Wristlocks are submissions that bend the wrist by bending, flexing, extending or rotating the hand relative to the bones of the forearm
Some martial arts like aikido, hapkido, and traditional Japanese jujutsu specialise in wristlocks, making them a major part of their curriculum.
Most of the common BJJ jointlocks target the elbow (e.g. straight armbars), shoulder (e.g. Kimura and Americanas), knee (e.g. kneebars) and ankle (straight footlocks) and historically the wristlock has been neglected in most schools.
In this article we’ll take a look at various aspects of wristlocks in BJJ that should give you a good primer on how, when, and where to use them and how to train them safely!
Table of Contents
Are Wristlocks Even Legal in BJJ?
Are wristlocks legal in BJJ?
The answer is, ‘Mostly yes.’
The table on page 24 of the IBJJF rulebook clearly shows that wristlocks are illegal for kids, adolescents, and white belt adults. But for adults at blue belt level and above they are allowed.
So in my opinion if you’re an adult (or planning to be) and a blue belt (or planning to be) then you should at least know a little bit about wristlocks!
Other rule systems vary wildly in whether they allow wristlocks.
For example, here’s the status of that submission according to a few other governing bodies of grappling sports…
- ADCC – Abu Dhabi Combat Club: Wristlocks are legal
- US Grappling: Illegal in all juvenile divisions, legal for adults
- NAGA – North American Grappling Association: Illegal for kids and teens, legal for adults
- SJJIF – Sport Jiu Jitsu International Federation: Illegal for kids, legal for juveniles above white belts and adult beginners
- Judo: Wristlocks and all other small joint manipulations will result in an immediate disqualification
- Sport Sambo: Wristlocks and all other small joint manipulations are not legal
Now now matter what the official rules are, it’s important to understand that individual events (and even individual referees) may not follow all the rules and/or have their own rules.
Therefore you should always check with event organiser about the lesser-known submissions like wristlocks. You don’t want to be DQ’d for using what you think is a perfectly legal technique.
Should You Learn Wristlocks?
Attacking someone’s wrist is just as legitimate an attack as hyperextending their arm with the straight armbar, squeezing the arteries in their neck with a lapel choke, or applying a kneebar.
And they’re just so damn handy – when someone is resisting your choke or armlock then they usually forget about their wrist. Attack the wrist and you may tap them out with that, or they’ll panic hard and give you the submission you were going for originally.
Either way, you win!
Even if you have no interest in ever actually using wristlocks to attack someone you should still practise them once in a while.
That’s because the key to preventing wristlocks is awareness about your hand and forearm being put into vulnerable situations. And the best way to develop that awareness is by learning the basics of how to apply these attacks yourself.
I would argue that if you’re an advanced white belt and can’t yet use wristlocks legally in competition then you should still start getting familiar with them.
You don’t want to be completely new to these attacks in your very first blue belt tournament, do you?
Are Wristlocks Dangerous?
I love wristlocks, but they’re undeniably dangerous. I’ve seen them cause a lot of accidental injuries.
Most aikido, hapkido and traditional ju-jutsu black belts have, at some point, sustained an injury due to one of these attacks despite the fact that most of the training in these arts is semi-cooperative.
The problem is even worse in a combat sport where people are are trying to apply and defend submissions for real. Things can get heated quickly, submissions get applied too fast, and people wait too long to tap out.
When this full-force mentality is applied to wristlocks you’e almost guaranteed an injury.
Here are four reasons why we need to be super-careful with wristlocks…
First of all the ligaments and bones of the wrist are much more delicate than those of the shoulder, knee, ankle and elbow (the commonly attacked joints in grappling), so it’s comparatively much easier to damage the wrist than those other body parts.
Secondly, serious wrist injuries take forever to heal and often get worse, not better, over time requiring surgery
Thirdly, most wristlocks come on very quickly. Apply them with speed and you’ll find that both you and your training partner will be surprised by how the lock went from zero pain to loud popping noise with no warning.
And fourthly, they’re often perceived as ‘cheesy’ submissions. This is incorrect – they’re totally legitimate. The problem is that people don’t want to tap to a submission they think is cheesy, which often means that your victim will fight a wristlock like crazy and not tap out in time.
Learn wristlocks, use them in sparring, but apply them slowly and carefully. Don’t break your toys – you can’t get better without training partners!
Some BJJ Wristlocks to Get You Started…
In this first video I take you through 5 wristlocks that I actually apply on a fairly regular basis in BJJ sparring. Watch it and you’ll see some examples of high percentage applications of this submission in action…
This next video features my friend Jeff Mezaros sharing a very sneaky (and effective) wristlock from the closed guard…
This next video is getting advanced. In it I show how to use ‘Sankyo’ – a classic Aikido wristlock – to submit an opponent who’s on your back in rear mount.
It’s a fantastic way to go from one of the worst positions in BJJ to winning the match!
How to Train BJJ with an Injured Wrist
I hope you’ve paid attention to the reasons I gave earlier why wristlocks can be so dangerous. And I hope that if you’re caught in one of them then you’ll tap out early and tap out often…
But on the off chance that you don’t tap in time and your wrist gets injured, well, here’s a drill you can do during the long and painful recovery!
More BJJ Resources
If you’d like some more help developing your gi and no gi games then here are a couple of other resources for you…
The Modern Leglock Formula featuring Rob Biernacki and Stephan Kesting (that would be *ahem* yours truly) is your systematic and scientific guide to leglocks. It’ll add an entire new dimension to your grappling! Click here for more information.
Click here to download a free copy of my book, A Roadmap to BJJ, which will take you through the most important positions and transitions on the ground.
Or you can just enter your best email in the box below and I’ll send you the download link right away!
Good luck with your training,