Since I first stated that the techniques taught at my school were based on principles, and that we focus more on understanding the principles that makes things work than the techniques themselves, people have e-mailed me asking me if I could explain these principles in more detail.
Unfortunately, trying to explain many of these principals in writing is very difficult, since many can’t be explained in words alone. However, I will try my best to describe these principles for the “blog” readers, using words, charts and pictures.
Keep in mind though, that in order to sometimes fully understand a principle you have to also understand other principles that relate to it. Most principles aren’t fully useable on their own, and have to be integrated with others.
I originally called this principle “Chains Of Motion,” which quite literally explains what the principle is all about.
However, I started using a different term about twelve years ago after hearing Don Angier, Soke of Yanagi Ryu, talk about this principle. He called it “Commutive Locking,” which I thought sounded a lot better. Since I often defer to his expertise on specific elements of the martial art I do, I switched to his terminology.
Recently it has been brought to my attention recently that Mr. Angier’s terminology might be inaccurate. “Commutive” is not a proper word, although there is something called a “commutator” that is used in the sequential “control of current to produce torque” in an electric motor. It is possible that Mr. Angier uses this term as a metaphor—referring to the sequential movement which is essential in this principle—but I have no first hand knowledge if this assertion is accurate. [See note below]
Chances are that a better term for this principle would be “Cumulative Locking,” which I’ve been informed is a better translation of a Japanese term (unfortunately, I do not know what that term is) that relates to this principle. In this instance, cumulative is defined as the act of following successively.
However, the name of this principle really isn’t as important as understanding it fully, or realizing its importance. To be very honest, understanding this principle is absolutely critical in any art that utilizes joint locks, projections (throws), and/or restraining holds.
The simplest explanation of Chains Of Motion is: One joint locks up another joint which locks up another joint. It is sort of like taking a length of chain and twisting it until it become all knotted up.
In other words one starts twisting at point “A,” which ultimately effects part “B,” and so on and so on until there is so much tension that the chain can no longer twist either B must let go or the chain will break.
To illustrate this concept in a martial art context I like to use a commonly done technique called kotegaeshi. kotegaeshi clearly demonstrates how the bones, muscles, tendons, and joints of the body are rotated to the point where they lock up and become “knotted” like the chain.
In the first picture, the arm is in its natural state. As the hand and wrist are rotated outwards the ulna and radius bones lock at the elbow: thus rotating the humerus, which in turn ultimately locks at the shoulder joint. The end result is that the uke either falls with the rotating force or his arm/shoulder joint is injured—often at multiple points.
While the above is a very simplified explanation of the process, it clearly shows the progressions from the point of applied force (the hand) to the shoulder. In order to fully understand the specific body mechanics involved in this technique and others like it, I strongly suggest that one reads an anatomy book.
The whole concept behind the principle of Chains of Motion is that he human skeleton can be divided into two parts.
I refer to the first part as those joints that form “Open Chains.” By this I mean joints that that can move independently without causing other joints to move in reaction.
The second division is called “Closed Chains,” which I use to describe joints that when moved cause other joints to move through reactive motion.
These “Chains” are further divided as follows:
- Chain #1 – Torso (head, neck, and trunk)
- Chain #2 – Upper Extremities (shoulders and arms)
This chain is determined by the movement and structure of the collarbone, scapula, and the connection of the arm to the trunk.
Upper extremities have the greatest range of motion.
- Chain #3 – Lower Extremities (pelvis and legs)
This chain is determined by the connections of the upper leg to the torso from the hips to the femur to the knees to the fibula and tibia down through the ankles to the feet.
In the example of kotegaeshi, “Chain #2 Upper Extremities” is being manipulated in a specific, sequential order. As a result, a predetermined and repeatable reaction occurs. It requires very little force, and pain is not necessary to make the technique work.
However, as previously stated, this is just a superficial description of what is occurring and what the principle of Chains of Motion is all about. Unfortunately, in many styles of martial arts, kotegaeshi is simply completed by torquing the wrist to the point where it hurts so much that the person falls in order to prevent the wrist from breaking. In this case, kotegaeshi becomes nothing more than a joint lock—a joint lock designed to attack the wrist.
