Why Some Jujitsu Control Techniques Do Not Always Work — and How to Fix Them!

Jiu Jitsu

Let Black Belt Hall of Famer/budoshin jujitsu master George Kirby show you three ways to use enhanced pain to make your control techniques more effective for self-defense.

SCENARIO NO. 1: An assailant grabs your lapel, and you work halfway through a wrist-lock takedown you learned years ago. Then you discover that you cannot finish the technique because he's resisting.

SCENARIO NO. 2: You're a police officer attempting to apply a koga come-along technique on a suspect. You've got it set, but when you try to make him step backward, you lose control.

SCENARIO NO. 3: An assailant lashes out at you, and you manage to avoid his blows and partially restrain him with a wrist-press arm lock. A few seconds later, you can no longer control him because he's fighting back. The control techniques described in these scenarios are designed to force an assailant to cooperate to avoid additional pain.

All are legitimate moves that work most of the time — but not all the time. How can you tell if one of them is not working before it's too late? How can you figure out what needs to be corrected? How can you avoid these problems in the first place?

Depending on who you are and how you're built, you have several options if a control technique doesn't work. You can try make it work by using brute force, but that can fail — especially if your assailant is stronger than you are. You can release the hold and try to subdue him another way, but that frequently proves to be an even poorer choice.

If you're a cop, you can escalate the situation to a higher level of force based on the suspect's noncompliance, but you may end up with a lot of explaining and paperwork to do. If you've trained in jujitsu or another martial art that teaches an awarenessof how the nervous and muscular systems work, you know that a number of better options exist. All of them involve pain.

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Jujitsu practitioners know that pain and injury are two different things. They also know that controlling the level of pain can be a powerful incentive for securing an assailant's cooperation before any substantial injury is inflicted. Of course, injuring him can end the confrontation, but when it doesn't, it can make it difficult, if not impossible, to control him because you no longer control his level of pain.

When you apply the wrist-lock takedown, the koga come-along and the wrist-press arm lock, you're using pain to force the assailant to cooperate. However, the amount of pain you can inflict is often limited because of circumstances such as his physique and pain tolerance. Therefore, you must be able to augment the techniques if the need arises.

One method for accomplishing this is to inflict pain elsewhere on the assailant's body, but this isn't recommended because it frequently involves abandoning the reasonably good hold you already have. To attempt a complex technique when a simple one isn't working usually leads to complete failure.

In self-defense, it pays to remember the KISS philosophy: Keep It Simple, Sensei. A far better method for encouraging the assailant to cooperate is to increase the pain in a simple, fail-safe manner through the use of basic nerve and pressure-point techniques.

The wrist-lock takedown works well as long as the other person does not resist too much. When the assailant makes his move (1), George Kirby (left) grabs his hand (2), twists it clockwise (3) and applies pressure on the wrist to force him down (4).

The wrist-brace takedown is a good alternative when the assailant resists the wrist-lock takedown. After George Kirby (left) is grabbed (1a), he uses his right hand to control the assailant's right hand and places his left hand on the assailant's forearm (2a). The pain from the wrist lock and the pressure-point technique forces the assailant to drop (3a). In detail: The ulnar nerve pressure point lies about 1 to 3 inches below the elbow (4a).


This move, also known as the forward wrist lock, is a simple but effective maneuver that can be used to respond to attacks that range from the simple lapel grab described in scenario No. 1 to a club attack. It's also a very “forgiving" technique because it usually works even if it's not done perfectly.

However, you can run into problems if the assailant resists as you turn his hand. Resistance will usually show up as his wrist reaches the halfway point — when his thumb is pointing toward the ground. The technique can come to a grinding halt at this point unless you supplement it with an additional pain-compliance method.

To better acquaint yourself with this situation, practice it with special attention directed toward how the attacker's arm rises as his wrist is turned. You'll notice that his arm muscles — especially those on the outside of his forearm — become tight.

To bypass this obstacle, slide your left hand up to the high point of the forearm muscle. Rest your fingers on the inside of his arm about 1 to 3 inches below the elbow, then press with your middle finger. This attacks the ulnar nerve at a point where it can be easily reached. Then you can continue with the technique, which is properly called the wrist-brace takedown, or go into a variation that will force him to the ground.

The koga come-along is a popular technique that works best when both hands can be used to control the assailant and move him forward or to his left. To illustrate, George Kirby (left) blocks a punch (1-2) and traps the assailant's arm (3). He then controls the hand (4) and completes the lock (5). However, if Kirby moves the wrong way or lets go with one hand, the assailant may be able to escape from the hold (6).

The finger-brace wrist lock is a great backup for the koga come-along. After he blocks the punch (1a-2a) and traps the arm (3a), George Kirby (left) grasps the assailant's little finger (4a). Once he bends the appendage while locking the wrist (5a), he can lead the other man in any direction he wants (6a). Close-up of the finger lock (7a).


Also known as the wrist-lock lift, this technique can be used in a variety of situations. If properly set, it's a strong hold with which you can maintain the compliance of most any assailant.

However, the technique has two weaknesses: First, unless you have a very big hand or great physical strength, you'll need two hands to maintain the hold. Second, it works best when you're moving the assailant forward or to his left. If you want him to move backward or to his right, however, the hold may become compromised.

To remedy this, slide your left hand down over the back of his trapped hand, grab his little finger with your two smallest fingers, and brace your thumb against the back of his thumb at the second knuckle. You can control him by simply clenching your fist as if you're using a hand-strengthener to build grip strength. When you move his little finger across the back of his hand — not away from it — you create an increasing amount of pain.

You can easily establish the control you need to secure his cooperation or to transition into another technique. This alternative, which is called the finger-brace wrist lock, has several advantages over the original technique.

First, you can move your assailant in any direction, including up or down. Second, it's a “low-visibility" technique, which means it's almost impossible for a bystander to see what you're doing. (You can even maintain the hold while your hand and the assailant's hand are down by your side — which is great for extracting him from a crowd without attracting attention.)

Third, and perhaps most important, the modified version requires only one hand to execute. In fact, once you know it well, you can actually initiate the technique using only one hand. That leaves your other hand free for other purposes — such as applying the hold on a second person if necessary.

The wrist-press arm lock allows a martial artist to easily control an assailant most of the time. To illustrate, George Kirby (right) controls the assailant's upper arm and bends the lower portion of it behind his back (1). Then he locks the wrist to apply the pain (2).

When more security is needed to restrain a stronger assailant, the finger-brace arm lock can be used. Once George Kirby has secured the arm, he grasps the assailant's fingers and digs into a nerve that passes through the shoulder area (1a). Then he bends the fingers until the assailant complies (2a).


As a come-along technique, this move is effective and hard to counter. When it's set correctly, strong resistance from the assailant can cause him to break his own wrist with no additional effort on your part. However, sometimes you need a little extra “security," especially if you want to move him or use him as a shield against any cohorts who are still bent on getting a piece of you.

If you set the arm lock with your right hand, your left hand will be free to provide that extra security. All you have to do is rest it on the assailant's shoulder area with your middle finger at the 9-o'clock position.

If you dig into the shoulder, you'll hit one of several nerves that pass through the area. The pain will cause him to move his left side toward you with his shoulders thrust back to reduce the pain. That makes it easier to apply the modified lock, which involves grabbing his fingers and bending them backward.

He's now off-balance, and his body can be pointed in any direction by varying the amount of pressure on the trapped arm and the nerve. If you opt to use him as a shield, you can let go with your left hand and he will still experience enough pain to possibly cause his comrades to back off.

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Controlling an assailant differs from simply throwing a kick or punch to remove yourself from a dangerous situation. You may have to restrain him to protect yourself or your loved ones — or to keep him from injuring himself while you secure the environment or find a safe place to wait for help. Consequently, whenever you use a control technique, it's essential to give clear, loud, simple verbal commands so he knows what you want him to do.

Pain transforms most people into fast learners because when they comply, the control hold becomes significantly less painful. That's the reward for cooperation. One of the basic rules of jujitsu is to never assume anything will work. You must always have something to back up what you're doing — and something to back up that. A sound jujitsu program will teach you additional ways to use nerves and pressure points to augment the control techniques described above, as well as those you learn in the future.

George Kirby has taught budoshin jujitsu since 1967. The Santa Clarita, California-based instructor, who was Black Belt's 2007 Instructor of the Year, has written a number of books about the art:

Jujitsu: Basic Techniques of the Gentle Art

Jujitsu: Intermediate Techniques of the Gentle Art

Jutte: Japanese Power of Ten Hands Weapon

Jujitsu Nerve Techniques: The Invisible Weapon of Self-Defense

Advanced Jujitsu: The Science Behind the Gentle Art

Jujitsu Figure-4 Locks: Submission Holds of the Gentle Art

Jujitsu: Basic Techniques of the Gentle Art – Expanded Edition

Jujitsu: Advanced Techniques for Redirecting an Opponent's Energy

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