JOINT LOCKS: "CAPTURING THE HAND"
by Bob Duggan
"First, capture the mind, then catch the hand"
Quote by Toichi Tohei 1974
Koichi Tohei at Aspen Academy of
Martial Arts, 1974
One of the most confounding problems in nearly all the joint lock systems is the
capture. I know that my personal experience with learning joint locks started with a
singular assumption: the opponent presents you with his hand as if it were a gift and you
were expected to execute a variety of locks and throws. This practice is very similar in
nearly all other throwing arts that I have studied or observed. In the original Hwa Rang
Do Instructor's Syllabus, joint locks began with Yellow Belt.... the opponent grasping the
hand. Joint locks are executed with the opponent cooperatively standing like a manikin
while you perform a sequence of required locks and throws.
Then beginning with Blue Belt and continuing through First Degree Black, students
escalate to offensive captures where the opponent stands motionless while you leap for the
grab and take the hand or body and execute a throw. These are called Offensive Throwing
Techniques. When we are first learning the technique, or the numerical sequence of the
Instructor's Syllabus, we all appreciate this high level of cooperation by our opponent,
and because our opponent must one day go through the same procedure, there is a
"gentlemen's agreement" on the format of practice. The flaw in this method of
training is obvious, but we continue to do it out of consideration of the
"dangerousness" of the technique. We persuade ourselves that this is the WAY it
must be done for the sake of the mutual safety of the students and ourselves. There is
nothing in the Instructor's Syllabus that effectively makes the transition to
"Spontaneous Captures", that is, captures that are executed while free sparing.
The Brazilians approach to joint lock captures begins from an entirely different point of view;
they capture the body and methodically work their way out towards the joint. The ease with
which the Brazilians and grapplers achieve a clinch is impressive and undoubtedly their
ability to move from the clinch to the submission has produced the largest impact on the
martial arts world since the introduction of Karate to the West by the Japanese in the
1950's. It is an indisputable fact that grapplers can penetrate the kicks and punches of
most martial artists in order to form the clinch, and from there, the ground is always
just a take-down away. Once on the ground, it takes great skill to acquire the lock
against a stronger opponent, but the Brazilians have shown that their skill is unsurpassed
in this arena. That is not to say that they will always hold this ground or that the
ground is always the best place to be, but the Brazilians have demonstrated their ability
numerous times against all comers.
While the Brazilians have not demonstrated their ability to secure the clinch and
submission against a world class boxer, say, the caliber of Mike Tyson, the success of
their strategy is difficult to dispute. While we are unable to settle the issue with
absolute finality, a comparison of the different capture strategies is enough to admit
that the grapplers have a distinct advantage over anyone attempting to catch a fist. In
full force combat, it is not possible to capture the hand... The hand is just too fast to
catch on the fly.
Photograph: Koichi Tohei at Aspen Academy
of Martial Arts, 1974
I am reminded of an incident that occurred at the Aspen Academy of Martial Arts in 1974
which resulted in a small personal conversion. The incident involved Sensei Koichi Tohei
and Fred Degerberg, an old friend of mine and an outstanding martial artist. The encounter
occurred during a training seminar on Aikido at the Academy; there were many students in
attendance. Tohei was discussing Blending with the opponent. Someone in the class asked
Tohei how to catch a punch. His response was poetic: "First, you must capture the
mind, then you will catch the hand". Everyone nodded knowingly and pondered the
To illustrate his point, Tohei picked out a big guy in the group...it happened to be my
friend Fred Degerberg. Tohei asked him to stand and throw a punch; Fred paused a moment
and repeated the request, "you want me to throw a punch at you?" as if to ask,
are we punching for real?
Koichi Tohei with seminar students at the Aspen Academy; the author kneels over his left
shoulder in tank top.
Degerberg is off camera. Now, Fred Degerberg trained for many years
as a boxer prior to taking up the study of the Eastern arts, his teacher was a heavy
weight contender and an excellent trainer. The result of the many years of training was
that Fred had a lighting fast Jab. But the request was begging for an opportunity, so Fred
obliged. He threw three jabbing pulses in the direction of Tohei's head, (intentionally
not making contact) and set up for the Right Cross. Tohei immediately threw his hands in
the air and exclaimed, "no..no...no throw a real punch." Fred Degerberg is not a
complete spoiler, so said in a moment of insight, "Oh, you mean one of these."
He obliged by dropping into a deep Front Forward Fighting Stance more familiar to the
Japanese systems and launched a Reverse Thrust Punch. The hand was caught and Degerberg
went to the mat, and I said, "aha ha...this is a Dance that I am all too familiar
with in my own system."
