The problem I have is that I have class once a week, and the class is small. Striking techniques, and overall one-step sparring techniques I can practice at home and in the air. Grappling, joint-locks, arm-bars, etc. really feel different when you do them on a live person. Common problems without the positive feedback of a training partner would be over or under rotating the wrist, footwork getting tangled up in the opponent, etc.

I saw the question on grappling dummy, and it looks useful for certain holds, possibly more akin to wrestling techniques and floor work. However, without hands, wrists, and proper joints you can't practice a whole set of jujitsu techniques.

So, are there equivalent tools with proper joints? Are there others who have found ways of training those techniques in the absence of a training partner? The purpose of this question has to do with self-training, and not training in a classroom environment.

  • 3
    Something most people don't realize is that a "Wrist Lock" is a means of locking the whole body by means of the wrist. It's important not just to have a hand and wrists, but for the connections between the hand and the torso to be representatively accurate of the range of motion in the human body. If you're only locking the wrist and forearm, you're doing it wrong.
    – stslavik
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 15:50
  • 1
    @stslavik Very true for standing locks, though wristlocks in ground grappling are generally the reverse: arrest the whole body, then lock the wrist. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 15:55
  • 2
    @Dave That whole concept is entirely counter-productive. Arresting the whole body makes locking the wrist both pointless and tiresome. Even in ground grappling, if you're controlling the wrist properly, the end result should be a seizing of all the muscles in the arm to the hips.
    – stslavik
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 17:22
  • This digression went to chat. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 18:33

6 Answers 6


Things that I have found help me with specifically wrist locks, but some of which are adaptable to other forms of practice as well.

Grab a Partner for an Extra Day

This is really the best option, but also logistically the most difficult. Talk to the other students in your class and see if one of the more experienced ones would be willing to add an extra day of practice every week or so. I understand that this is side-stepping the problem slightly (since you asked about training outside of class without a partner, and it is an answer on training outside of class but still with a partner), but it really is the best form of practice since no tool I am aware of can properly simulate not just the joints but how the body moves when put into a lock.

I recommend avoiding using a friend or significant other unless they also have training. You really don't want to accidentally injure your significant other, which is easy to do if they don't have some experience in the locks themselves.

Wrist Stretches

In my hapkido class we practice a variety of wrist stretches where we simulate many of the basic wrist-lock motions. So for example:

  • Hold up your left arm so that your elbow is level with your shoulder, palm down, pointing forward.
  • Turn the elbow inward 90 degrees, so that your fingertips are pointing toward the wall on your right.
  • Rotate your wrist, so that the palm is facing toward the wall directly in front of you.
  • Turn your wrist so that it forms a 90º angle with your forearm, fingertips pointing toward the front wall, palm toward the wall on your left.
  • Move your wrist over in its current position so that it is directly on your center line.
  • Take your right hand and place it against your left hand. Thumb on top, fingertips underneath and in front of the thumb.
  • Gently push in and pull up toward your face.
  • Hold that for a little while, then release, repeat with your right hand.

You can build an entire set of these. They have three advantages:

  1. They simulate the direction your wrist should turn for a lock, stretching and strengthening your wrist against these techniques.
  2. They train you in the mechanics of the locks and can help practice it when you do not have an available partner. It tells you a lot about the mechanics of the lock, which then will translate into your actual practice.
  3. It lets you experiment on just the wrist mechanics without risking injury on a partner.

Footwork First

Some of the key parts of getting locks to go on correctly are actually independent of practicing the locks themselves. Things such as:

  • Moving your feet correctly, without sloppy stances (or as we like to say, "sloppy stances make sloppy technique").
  • Sinking your weight.
  • Breathing.

These things can be practiced independently of actually doing the lock, but can provide a dramatic improvement to your execution. You can also easily practice these on your own, so take the opportunity when you aren't in class to practice these ancillary components. That way you can spend more time in class productively studying the locks themselves.

  • +1 on all points... Footwork is most important; wrist flexibility is second. The third part is the only thing that requires a training partner.
    – stslavik
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 15:45
  • Nice one for the wrist stretches :) I joined in a few hapkido classes once and the instructor did exactly these exercises and stressed they were the same as the wrist locks. It's a lesson that has stuck with me and I've made those wrist stretches past of my routine warm up.
    – nedlud
    Commented Jul 5, 2012 at 23:29
  • I've followed your wrist-stretch instructions. Great work. Now, how do I get out of this lock?
    – Avi
    Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 22:18
  • If you are put in that lock? That'd could make a good question on its own, since it depends a bit on where the opponent's other hand is. Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 22:24

I wouldn't trust training any standing joint locks (wrist, elbow, shoulder locks) on anything but a live person. It's not "practice makes perfect" but "practice makes permanent". Real feedback is at its most crucial with small joint manipulations like these, where fine motor coordination is so key. The chance of ingraining a wrong pattern is too high.

I would focus my solo training on other aspects: bag work, working throws on a dummy or elastic bands, strength, conditioning, mobility, agility.

When I was in a similar situation, I had fair success with organizing open mats with one or two dedicated buddies. I kept an email list of potential partners, and would send out a blast to everyone proposing a time. If I got one firm response, it was on.


Do you have a friend or significant other that is willing to help you? Even if they're not trained, they can help provide feedback on how the different things feel and you can adjust based on what you know they should be feeling. If you go this route, it would probably be good to teach them breakfalls (if you're doing any kind of takedown or any lock that has a takedown side-effect) and make sure you go slow. This does, however, also provide the added side effect of helping you learn, as you explain what they need to expect).

If you don't have that option, I don't know of any dummies that are specifically designed for martial arts that include the joints, but you could check out art supply places (higher-end/professional level), as they might have anatomically correct manikins that you could use. Of course, this option is a little more fragile, but could provide you the ability to actually see how the joints move in response to your moves.

A third option is to talk to your instructor about the possibility of organizing an open mat time, or, barring that, find a martial arts or MMA oriented gym where you can find others that may be willing to help you. Both of these would provide you with trained people that can provide the necessary feedback.

  • 1
    Unfortunately, in the past it was easier to get a training partner. Currently, everyone in my life's schedule is different from mine. So when I can train, they are not free, and vice-versa. I'll definitely have to find an MMA oriented gym. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 16:06

You can practice doing rear naked chokes on your leg. When you're sitting down bring your knee up. Wrap your arm around your shin as if it were your opponent's throat and squeeze. Do both arms. This will also benefit your guillotine choke and clamping down for solid overhooks.

This will make you better at finishing the chokes, but unfortunately there's no substitute for a partner when it comes to sinking it in against a resisting opponent.


In short, there is no difference between joint locking and throwing which prevents you from practising "in the air." Simply rehearse the movements without a partner, visualising your opponent; your opponent's position and reactions, how they feel when you lock them or throw them and so on. There are some limitations, but the exercise is still beneficial, in my experience.

It might be difficult to do at first, especially if you're not experienced. But this is also true of striking movements. While many people find it quite natural to practice striking without a target, others need to learn to do it. I think it is the same with joint locking and throwing.

Visualisation can be done at various levels. You can do it entirely without any physical movement, or you can do shortened or limited movements and you can do full movements without any targets or opponents.

  • 1
    Assuming you have trained against a resisting opponent prior, and know what it's like to do on a real person, then yeah, visualisation can certainly help.
    – Robin Ashe
    Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 4:05

Yup yup just rehearse the moves in your head and it is 99% as productive as normal practice. That 1% won't matter at all really I ain't scared of 1% ya know. Reference from shadow warrior the art of the butterfly.

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