A Practical Guide To Joint Locks, Breaks, And Manipulations

The first martial art I formally studied (other than boxing) was American Self-Protection (ASP), a hybrid art based on elements of judo, Savate, Western boxing, and aikido. Many of the basic techniques of the art involved defenses against wrist grabs and, I thought, key principles of aikido.

When I earned my black belt in ASP and began working on the requirements for my second degree, I learned that much of what I thought was aikido, wasn’t. Thanks to one of our senior instructors, who was also an aikido black belt, I learned the difference between what we were doing and classical aikido movement. An inherently practical and somewhat irreverent bunch, we also explored the differences between traditional aikido and its practical defensive applications. That was my introduction to the spirit of “junkyard” aikido.

Years later, as a U.S. Army sergeant stationed in Hawaii, I decided to revisit aikido and enrolled in a traditional class. I eventually quit (was thrown out?) when I spoiled the sensei’s “unliftable body” stunt (I picked him up and carried him around the room) and developed a renewed—if not slightly irreverent—interest in “non-classical” joint locks. Starting with what I had learned from my ASP colleague, I began analyzing the locks of various martial arts systems, including the vast number of locks that exist in Western scientific wrestling and the amazing work of Professor Wally Jay. As with all my martial analysis, I looked for “common ground”—core movements and actions that exist in many different techniques and are typicvally integral to their function. I also explored the “physiological potential”—the functional possibilities—of different movements, looking for what they “could” be, rather than accepting what they supposedly were.

While running the Video Department at Paladin Press, I had the honor of working with Cardo Urso, former NCOIC of the USMC Close-Combat Section and one of the most accomplished practitioners of the traditional Japanese arts I’ve ever met. Cardo’s efforts to decipher the true bunkai (application) of traditional Japanese kata (solo forms) were inspiring and really helped fill in many of the gaps in my understanding of locking technique. Similarly, I was inspired by the work of Chris Petrilli, whose amazing personal expression of locking combines elements of aikido, silat, bagua, and Eskrido.

Through the inspiration and instruction of these talented martial artists, my joint-locking skills and my understanding of how locks are applied took a quantum leap. The next step was to try to share this with my students and training partners in an efficient manner. Since teaching is distinctly different from doing, I focused heavily on the order of presentation of information and getting students to see and understand that one core movement can produce different results. The feedback I received when I introduced this teaching method—especially when in the context of law enforcement restraint and control training—was extremely positive and inspired me to share it through Junkyard Aikido.

The core concept in Junkyard Aikido is that the ultimate judge of whether a lock is valid or not is the guy being locked! Classical postures and ritualized movement are not prerequisites for effective joint lock applications. All it takes is getting his limbs into the proper orientation and applying pressure to stress the joints. What body parts you use to do that or whether he’s upright or upside down don’t change the fact that you can make it hurt. And if you can do that consistently and reliably, you’ve got usable skill.

The other defining aspect of Junkyard Aikido is the way we get limbs into compromised positions. Rather than the traditional “grab-and-twist” approach, we use the natural body mechanics of striking motions to power our acquisition and positioning of limbs. For example, by using an open hand to “lead” a powerful horizontal elbow strike, it can easily deflect, trap, or collect an attacker’s limbs and rotate them to position them for locks.

Finally, Junkyard Aikido introduces a locking concept that I believe is unique to my system: the Compression Lock. Inspired by the stick compressions of Chris Petrilli and the clinchwork of Muay Thai, the Compression Lock involves clasping the hands together and using the bones of the forearms to compress and crush the attacker’s limbs. Although it looks benign, it is extremely powerful and is becoming an increasingly important part of my Damithurt Silat and Counter-Blade Concepts systems.

Junkyard Aikido is not intended to be disrespectful; it is intended to democratize joint locks and make them available to everyone without an excessive traditional or cultural framework. It is also intended to set a new standard in teaching methodology, so even if you prefer the traditional approach, you can understand it better through a more lucid, perhaps better organized, method of instruction.

Stay safe,

Michael D. Janich