Grappling arts produce a kind of pain response that can catch strikers by surprise. The best way to prepare your body for the shock is to feel the joint locks of aikido. Repeatedly.

There are many reasons karate stylists should make friends with people who practice aikido. Here’s a good one: A major fault of the modern martial ways is the narrow-minded view of combat that’s fostered in many dojo. For example, Joe Karateka believes his art is the final word in self-defense or character development. Therefore, even if the highest-ranked black-belt aikidoka from Tokyo were to put on a demonstration on Joe’s front lawn, Joe would rather be in the backyard whacking his makiwara.


(Don’t be smug, all you aikidoka who are reading this. Practitioners of judo, kendo and other budo are the same way. You make disparaging remarks about other arts, and you don’t know anything about them.)

The reason I’m suggesting you befriend some aikido practitioners, however, isn’t to foster understanding between martial artists or anything quite so noble. It’s because aikido techniques can teach you some valuable lessons about how to manage pain.

Haruo Matsuoka Photo by Robert Reiff

I know that some of you will tell me you could write a book on the subject. If your karate training is even halfway serious and you’ve been at it for a while, you already know a lot about pain. I hope you weren’t seriously injured in the process, but I expect you absorbed your share of bruises, sprains and a host of other physical misfortunes that often accompany karate practice.

Furthermore, I’ll bet nearly all those injuries came suddenly and unexpectedly. You stopped a reverse punch with your nose. You tried to throw a roundhouse kick at head level when your hip and groin muscles wanted to kick at stomach level. You went one-on-one with the makiwara and found that your fist and hips were stable as all get-out but your wrist was just a little weak. The kinds of pain we encounter in karate tend to be like that.

Karate — except for those few systems that concentrate on grappling — doesn’t feature the kind of pain you can inflict slowly and deliberately, in gradually increasing degrees. Aikido, on the other hand, specializes in it. You’ll also find similar techniques in the Chinese art of chin-na.

(I’m using the example of aikido because that’s the martial art with which most karateka are most familiar, and they’ll probably feel more comfortable in an aikido dojo than in a training hall for a non-Japanese art.)

Order your copy of Stay in the Fight now!

But wherever you choose to go, you should go. Show up before the classes begin or after they’re over, and bring a case of soda or some other gift. Explain to the instructor what you want to learn and ask him to teach you some basic pinning techniques that inflict pain as well as immobilize the opponent. Nikkyo, the “second teaching,” is a good one; sankyo, the “third teaching,” is even better.

These are sophisticated methods, so you won’t learn all their subtleties in a short time. What you want is to be able to execute them on a partner who’s going along with the movement. I’m not talking about making a wrist lock work in combat because even a skilled aikido exponent might not want to rely on pain-compliance techniques in a real fight.

Rather, I’m talking about what they can teach you. I have seen skilled karateka receive instruction in such techniques for the first time, and it’s a remarkable event. You can see them go from skeptics about the efficacy of the locks to real believers in the space of half a second — the length of time it takes to have their wrist captured and controlled.

What’s most interesting about this reaction is how uncontrolled it is. These same karateka might barely react to a punch that splits their lip. They’re accustomed to that kind of pain. However, in most cases, the pain of a wrist lock is entirely foreign to them, and they respond dramatically and without any sense of self-control. That’s precisely why they need to feel it.

The joint locks of an art like aikido cause intense pain, but when done correctly, they don’t inflict any injury. Now, I’m not suggesting you go to an aikido dojo and ask to have your wrist broken. What I want you to do is have the lock applied, learn to do it yourself and then practice executing the technique. You’ll find that, with time and training, your reaction is much less immediate.

You’ll also begin to see that even when you know pain is coming, it’s something over which you have some control. You can learn to compartmentalize and accept it without letting the sensation absorbing your entire attention.

