The Dangerous Locks

Not all submissions are created equal: some cause pain, some put you to sleep, and some do a lot of damage. Today I want to talk about the latter category, those submissions most likely to send you to the orthopedic surgeon.

Knowing which locks are dangerous is important for at least two reasons: first, you need to know which submissions to tap out early to if you are caught in one yourself, and second, it helps you preserve your training partners.

Many dangerous submissions have a narrow margin between the onset of pain and the onset of damage. When you get caught in a straight armbar (which is a relatively safe submission) you initially feel pain, then more pain, then a whole lot of pain and then something goes ‘pop’ in your arm; in other words you have lots of warning to tap out before major damage occurs. For a Kimura, on the other hand, the situation is a bit different: pain and damage come much closer together, and the margin for error is smaller. An even more extreme example is the heel hook, where you sometimes get damage BEFORE the onset of pain, especially if the recipient is all hyped up on adrenaline. It goes something like this: the lock is applied, something goes ‘pop’, and then the pain starts.

So which submissions are dangerous exactly?

As I mentioned above, the Kimura isn’t the safest armlock in the world, but other arm manipulations have an even higher injury rate. The two worst offenders are bicep slicers (aka bicep compression locks) and wristlocks.

Among the leglocks, anytime there is rotation or twisting to apply the lock it becomes a lot more dangerous. Twisting leglocks include heel hooks, reverse heel hooks, toeholds and steering wheel footlocks: all are very effective and efficient submissions, but they have destroyed the ligaments in many grappler’s feet, ankles and knees.

When it comes to attacking the neck, most chokes and strangles are relatively safe given that you release the technique the moment the person taps out or loses consciousness. There is a slight tendancy for chokes, which attack the windpipe rather than the side of the neck, to cause bruising in the throat if applied vigorously. Neck cranks, however, are in an entirely different category. If you are not very careful and/or if they don’t tap out, a neck crank can very easily damage the ligaments, muscles, nerves and/or joints of the neck. This can end someone’s jiu-jitsu career, not to mention making pain-free life a distant memory.

The above is NOT an exhaustive list of all dangerous submissions, but it’s a good start. I just wanted to highlight the submissions that, in my experience, have the highest percent-injury rates. Also (and this should be obvious) you can severely damage an opponent with just about any lock if you apply it irresponsibly, so don’t go crazy with your armbars and ankle locks just because I consider them safer than neck cranks!

In the next article I talk about how to train dangerous submissions in a realistic way without crippling everybody in your club.

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