The Dance is an illusion, and it would not have made a difference who was on the
receiving end of Degerberg's Jab, I have never met the person who could catch it, at least
I personally never witnessed it in twenty-eight years in this art. That includes the years
that I traveled with my teacher, Joo Bang Lee to perform at tournaments an exhibition of
Hwa Rang Do throwing techniques. I never threw a punch at him that was retracted, and if I
did, he missed it. This is not a denigration of the mastery of technique by either Koichi
Tohei or Joo Bang Lee. It is a simple observation that the hand is too fast to capture on
While conceding that the Brazilian strategy is far more reliable, I would like to
discuss a series of MINIMAL RESISTANCE CAPTURES as a transitional phase to full force
combat where these types of captures are impossible to execute. At a later date we will
discuss grappling entries.
MINIMAL RESISTANCE CAPTURES
Joint locks apply to both defensive or offensive circumstances. Defensive Joint Locks
possess a tactical advantage since they are designed to respond to the opponent grabbing
clothing or your body. But capturing the limb often requires an offensive mind set, that
is, there are times when the best defense is to move first, however, the provocation does
not justify use of full force kicks or punches. Your purpose is to control and manage the
opponent to comply with your command. This may require that you move the opponent from one
point to another, like from the pool hall floor to the door. The opponent, while
justifying control, has not launched an assault. You decide to move first.
The most common Capture, widely taught in the throwing arts, is the one I favor the
least. For lack of better terminology, I refer to the "Traditional" capture as
The Blade (Knife) Edge Grip. (Photo: Blade Edge Grip #1) This capture is typically
executed with the Secondary Grip first grabbing the elbow, stabilizing the arm and
rotating it towards the center of the body while the Primary Grip grasps the Blade Edge of
the hand. As soon as the Grip is secure, the elbow is elevated and twisted in a spiral to
the point that pain is attained and the opponent is jacked-up on to his toes. No emphasis
is placed upon the finger grip and often is shown without a second grip on the hand or
While this technique may work on a large percentage of the Dojo or Dojang population,
it will fail against a strong forearm and an unwilling opponent for whom the technique
ought to be designed to control. To start with, failure to grip the fingers often causes
the opponent to form a fist in reaction to the contact. It is a natural reflex. If the
opponent can form a fist, he can break the grip on the Blade Edge on his hand, thus
defeating the technique, and incidentally escalating the confrontation.
(Photo: Set-up from Blade Edge Grip #2)
The following Captures are organized according levels of resistance and susceptibility
of the opponent: The Snatch, The Slap, and The Wedge.
The Snatch relies upon an unsuspecting opponent who has failed to clue into your
intention to take control. The execution of the Snatch is achieved from either the side or
the front.. The move is initiated from three positions: A well known entry from is a
deceptive hand shake, sometimes called The Sissy Hand Shake; The Side Entry or The Rear
Entry. It can be executed with one hand capture of the fingers or a more reliable capture
is to use both hands with the rear hand hooking around the wrist and forming a
"catch-base" for the capturing hand.
(Photo of two hand capture of Side Entry, close of rear hand hook)
THE SISSY HAND SHAKE - This capture is also widely taught as an alternative to the
Blade Edge Grip and is achieved with a deceptive grasp of the hand as in a hand shake.
When the hand is offered or taken offensively, the grasp of the opponent's hand is aimed
for the fingers only; this is achieved by cocking the wrist down and extending into the
floor. The instant that the fingers are grasped firmly, you explosively step through and
under the arm. As you step under the arm, the opponent's forearm is both rotated and
Shudder Punched with your shoulder into the muscle trigger of the opponent's forearm,
raising his arm into an arc. As the punch is delivered, you pivot in place, resulting in a
short Front Forward Fighting Stance and the opponent is set-up for one of the Cants.
Photos: 1. Close hand shake 2. Close on grasp and wrist angle 3. Th shudder punch 4.
The pivot and set.
THE SIDE ENTRY - This capture is achieved with a blind-side entry. It is best executed
with a two hand grip with the Secondary hand acting as a Base for the Snatch. The
offensive in The Side Entry is taken with the Primary grab of the fingers just below the
knuckles . The Index Finger forms a small fulcrum, around which the opponent's fingers
bend. Three fingers are best, two fingers will due, but the instant that the grip is
achieved, you shudder downwards into the fingers and begin twisting in a counter closkwise
spiral, taking all the slack out of the three joints of the arm. The Secondary Grip then
slips into the Blade Edge Grip. When the Blade Edge Grip is cinched down, the Primary Grip
on the fingers must slip into the palm side and tighten the grip on the fingers.