Believe me, the first time you have a good wrist lock applied, you’ll be thinking about nothing else but the pain. At this stage, it’s an almost complete control over your body. Consequently, it isn’t uncommon for someone who’s inexperienced with this kind of pain to collapse, lose control of his balance and posture, and land in a heap on the floor.

It’s not unheard of for beginners to wet their pants when certain locks are applied — dramatic and embarrassing proof of just how much of our control we surrender to this sensation.

Western forms of grappling, like wrestling, usually seek to control an opponent’s body by immobilizing it. When you’re pinned to the mat, you lose your leverage and the effective use of your limbs. You can no longer mount an offense. The bulk of judo’s newaza (grappling techniques) effect the same results.

Holds that emphasize pain, on the other hand, immobilize an opponent by distracting him so he can’t attack you further. You can learn to escape holds in wrestling by perfecting counter-techniques, improving your strength and flexibility, and so on. To compete effectively against pain, however, you must have a mentality that can deal with its effects without surrendering control of your whole body and your means of defense.

Learning aikido’s basic locks and holds is an excellent way to start developing this ability.

About the author: Dave Lowry is a freelance writer who has trained extensively in the Japanese and Okinawan arts. He started writing Karate Way for Black Belt in 1986.

SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

Bruce Lee's "10,000 Kicks" Challenge – Complete 10,000 Kicks in 10 Days and Feed The Children

Bruce Lee's secret to self-mastery is hidden in the following quote, "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." Discipline, dedication and perfect repetition over time are the keys to mastery. To get results like Bruce Lee we need to train like Bruce Lee.

Keep Reading Show less

If there's a martial artist in your life who's hard to shop for, look no further than this list of the best holiday gifts from the world's leading magazine of martial arts.

The holidays are right around the corner and there's no better time to shop for the ninjas in your family! Black Belt Magazine doesn't just provide the history and current events of the martial arts world, we can equip you with all the best products too. From beautiful belt displays, to stylish gloves, to collector's edition books, keep reading to check out this list of the top five gifts to kick under the tree this year.

Keep Reading Show less

Half human. Half vampire. Experience the sharper, darker, and slicker Blade now in 4K Ultra HD! Click to see more!

The martial arts action classic Blade is back in 4K Ultra HD, and it will make you feel like you are watching Wesley Snipes in person! The film is available for purchase TODAY (December 1st), but you have a chance to win the Digital Movie courtesy of Black Belt Magazine. All you have to do is share this article on your social media page and tag Black Belt Magazine and the appropriate page for Blade or Warner Bros.

On Facebook, tag @Black Belt Magazine and @BladeFilmsOfficial. On Instagram, tag @BlackBeltMag and @WarnerBrosEntertainment. On Twitter, tag @Black_Belt_Mag and @WBHomeENT for a chance to win! You must also include the hashtag #Blade4K to be eligible to win the FREE download.

Keep Reading Show less

A thoughtful question from Mitch Mitchell, an affiliate coach of American Frontier Rough and Tumble, prompted me to commit to paper some observations regarding two common tools/weapons of the frontier. First, the exchange that led to all this:

Question: "Am I on the right track or holding my danged knife wrong?"

My reply: "Bowie designs are manifold. My personal preference falls toward a flat-spine knife with a half-guard because a spine-side guard or broken spine jams up my thumb on a sincere stab in a saber grip. For me, anyway, a nice, straight, full-power stab with a hammer grip on the high line is impossible, and anyway it is a wrist killer."

Mitchell's question is a common one that can lead us one step closer to weapons wisdom. First, I will point out that discovering that certain tactics and grips are wrist killers is possible only when we invest time in hard training with hard targets. If we stick with mirror play, shadow play or tit-for-tat flow drills with a partner using mock weapons, we likely will never stumble on the realities that make certain tactics ill-advised. As they say, train real to find real.

Keep Reading Show less
Free Bruce Lee Guide
Have you ever wondered how Bruce Lee’s boxing influenced his jeet kune do techniques? Read all about it in this free guide.
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter