As a part of my training in TKD, I learned how to do some wrist locks for basic self-defense applications. These are quite similar to some techniques from Aikido. However, in practice (during sparring in TKD, and also more recently in sparring in Judo), I find it really hard to do.

Mostly, my opponents are either 200+ lbs and strong or 170+lbs and incredibly strong. When they grab my lapel or sleeves, their wrists are tight and difficult to bend.

Are wrist locks better used against weaker opponents in general, or is it a problem with my technique? That is, can a physically "weaker" opponent apply proper technique to do a wrist lock on a stronger guy who is holding his wrist/elbow/other joint stiff?

7 Answers 7


Primary and secondary grappling skills

Wristlocks and most other standing joint locks are almost always secondary grappling skills: one must already be able to dominate using basic gross-movement wrestling skills like pummeling, grip/hand fighting, foot-sweeps, hip throws, body locks, and so on. Part of the problem is strength: standing wristlocks and armbars rely on an opponent being either ignorant, weaker, caught by surprise, or slower. This is not true of most major judo and wrestling skills.

For instance, you'll note that nearly all proponents of standing joint-locks will say they don't work unless you distract the opponent by striking them first. Lots of valid techniques do better when prefaced with distractions, and lots of valid techniques are hard to execute without setting up the opponent to make a wrong move. But the fact that strikes are supposedly necessary, not just an unbalancing or other grappling-only set-up, says a lot about the broader applicability of standing joint-lock skills. I think they're useful and valuable skills, but they are nearly impossible to implement without being good at wrestling/grappling first.

Another problem is that these kinds of jointlocks (excluding come-alongs) mostly do not provide whole-body control. While I wrench their wrist, my partner is free to circle around me, shoot for my legs, or roll out. This, combined with the opportunity to simply exert force against the lock, makes them poor primary techniques.

Applying Aikido to Resisting Opponents

It sounds like you may be having a crisis about your aikido skills in the broader context of judo and fighting. You are right to worry, but don't despair. Empty your cup. Acknowledge that some techniques work less well than others. Remember that you haven't trained a technique if you've only trained it on a cooperative partner. Work on getting physically stronger. Work on getting better at judo. Maybe in a year or two, try your wristlocks again with your newfound strength and gross-motor jacket wrestling skills. It may go better, it may not.

Standing joint locks in a judo context

The first section of judo gold medalist Isao Okano's rare master text, "Vital Judo - Grappling Techniques", is devoted to standing joint locks in the context of judo contest. Again, these skills are predicated on being able to throw and resist throws at a high level of judo ability, and are not necessarily the most reliable techniques. Further, most of the techniques are shoulder or elbow locks, not wrist locks. But standing joint locks are a part of judo; aikido does not have a monopoly on them. They are just much more difficult to apply against a resisting opponent with any wrestling-type skills at all.


You are probably missing kuzushi (balance breaking) and/or atemi (strikes). Both serve the same purpose: to distract your opponent so that they worry about something else rather than their wrist. Then, applying a wrist lock becomes easy (read: easier).

The ninth technique of the goshin-no-kata shows just what I mean: you have a lapel grab which is deflected by both moving and breaking balance (kuzushi) and a punch to the face (atemi). The following wrist lock is then trivial to apply. The technique finished on a throw because uke is still fighting the lock! It is not enough, therefore we throw uke outwards after smashing his face yet again.

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    I would like to see these claims substantiated. Where can I watch a video of someone applying these wrist locks, in a setting where striking is allowed? Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 18:22
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    @StevenGubkin: I do not understand which "claims" you are referring to. Do you want to see Aikido used in MMA? In UFC? In a fake fight on YouTube? Do you wish to see some UK police using Aikido to take down perps? Or maybe the Tokyo riot police? Or the Osaka one? Do you wish to see a soldier in Iraq stopping a jihadist from stabbing them -- wait, that last one was one of my students and he did not film it. I do not mean to sound aggressive but I do not think that the concept of balance breaking and/or strike before applying another technique to be so outlandish that it needs proof. Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 9:18
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    I would like to see any film of Aikido being used against a resisting attacker, with strikes involved. I would like the Aikido to look at least somewhat like Aikido. I can watch hundreds of videos (MMA, Street fights, assaults, etc) for BJJ, Judo, wrestling. I have not yet seen such a video for Aikido. Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 14:14
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    @StevenGubkin: I am afraid that I would get banned if I used a "let me google that for you"... By your current definition any Shodokan randori would do nicely. Or watch some British police fights. You might have more luck in defining what you actually want and posting a question </hint>. 'nuff said. Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 14:50
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    @Wigwam This appears to be a video highlighting where movements in Kata find expression in other martial arts. All of the nonkata clips seems very "live", and effective. There is no indication that those practicing the Kata are able to use these movements in the ways illustrated. Non of the movements appear to be typical of Aikido (affecting the Center through the limbs). Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 21:17

I also train in TKD and though we don't train for grappling (locks, chokes, etc.) very often, we are told that against a stronger opponent, you may need to do something else to weaken their grip. (As Sardathrion explains in his answer). The weapon of choice is a kick or strike to the groin!

You may find that there is a small but vital aspect of the lock that you're missing, so it is worth asking your instructor to verify your execution of the locks. For instance, I've been taught a lock where someone grabs your lapel; you have to put your hand on the back of their hand, spanning the wrist joint (which hand you use depends on which hand they've used). You also hold their forearm against your chest before stepping back and turning away, which allows you to throw them.

The first few times I tried this particular lock, it didn't work very well at all; it was only after my instructor adjusted my hand position by about two centimetres that it worked properly (I was covering the knuckles, not the the wrist joint). By only covering the knuckles, I wasn't putting enough stress on my opponent's joint, making the lock week and ineffective.


Whatever you do in Aikido, the simple rule of thumb applies: never play fair!

If your and your opponent's hands are similarly strong and you're performing your lock single-handed, than you have a very slight chance to prevail.

In order to achieve the goal of your lock you have to:

  • use both hands against the one of the opponent
  • use your legs and body to enforce the lock and lever
  • use balance control
  • use atemi
  • distract the opponent's attention by false-movements
  • etc..

and do that pretty much all in combination.


I study in the Bujinkan, and the instructor I've been working with and I worked through all three "scrolls" of the Gyokko-ryu, and one thing about all the locks and throws there is that while we teach the locks in isolation in order to get an understanding of them, in the kata you always do something to the person before applying the lock (usually some sort of kick :) ).

The problem with a lot of the locks and throws IS that someone strong enough can resist it, either by realizing it's coming and strong arming it, or by moving out of it as you apply it (ukemi) Also because everybody is built a little different some locks just don't work as well on some people.

What we have to learn through practice, practice, practice is to feel WHEN someone is starting to resist and immediately move on to "Plan B" (best way to express it. Not a plan, but the next move), taking their resistance into account.

So yes, sometimes locks fail, sometimes you have to do something before the lock to make it more successful, and stay in the fight.


If you are finding a wristlock hard then you are using the wrong wristlock. if they grab the lapel what are they doing? there is one technique for a push, another for a pull. I can do either against a partner twice my size so long as I pick the right one... and move quickly enough.

If they grab and do nothing you shouldn't use a wristlock at all. Rather just hit them. on a nerve on the arm in training. in the eye on the street. they will soon let go. in fact in Shorinji kempo we always strike before and after a joint lock. because this is what works.

note that both strikes and wristlocks are illegal moves in judo.


page 29 of the above link item b) 25 Kantetsu waza just means joint lock for those that don't know the japanese terms.

ie. no joint locks to anything other than the elbow.

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    Have you ever tried these in a situation like judo randori? Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 12:10
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    Why did you hold on so long once he started to tap? Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 13:31
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    So would I be correct in saying that you've executed one wristlock in one jiujitsu (BJJ?) class, when it was against the rules, during groundfighting? Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 13:37
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    Could you link to an example of shorinji kempo randori? Because nothing that you describe is anything like judo randori, making your advice both baseless and useless for this question. Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 11:42
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    Unfortunately not. I could film one myself perhaps but most shorinji kempo randori videos online are goho ie punches and kicks rather than juho grabs and locks. I am confused about why we are talking about wrist locks in judo randori anyway. I never use them in actual judo classes outside of kata simply because they are not permitted. I don't know why you say my advise is 'baseless and useless' anyone who trains wristlocks eventually runs into the problem described in this question. I can overcome it to some extent so I thought I would share what I know.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 1:23

I was trained as a martial artist from a young age for 7-8 years(Tae kwon do), and took up boxing+ krav maga for a while. While in shape I'm physically dominant; as a 13 year I sparred for couple months multiple times a week full contact with a very muscular teenager two years my senior, who had at least 4 inches on me as well as a lot of weight; I held my own and made him work in every fight just as hard as I did. A few years later a middle aged man who wasn't in great shape, and had a lot less physical strength than me (we checked) demonstrated to me the power of akaido. Even after he showed me the technique and explained how it works he was able to use on me with alarming regularity. this was what I believe is called a come along, the hold gave him complete control.

Disclaimer: When I upped my speed AND had knowledge of the technique he couldn't touch me, it was only when I kept my speed down to his speed that it worked. If you want your akaido to work against a martial artist who knows the techniques you HAVE to be at least as fast, possibly faster by a margin. The locks that work against stronger opponents are the ones that use their momentum against them, once their wrist is bent behind their back and they are off balance at an awkward angel, they can't usually bend it back. (If they can they're monsters or you're really weak. If they can, get stronger.)

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