Analysis of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Part 3): Joint Locks

This article was written by BJJ.Org featured contributor Roy Harris. Harris is a black belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor in San Diego. This article was originally published on his PFS web site.When it comes to submissions, there are several different types: chokes and strangulations, joint lock and pressure/compression points. My favorite is joint locks. I’ve spent several years studying them. Here’s my take on joint locks:

There are seven (7) reasons why joint locks appear to be ineffective at times:

bad mechanicsabnormal range of motionhigh tolerance to painunder the influence of a drugmentally derangedprevious injury or surgeryany combination of the abovePoor mechanics is the number reason why joint locks seem ineffective at times. It is the number one problem I see at grappling tournaments.

Learning the mechanics of a joint locks should be the foundation of submission grappling. If a person doesn’t know the correct mechanics of a specific joint lock, he/she must make up for this lack of knowledge by introducing speed, strength and power into the equation. This is why so many people struggle with grappling. If they knew the mechanics of the lock they were trying to employ, they would know where to precisely place their strength. They would know how to use the leverage that mechanics would give them. Instead, they struggle with poor mechanics and their opponent escapes the lock.

Good mechanics will give a person the ability to apply most of the body weight and all of their upper body strength onto one joint. If you weigh 150lbs., you should be able to apply at least 150lbs. of pressure onto one joint. Now with that kind of weight and pressure, how many people do you know that can support 150lbs. on one joint? Now if you change the angle of pressure on the joint, how many people do you think can do that?

Joint locks can also seem ineffective because the opponent or assailant has an abnormal range of motion in a specific joint. For example, I know of a few people whose elbows bend backwards, way beyond the normal, straight 180 degrees. I met a woman whose arm bent backwards to almost a 90 degree angle. It was impossible to arm lock her with the normal juji gatame. I met a guy who could sit on the ground with his legs straight out in front of him, his butt and the back of his knees were touching the ground, and he could touch the soles of his feet on the ground without bending his legs. I’ve met several people who could bend their wrists backward and touch the palms of their hands to the inside of their forearms.

These people require that you have not only have a working knowledge of good mechanics, but you also need to know how to change the angles on their joints. Otherwise, you will not make them tap on the joint that has the abnormal range of motion.

The number three reason why joint locks can seem ineffective is that the opponent or assailant has a high tolerance to pain. I have applied joint locks with correct mechanics to a few people who could withstand a lot of pain. Some simply refused to tap until they heard something pop. So when I encountered a new student or seminar attendee who wouldn’t tap to an arm lock or wrist lock, I always resorted to the carotid restraint. I knew I wouldn’t hurt them because they will go unconscious if they don’t tap. Many have gone unconscious, but none have ever been hurt. High tolerance to pain is something you will encounter from time to time. So don’t be alarmed. Some people are just kinda weird that way! (I am that way with biting. I have an extremely high tolerance to pain when it comes to someone biting my arms or legs. However, put me in a good arm or leg locks and I will tap like an experienced conga player! )

The number four reason why joint locks can seem ineffective is the opponent or assailant is under the influence of a drug. Certain drugs cause the nervous system to ignore the signals they receive from certain receptors. They don’t feel pain. You crack their arm and they smile at you. You break their knee and they begin to sing the National Anthem. It’s time to put your new Nike cross trainers into action and get the hell outta Dodge!

The number five reason why joint locks can seem ineffective is the opponent or assailant is mentally deranged. Same thing as those on drugs. Same response. I encountered a few people like this as a police officer and they were extremely difficult to deal with. There are a number of homeless people like this. They have lived on the streets for years and not much bothers them. Be careful.

The number six reason why joint locks can seem ineffective is the opponent or assailant has a previous injury or surgery. This is very common as well. I have known a few people that have had previous surgeries or injuries and had no, or very little feeling on one side of their body. so when you put them into an arm lock for the first time, they just look at you. When their arm cracks so loud that everyone in class hears it, you better get them some immediate medical attention, even if they say, “I’m OK.”

The last reason why joint locks can seem ineffective is any combination of the above six reasons.

When applying joint locks, take the above information into consideration. Check your mechanics first. If your mechanics are OK, take a look at the opponent’s joint. If it looks like it would normally hurt, you probably have someone on your hands that fit into one of the above descriptions.

As you can probably tell, I am very big proponent of developing proper mechanics. I stress mechanics a lot in my BJJ classes. Why? Because it makes accomplishing your objectives much easier. You won’t have to mix speed, power, strength and explosiveness into the matrix as often.

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About the author

Roy Harris