Sherman Harrill maintained that the most important part of the study of Karate kata application potential was learning the underlying principles that could in turn be applied to any technique. I’d like to take the same approach to look at the art of countering locks and projections (techniques as used in the study of aikido and similar grappling arts), by sharing an underlying principle I’ve developed to train students.
The odds are sometime an instructor used you to demonstrate a lock, you grab or strike and they lock up your limb creating great pain that can be used to direct you as they wish. At that point you might well wish you knew how to stop them. Of course they didn’t teach you that.
To explain this I’m going to begin with a very small example. There of course is not one answer how to counter a lock or a projection. Factors like size, speed, power, intensity, the force multipliers in play all combine to make many varied attack possibilities to counter. I’m going to ask you to do the following with a partner, at slow speed. This allows you to see the controlling factors and understand how the lock disruption forms.You take your right hand and grab your partner’s right wrist (a cross hand grab).
- They take their left hand and press down on their right hand fingers and then grab them and your wrist.
- As they do that your right hand fingers roll clockwise up alongside their wrist (palm away from their wrist.
- Rotate your hand clockwise and then reach down to grab their wrist. This action bends their wrist forming a wrist lock.. They do this they pull away from you, straightening your arm and creating the lock.
That is the basic lock for this test. It can be formed with different openings, such as double wrist grabs to one arm, double wrist grabs to two arms and from strikes, but they require different dynamics to form the lock.
What happened when they formed the lock, they drew your arm away from their body alignment centerline and the lock formation allowed them to shift their centerline alignment towards the locked area. This puts their centerline alignment in control, and when the pain begins their force is magnified because of the force multiplier effect involved.
I’ve described the lock exactly to the mid point of it’s formation. This is the point a counter must take place, else the formed lock and the various force multipliers in play (movement, knee release, etc.) magnify the effect to increase the pain and the control.
A lock (or a projection) is most vulnerable for counter at the mid-point of their formation.
It is at the mid point of the lock formation that the counter must begin.
In turn there are two basic answers.
● First answer you can neutralize their control to stop their ability to form the lock.
● Second answer you can counter their lock with your own lock at that point, reversing their intended result back on themselves.
Let’s start by neutralizing their control of the lock formation. Have them begin the same lock to your grabbing hand a second time. The simplest answer is as they begin to form the lock shift your arm/wrist 1” to the right. Where the first time you moved directly into the lock, now they can’t form it and they are stymied.
What happened is your slight arm shift moved their lock attempt away from they’re centerline alignment. At the same time you did that, unknowingly, you shifted your own centerline on you wrist. That alignment shift placed you in control and their lack of alignment no longer makes the lock work.
If you think that sounds to simple, you’re both wrong and right.
You should think of yourself as being in the middle of a sphere that forms exactly at your range of touch. Your opponent is likewise in the middle of their own sphere. A technique works if you and your attacker are correctly aligned. A strike, a lock, a projection all work the same. Practice of a skill is actually learning how to find the right alignment between you and your opponent’s sphere to make things work. A strike to their midsection has far less effect if they step or spin away at the time it is delivered because both your sphere’s of influence are no longer aligned correctly.
In your 2nd test if your partner is mobile when you shift they might slide along till they get their lock alignment right and then reapply it for effect. So simply moving the arm isn’t the total answer, though the principle of the shift to disrupt their alignment is correct.
Now you can use your own force multipliers to stop their reacquisition of that lock. Simply have your left fingers lightly touch your arm (not grab your arm or even touch your arm with power). If you do that even their shifting no longer works. What that touch did was engage the left side of your body, cementing your own body centerline alignment on the locked wrist making it immobile. And you can have some fun, just touch with your left hand little finger and they still can’t make the lock, or you can cross your left arm, over and above the right arm (and never touch) and it still works, for the body centerline alignment is still present.
Remember this is a simple answer. Vastly stronger power or quicker speed are force multipliers that might overcome your own efforts, still you might use your knee release and drop your center creating another force multiplier increasing your power.
When the forming lock reaches the mid-point of it’s formation, there is another possibility, that of reversing the lock.
At the lock midpoint (previously described) on your right arm, take your left hand and grab their right hand (your palm down) and start turning it counter-clockwise. Pull your own right hand back across their finger tops and then press your right palm down atop their back knuckles for a force multiplier for an outer wrist turn projection.
This is just one example of a reversal. Note that counter grabbing, shifting and turning as well as the knee release doing so provide other force multipliers, but the key player is using both your hands keeps your centerline alignment directly on the new lock, controlling the opponents center by the pain involved.
Lock reversal is a practiced skill and while we’re just using one simplified example, takes work and practice to work a wide variety of locks. You should practice a wider range of locks for reversal than you realistically expect to face, just for a logical response incase something unexpected arises.
As I started this is but a simple exercise in lock neutralization and/or reversal.
You cannot expect that your counter will go unopposed. If you neutralize that original wrist lock and if they keep trying to make it work, you can use that left hand to respond with a strike to their head while they’re focused on the busted lock.
A skilled opponent may well have a very different counter-counter and if you’ve only trained for the initial neutralization that can be used against you as well.
A Historical Lesson
I’m not an Aikido stylist, but most of the books I’ve seen on Aikido go into the many variations of locks and projections studied and often how they can be applied to a wide range of attacks. It is very, very rare to find them showing counters to their techniques.
I’m aware that Yoshikan and Tomiki aikido both have countering studies, but I’m of the impression that is rare in most aikido. This was bolstered by an article I read decades ago that explained that the last thing Usheiba Moriro (Aikido’s founder) would teach instructors, he was sending out world wide to teach aikido, were how to counter those lock and projections, so their new students could no use the same techniques on themselves. Unfortunately I no longer have that article, but it may be telling.
We should take that a step further why the study of counters may not have been central to Aikido, that being the pre-WWII aikido was accompanied with Atemi (vital point striking). I’m sure that’s a unique thought for karate, striking someone hard. The use of Atemi made a less skilled Aikido stylist able to perform the locks and projections with less chance of counter attack from their opponent. Of course that possibility still exists today, and the precursor to lock countering might be blocking or striking first.
Genesis of this article
Actually watching Patrick McCarthy share his arts with a local school several weeks ago got me thinking on these skills and concepts I’ve acquired over the years. His technique studies follow the 2 person set standard, start an attack, neutralize it at the mid point and reverse it with another, which is neutralized and reversed and so forth.
Among those numerous techniques was one extremely painful lock I’d learned but never thought about neutralizing. Patrick’s answer was new for me, but when I tried it with my son the next week found his answer was in a form I’ve practiced for 30 years, and taught the initial movements to most of the young people I’ve ever taught, but had never thought it applied to this painful lock. So a new instant answer borrowed from another’s powerful teachings, using a movement potential I had down cold.
Start such studies slow.
Learn how to make them work.
Practice to avoid excessive pain on your partner, unless you expect them to impart the same level of pain on you in turn.
Build skill and speed and work hard.