Joint Lock “Throws”

Kote-Gaeshi (Wrist Reversal) as taught in Aikido

The most commonly recognized example of a joint lock “throw” is kote-gaeshi (wrist reversal). It is a basic technique in Aikido, and several variations of it also exist in karate tuidi. You can see in the animated GIF, above, that the uke (person receiving the technique) drops his left knee to the floor when the lock is applied, so that he can fall in the direction of the lock. The example, above, is being done slowly so that the viewer can easily see what is being done. Normally, you will see this technique demonstrated quickly, and the uke will do a very pretty flip, instead of a simple fall. This gives the impression that, when applied correctly, and at full speed, your opponent is going to be thrown to the ground. From what I have seen, most people reinforce this expectation by calling it a throw, rather than a joint lock.

Funakoshi Gichin (Founder of Shotokan) demonstrating tsubame-gaeshi (swallow reversal)

The use of a joint lock to “throw” someone is widely misunderstood, and misrepresented. With the exception of an old-school variant of ippon seoi nage (single shoulder through), most joint lock “throws” are not actually going to throw the attacker. In reality, they are only throws when the uke knows how and when to fall when the technique is applied to them. That isn’t to say that the techniques don’t work–far from it! They are very effective as joint locks, but when applied to an untrained person, or a resisting person, they look quite a bit different. In the kote-gaeshi example, you would break an untrained person’s wrist long before you ever made them flip! In the series of photos, above, you can see Funakoshi Gichin demonstrating a throw that he calls “tsubame-gaeshi” (swallow reversal), which is vastly different from the judo technique of the same name. At first glance, it appears to be a variation of uki otoshi (floating drop). Upon closer inspection, however, you can see that Funakoshi’s right hand is clamped on his partner’s elbow, and using it as a fulcrum to apply leverage to the shoulder. The posture of the uke in the third photo implies that he will be thrown head over heels with this technique.

At 1:05 in the video, above, you can actually see a Yin Bagua instructor demonstrate the same technique that Funakoshi’s photographs illustrate. In the video, you can see that the uke is resisting, and trying to stay on his feet. This is a very natural reaction for most people, when they are put into a joint lock. If the instructor dropped his body and completed this technique, his partner’s resistance would most likely have resulted in getting his shoulder dislocated. It’s quite possible that the uke would also have wound up on the floor, but it would not be a pretty flip. It is important to understand the limitations of the techniques you practice, and temper your expectations with realism. It feels good to make your partner flip through the air when you apply a joint lock “throw,” but if that is your expectation, you may find yourself very discouraged when you start meeting resistance.

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About Noah

I began training in karate (Shuri-Ryu) in the Summer of 2006. Subsequently, I started training in judo, kobudo, and iaijutsu within the next 6 months. During my training there, I earned the rank of Sankyu (3rd Degree Brown Belt) in Shuri-Ryu, Gokyu (Green Belt) in judo, a certification in the use of the bo, and passed proficiency tests for the four tachigata of Shinkage-Ryu iaijutsu. I moved to Arizona in the Summer of 2008, and continued training and researching karate at home. I continued regular training in judo at a local club until 2010, when I was able to start training in Shorin-Ryu with Sensei Richard Poage. I have been training with him ever since, and currently hold the rank of Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) in Shorin-Ryu under him. In addition, I began studying KishimotoDi under Sensei Ulf Karlsson in 2014.