Photos: 1. Grasp of fingers 2. Close of finger fulcrum 3. The drop 4. The arc 5. The
second grip 5. The reset
THE REAR ENTRY - This capture is one of the fastest and unsuspecting. It is executed
with two hands entering an opponent's open with the inside hand catching the thumb, and
the outside hand pressing the fingers outward. It is an explosive pivot of the hand so
that the hand is facing outward and touching your palm. As soon as contact is made, the
grip is sized, trapping the opponent's fingers in your strong hand and the blade edge is
grasped by the weak hand, and jacked-up into the Cant.
Photos 1. Rear position 2. Hand position 3. Close of right hand 4. Close
of left hand 5. Jack-up into right angle 6. Switch hand position
JOINT LOCK CAPTURES AND THE FOLLOW-UP
VERTICAL, HORIZONTAL AND PARALLEL CANT
THE VERTICAL CANT
WARNING! THE TECHNIQUES ILLUSTRATED BELOW ARE INHERENTLY DANGEROUS, AND SHOULD NOT BE
ATTEMPTED WITHOUT COMPETENT INSTRUCTION.
Using the SISSY HAND SHAKE ENTRY, the explosive move under the arm is accompanied by a
Shudder Shoulder Punch to the opponent's forearm (at the muscle trigger) and a pivot under
the arm into a short Front Forward Fighting Stance. Simultaneous with the Shudder
Punch/Pivot, the Primary Grip sizes the fingers tightly while the Secondary Grip is
cinched around the Blade Edge. Swing the hand around at eye level in order to assure that
the hand does not drop below the opponent's breast. Set the lock high until the control is
stabilized, then the pressure can be relaxed by letting off on the spiral and lower the
elevation of the elbow once you are certain of control.
Thinking of the Radial and Ulnar bones of the forearm as divided by a Center Axis,
align the hand so that it is centered around this Axis, and rotate in a small upward
spiral around it's Center. As the slack in the three joints of the arm are taken up,
maneuver the hand so that you maintain a 90 degree angle at the elbow joint. Treat the
joints of the arm as a chain-link, each joint will reach it's limits of rotation quickly.
As the point of resistance is attained, it will put pressure on the next higher joint
until you are able to control the opponent's movements.
The Vertical Cant derives it's name from the "canting" or twisting towards
the center of the body, and is used primarily as a come-along technique:
KEY POINTS: The forearm is divided by a Center Axis or a vertical line that drops
through the elbow, between the Radial and Ulnar bones and out the hand. THE LINE: Is a
rising Canted Spiral in the smallest circle around the Center Axis. THE ANGLE: The arm is
kept at a 90 degree angle at the elbow and elevated in a spiral which increases the
pain-control. THE GRIP: The Primary Grip sizes the Fingers tightly while the Secondary
Grip grasp the Blade Edge.
THE HORIZONTAL CANT
WARNING! THE TECHNIQUES ILLUSTRATED BELOW ARE INHERENTLY DANGEROUS, AND SHOULD NOT BE
ATTEMPTED WITHOUT COMPETENT INSTRUCTION.
Using a SIDE ENTRY to a Horizontal Cant Take Down and Set-up for an Arrest. Seizing
the fingers is key to an unsuspecting joint lock; rear hand acts as a base and stabilizer
of the hand. As the fingers are gripped with the right hand, drop or Shudder body weight
into the opponent's fingers, and immediately begin twisting towards the inside of the body
and lift the arm into an arc. This should take all the slack out of the joints and should
unbalance the opponent. The Left Hand slips from the base into the Blade Edge Grip. The
opponent's hand is rotated into the Canted position, and the Primary Grip on the fingers
is slipped to the palm side. Secondary Grip remains on the Blade Edge of hand, holding the
forearm in a likeness of holding a sword. Again, thinking of the joints as a chain-link,
each joint will reach its limit of rotation very quickly. As the slack is taken up in one
joint, it will rotate the next higher joint until you are able to control the opponent's
THE HORIZONTAL CANT is most effective as a take-down or arrest technique. Following the
same method as the Vertical Cant until you have locked the opponent up and attained
control. The take-down is executed by raising the Blade Edge of the hand straight up until
the forearm and the bicep are on the same "Horizontal" plane. Keep the Blade
Edge aligned straight with the forearm...do not bend the hand towards the body. Pivot your
body until you are lookig straight down the forearm.
Looking down the line of the Edge of the hand and forearm, twist the fingers in a small
spiral around the Center Axis of the forearm and press backwards. As the slack is taken
up, the opponent will feel pain and his balance will break to the rear. As the balance is
broken to the rear, press down so that the three joints, wrist, elbow and shoulder are on
the same plane and drop on a horizontal plane.
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