I thought I’d go back to the one thing I’m qualified to talk about this week, and cover off another aspect of writing fighting. I love a good joint lock, if it’s a fight for fun on the mat, then a slowly applied joint lock is a great way to show your skill and that you’ve won a fight without actually hurting anyone. IN a real life or death fight the nastier joint locks can completely take an opponent out of a fight and put them in hospital without the need to do anything more…uh…fatal.
Simply put a joint lock is any combination of body movements that forces an opponent’s joints, big or small, through a range of motion that they were never designed to go through. They show up in Brazilian and Japanese Jiu Jitsu, Judo, SAMBO, Catch Wrestling and Filipino Dumog (among many, many other arts) and are commonly considered to be an incredibly effective way to end a fight and on a battlefield, hurt someone so badly they have to be carried away for medical attention.
In writing a fight scene a brutal joint lock is a great way to show your character’s fighting skill, or a way for an antagonist to thoroughly smack down the hero without killing them. The effects of a joint locks can be horrific if they’re put on hard, but applied as a threat they can also be a really good way to stop a fight going any further if your protagonist is fighting one of their friends.
Here are a few you can use in your writing:
Arm bar: The first joint lock most people learn, a straight arm bar can be applied standing or on the ground and attacks the joint by hyperextending the elbow until the ligaments break (they make a crunchy click, click, click sound as they go). The great thing about arm bars is that they’re versatile, it can be applied from your back or from on top in multiple different positions. An arm broken this way hurts a great deal, and it puts that arm out of commission, but it doesn’t necessarily stop a determine person from fighting on, so if you need to show a characters toughness then have another character break their arm this way and then have them gut out the pain. Don’t get me wrong, a normal person will absolutely stop fighting if you break their arm…but not everyone is normal and someone who is super motivated, or high, can keep going.
Here’s a good example:
Kimura Lock: Called a Kimura in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Gyaku ude-garami in Judo and Japanese Jiu Jitsu, a double wristlock or reverse key lock in Catch Wrestling and a chicken wing everywhere else that I’ve learned it, this is a medial rotational should lock (which means you turn some poor person’s shoulder until the joint separates, the ligaments tear and general sadness ensues). This will absolutely end a fight. The pain is indescribable (actually that’s not true, it’s like someone suddenly filled your shoulder with fire ants and broken glass) and it renders the whole arm completely useless. Unless medical attention is given to the person on the receiving end of this move they can end up losing their arm, or suffering permanent shoulder damage. Even if they do get medical attention the shoulder is never quite the same again afterwards (mine certainly isn’t).
Keylock: Also called an Americana, this is the other main shoulder lock taught in grappling arts and it has much the same disastrous effect on the recipient’s shoulder.
If you’d like an example check out Jason Scully running through 49 (!) different ways to apply these submissions.
Wristlock: Popular in Aikido, the humble wristlock is surprisingly effective if it can be applied correctly. The problem with this is that it’s hard to catch in a real fight, and a sufficiently motivated person can still hit you in the face with their off hand if they’re quick enough. I think this one’s a good move for a protagonist to try and fail to apply if you want a fight to go badly for them. It’s not that wristlocks don’t work, they’re just difficult and there are easier moves to make work in a real fight.
Kneebar: Like a straight armbar but applied to the knee instead. They’re most commonly associated with Russian SAMBO, but I’ve seen them taught just about everywhere (although they’re banned in Judo competition). The kneebar is harder to apply properly than the armbar because people’s legs are so much stronger than their arms, but a broken leg completely takes anyone without a ranged weapon out of the fight. A broken knee can’t bear any weight. The one upside to this move is that the damage can be repaired (eventually) with proper medical attention. And surgery.
Heel Hook: In grappling circles a heel hook is the gold standard for nasty submissions that don’t involve the neck or spine. It’s a rotational knee attack that’s applied by twisting the ankle. It explodes the knee joint, rips the ligaments and leaves the recipients leg as useful for standing on as a pool noodle. The reason that it’s so dangerous is that with all other joint locks, they tend to hurt first and then break, but with a heel hook the joint breaks and then the pain sets in.
It’s not good.
Much like a kimuraed shoulder is never quite the same after being broken, a knee that’s been heel hooked never quite works properly again unless a very skilled surgeon is involved in the repair and even then it can mean months of rehab.
Neck crank: A catch all term for submissions that involve torqueing or compressing the vertebrae in the neck. They can be as simple as wrenching the head to the side until something breaks, or as complex as the twister submission made popular by Eddie Bravo neck cranks can result in paralysis or even death. Necks don’t like to be messed with. Not a move I’d have a protagonist use unless they were trying to kill their opponent but is an excellent ‘that’s not cricket’ submission for an antagonist to use.