.

    "If you want to be "safe" do the technique carefully and with due regard to your training partner."

    That is what I personally favor, but I can't say my personal goals are the same as everyone else's. Nor is it the case that I can walk into any place and dictate the training methods to be used there. So I've often found that the indirect way was to first understand why this is done, and ensure that I can modify it to still be a usable form of training for me. Although I cannot say this is true of anyone else training.

    While I didn't link Oyata because I thought he had anything to offer on this matter, what you said here was interesting though.

    "In my opinion you should never, ever, practice techniques that don't work - whether in the name of "safety" or otherwise."

    Do you not consider the vital pressure point striking Oyata used, to be such a technique on par with joint locks? What if Oyata is using the control method and applying the bare minimum force for it to be effective? Should Oyata target the points that don't disrupt a person's nerves and blood pressure? Similar to how a joint lock does not target the joint itself but leverages it somewhere it is not as effective.

  21. Other than the carotid sinus strike, I don't consider any of Oyata's other "nerve point strikes" to be at all effective. The knockouts with forearm strikes, for example, are pure fantasy mixed with "teacher chi" or mentalism. They say a lot about his showmanship and his students' suggestiveness, not so much about his knockout ability. I guarantee that had he tried the forearm knockout on me, it wouldn't have worked (like the ikkyo he demonstrates).

  22. Did the Goju Ryu you trained under, not have any tuite or kyoshu jutsu methods?

  23. Hey, Dan.
    To escape double wrist grabs, I usually use chudan uke or the double chudan uke from when you enter Sanchin stance. Also, for single wrist grabs, I use the twisting wrist motion from nikkyo. I practice this a lot, and have never failed. One of the big things with wrist grabs is that if the attacker is prepared for resistance in one direction, say forward and back, he can't put his strength to hold you in another, like sideways or up and down. I think these two techniques are very useful for people who know them.


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