Combat Wrist Locks – Advanced Control Secrets From The Ninja’s Self Defense Art of Ninpo-Taijutsu

Wrist locks are a fairly common self defense technique, especially within the grappling or “soft” arts like jujitsu and aikido. In the Ninja’s self defense art, known as ninpo-taijutsu (or “budo” taijutsu to some), there are some very advanced secrets for gaining maximum control over your opponent with your wrist locks.

This article takes a look at the “anatomy” of the wrist, and then matches this very important information with the basic locks and jams that the art of Ninjutsu applies to the wrist joint. After reading this lesson, and adding the key points to your own training, you will have the ability to increase your control over anyone who is on the receiving end of one of these self defense techniques.

Let me begin by saying that, it’s only natural for a student new to the art of Ninjutsu, or any other system which employs wrist locks, to focus on what the technique “looks like.” It appears to be simple anyway. The teacher merely grabs the attacker’s hand with his “this way,” and does X,Y,Z to the wrist.

But, even if not immediately apparent, the student will begin to notice that he or she is not getting the same results as the teacher. Oh sure, they are “twisting the wrist,” but the opponent isn’t ending up in the same place – or doesn’t go down the same way that the teacher demonstrated. As they progress towards mastery, it’s a natural tendency for the advancing student to want to have more of the same control that his or her teacher does.

And, it’s here that we begin a much deeper study of this basic self defense technique.

When it comes to learning, teaching, or applying the art of Ninjutsu to any problem or situation, I am a big fan of “strategic thinking.” That means that I step back from the details and the step-by-step mechanics of the technique, to get a bigger picture. In other word…

I want to see the forest that is made from the trees. And then, with this understanding, I can go back in and look at the details from a whole new perspective where each part, piece, or move within a technique – does something specific – and is not just there because “that’s the way our style does it.”

What this means in relation to a wrist lock is this…

What we call the wrist is actually a collection of bones, gaps, connective tissue, and what-not – a collection of many different parts which go together to create this thing called a “wrist.”

Now, I don’t need to be a doctor or scientist to understand that the wrist is a “universal joint,” capable of the greatest range of motion (out of the 3 joint types in the body). But, even so, the joint itself does have it’s limitations. And, this is where the wrist locking and folding techniques come in.

I find it helpful, when teaching these advancing concepts to students, to use the analogy of the airplane “joystick” with regards to the wrist. Because, they can both be moved the exact same way.

In the aviation world, they use the terms:

  • Pitch – which is the up/down movement or direction to gain or decrease elevation.
  • Yaw – the side to side motion or direction, and…
  • Rotation – which of course is the spiral, or spinning of the craft.

And, the wrist can be moved the same way.

To get this, follow along with me while extending your hand out in front of you. It can be palm up or palm down – but, either way, the palm should be parallel, or even with the ground.

Now, lift and lower your fingers and hand from the wrist, without moving the forearm. This is “pitch.”

After leveling out your palm again, move your fingers from side to side, without turning the palm toward the side. This is “yaw.” And finally…

Simply rotate the hand from side to side – turn it. This is “rotation.” (You will also find that, unlike the “pitch” and “yaw” directions which can be done “from” the wrist joint itself, “rotation” is actually done from the forearm.)

What does this have to do with joint locks?


Because you are not doing some “thing” called a wrist lock to your opponent’s body. When applying these martial arts techniques, you are doing “something” to the “structure” of your opponent’s joint – which limits movement and actually has a feedback effect that causes his body to ‘backfire’ on itself!

It’s when you can see beyond the step-by-step movements of your techniques, including the wrist locks, that you’ll be able to see that this technique is really about hyper-flexing, or extending the joint farther than it is designed to go! But, to do that, you must know which parts are to be moved, and which parts should be immobilized to get the locking, shearing, and overall controlling effect that you’re looking for.

Then, you’ll be able to see that the joint locking techniques of ninpo-taijutsu actually take advantage of the weakness inherent in the wrist, along the directional lines that I outlined earlier. So…

  • Omote-Gyaku (‘obvious reversal’) is a “rotational-based” wrist lock
  • Hon Gyaku (‘principle reversal’) is a “yaw-based” locking control
  • Take-Ori (‘bamboo-breaking’) is a “pitch-based” reversal, and…
  • Ura Gyaku (‘hidden reversal’) is a combination lock which applies both “rotational” and “yaw-based” force to the wrist.

And, as you progress, you will come to find that, not only will these techniques be much more powerful for you, but you will also understand how to apply your own unique locks which combine two or more of the above directions…

…and even do all three either simultaneously, or in succession to keep your attacker off-balance, confused, and completely under your control!