From a martial arts perspective, where a technique’s merits must be judged on effectiveness, simply doing kotegaeshi as a joint lock misses the point. There is a big difference between doing simple “Joint Locks” and doing “Chains Of Motion”/”Commutive Locking” even though both methods are often referred to as kansetsu waza.
When I was younger, my teacher often referred to all joint locks as kansetsu waza (literally, “joint technique”). However, specific kansetsu waza were often categorized by the joint used and/or the technique(s) used to manipulate them. For example, wrist techniques were kote waza, finger locks were yubi waza, and arm locks were ude waza.
According to my teacher, kansetsu waza, was a generic term that referred to exploiting mechanical weak points of the body by applying force at one specific point, or by manipulating a joint (or joints) to their limit (past their normal range of motion). These kansetsu waza could be used as a means to project an opponent (break their balance), restrain an opponent, or injure/break a specific part of the body.
However, since my teacher’s death in 1989, I have come to discover that there are two main types of kansetsu waza applications. The first is the easiest to teach, and is the most often seen method. This method basically involves twisting, rotating, or bending a specific joint in a manner that moves the joint either past its normal range of motion or directly opposed to its direction of motion.
The second method is subtler and often only demonstrated by senior practitioners who have transcended the first type or locks. In this form, joints are manipulated precisely using proper sequential movement and alignment, thus locking the entire skeletal frame.
Clearly, the first method is easier to accomplish, yet often requires more strength in order to be effective. The main drawback to these methods is that while one is applying such techniques, the opponent can often feel the lock being applied, giving him a greater chance of launching a counter-defense.
The second method, however, requires a lot of practice and finesse to do properly. It also requires proper comprehension of human anatomy, physics, and physiology. Yet, while more difficult to accomplish, when done properly these methods require little or no strength. And by the time one’s opponent realizes what is happening it is too late to launch a counter-defense.
In addition, during the application of these second methods, the stimulus of pain is not required. It is not even necessarily an objective. It may be a welcome byproduct, but it is not the primary goal, since pain can be subjective. (Note: no real martial art technique, in any martial art system, should ever rely on pain in order to be effective. NEVER!)
Originally, I was going to spend a lot of time writing about anatomy and physiology in order to explain the principle of Chains of Motion to the fullest of my ability. However, that would require pages and pages of text, and I would still have to leave a ton of material out. That would not be fair to those individuals who seriously want to learn.
To be honest, I am often shocked at how few martial artists, even extremely highly ranked ones, ever bother to pick up and read an anatomy book. And if they do, they rarely study it in depth. It’s a fact that never ceases to amaze me.
I mean, I realized that understanding human anatomy was essential to fully understand my martial art techniques in my early teens. That was long before teaching others was something I ever considered. For me, understanding how the body works—its structure and its limitations—was crucial in order for me to be more effective with less effort.
Sure, my teacher covered the various applicable sciences in depth—to the best of his ability and with a serious language barrier between us. But seeking out even more information and studying different sciences in detail is what truly separates martial artists from martial hobbyists.
Okay, I’m getting preachy and off topic. My point is that if you study anatomy, you will understand how to do the principle of Chains of Motion. The simple truth is that compared to all of the principles I have covered so far, this is one of the easiest to understand and—with some serious trial and error—to learn.
[Editors note (for the terminologically inclined): There seems to be a lot of confusion in the Aikido and Jujutsu worlds as to exactly what Mr. Angier calls this principle. This is presumably because “commutive” is not a word in the dictionary.
One most often sees this principle referred to as “Commutative Locking,” even though that is not very appropriate in a literal sense (it would imply you can do the lock in any order). I have also heard “Communicative Locking,” which sounds quite nice. It has been speculated that “Cumulative Locking” would be closest to the original concept.
It is possible Mr. Angier intended to use the term “cumulative.” He also might have purposely created a new word to make a metaphor with “commutator” or some other concept. See this thread for reference and details.]