Many people engage in the debate of whether joint locks work in real life situations. I find it a waste of time to engage in flame wars on the Internet with people you don’t even know. I know joint locks work, I’ve used them. I’ve also been in altercations and fights where I didn’t even think of using joint locks, but resorted to other techniques such as striking, kicking, kneeing, and anything else that kept me from being harmed until I could disengage from the fight. And yes, that sometimes meant me up, him down and hurt, and me getting out of the area as fast as I could. However, that does not negate the fact that joint locks are valid and useful techniques for certain circumstances. I’ve used them successfully to escort people outside when working security, and I’ve used them for other situations that did not warrant knocking a person’s head off with a strike or smashing a knee cap with a kick. I also must point out that I like joint locks, and that is one of the reasons Hapkido is my primary art and that I teach many locks through seminars and DVDs, as well as other Hapkido techniques and self-defense principles. I enjoy learning how the body works, and how to execute locks in the most efficient manner, using my strengths against an opponent’s weaknesses. Here are three keys I’ve found to assist you with making joint locks work.


If a person knows what you are going to do, it is much easier to defend against. If I tell you I’m going to execute a wrist lock, you will pull your hand away and not let me apply the lock. I’m certainly not going to verbally tell a person what I’m going to do, but many people “tell” their opponent Divine Locks just that by telegraphing their techniques. Therefore, it is important to not let your opponent know what you are up to until it is too late. Once a lock is locked on correctly, there is often little a person can do to get loose. So don’t let them defeat your technique in its early stages, surprise them with it.


Part of surprise is found in speed. You must be able to quickly execute a locking technique. If you perform it slowly, the person will figure out what you are doing and may be able to pull the limb you are trying to lock from your grasp before the lock is locked on properly. If you are moving too slow, your opponent may be able to execute his technique against you before the lock is locked on. If his technique happens to be a palm heel to your face, you may be standing there with watering eyes and a broken nose wondering why your lock failed. It may not be that the lock failed, but you failed to execute it before getting smashed in the face.

Proper Technique

You can be fast and catch your opponent by surprise and still have a lock fail if you don’t execute it correctly with proper technique. Locks require correct angles and specific application to maximize their effectiveness. If your angle is off, if you are not applying pressure in the correct place or in the proper manner, or if you are not using your body weight and motion to enhance the effectiveness of your technique, your lock may fail. I encourage everyone to analyze techniques and why they work, as well as body motion and weight transfer to ensure the economy of motion and correct application of technique is performed.

It is extremely important to combine all the proper ingredients when executing joint locks. This is why I spend time teaching these concepts, and emphasize them, sometimes repetitively, to everyone I instruct. Joint locks work in certain situations. You won’t force a technique, but rather use it when the opportunity arises. By learning, practicing, and understanding locks to the point you can execute them with surprise, speed, and proper technique, you’ll have additional tools in your tool box for those situations when locking a person up is the best choice of action.

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