by Mark Wasson
Most martial art styles employ joint locks and pressure point attacks in their fighting arsenal. In fact, as a rule, the more joint locks and pressure point attacks a specific style utilizes, the more advanced that fighting style is considered to be. In Chinese martial arts there is a name for this method of attack. It is called Chin Na, and is translated as the art of seizing and applying joint locks.
The first aspect of Chin Na, seizing, consists of attacking certain pressure points in the body that will create tremendous pain in one's opponent and disrupt the flow of chi in the body so that the they cannot no longer continue fighting. For example, applying pressure to Qiu Pen, a specific point just inside the collarbone will create extreme pain in an individual, but will usually not leave any lasting damage other than soreness for a day or two.
The category 'seizing' can be further divided into two aspects. The first of which, being grabbing, serves to open or split bones or ligaments in a given area of the body such as the wrist or collarbone, thereby causing instant and traumatic pain to that area of the body. Pressing firmly on a specific area on the collarbone, for example, between the shoulder and neck area, forces the muscles and tendons to stretch apart and this causes immediate and extreme pain in that area.
The second aspect of seizing is the act of pressure point attacking and requires much more knowledge and skill. To disrupt one's chi through seizing requires the practitioner to know something about Chinese medicine and how chi flows throughout the body. This system of knowledge is extensive and requires a tremendous amount of diligence in training with a teacher familiar with the lines of energy in the human body. These lines of energy are referred to in Chinese as Jing Lou. In English we call them meridians. There are hundreds of points, usually no larger than the size of a dime, that run along these lines of energy. Most of these accupressure points are used in specific combinations to facilitate healing for different illnesses, but when struck violently some of these points will shut down the life energy flowing through that part of the body which can lead to unconsciousness, lasting sickness, or even death.
Whichever method of seizing is used, great strength is required in the forearms, wrists, and fingers. To develop this kind of strength takes a large amount of time and specialized training under a knowledgeable Chin Na master. For this reason, there are few true Chin Na experts in the United States.
The knowledge of how to apply joint locks is the second aspect of Chin Na training. Just as in seizing, joint locks inherently disrupt the flow of chi wherever they are applied. Hyper extending a joint like the elbow, wrist, or shoulder, for example, will quickly cut off the flow of chi throughout that part of the body. If control of the opponent is not the intent then many joint locks can be used to break the arm or a leg of the opponent. In either case, both options can quite painful and will end a fight quickly. It is important however to realize that a joint lock can be held back at a point prior to causing pain. If your intentions are not geared to inflicting massive amounts of damage on your opponent, this can be used as a means of controlling or diffusing an encounter without delving into the more violent side of Chin Na.
Some styles of kungfu, whether hard, soft, or somewhere in between, utilize Chin Na techniques more than others. For example, Hung Gar and Eagle Claw, two styles typically considered to be hard styles both employ a lot of Chin Na in their fighting applications. Among other movements, both these styles contain techniques using claw-hand techniques that can be interpreted as powerful grabbing and breaking applications. The Snake and Crane styles of kung fu, which are considered a blend of internal and external methods, also employ Chin Na, though in a limited fashion. Both these fighting styles utilize numerous trapping techniques, followed by very quick striking techniques to dozens of pressure points along the energy channels (meridians) of the body.
Soft styles such as Tai Chi and Ba Qua also utilize Chin Na in their fighting applications. Unlike Hung Gar or Eagle Claw, however, which employ mostly grabbing and clawing techniques for seizing, or Snake and Crane styles that focus on striking pressure points, Tai Chi and Ba Qua focus more on the joint locking aspect of Chin Na. These styles concentrate primarily on intercepting an opponent's incoming energy, or force, then blending with that energy and leading it into what is referred to as emptiness. Emptiness is the point at which an attacker's technique has reached its apex and it no longer has any energy left to employ. It is at this point that the Tai Chi or Ba Qua practitioner can use Chin Na to lock the joints of their opponent, thus gaining control of the encounter.
The fact that practitioners today, especially here in the West, don't have as much time to practice like the old master's has led to a de-emphasizing of the seizing aspect of Chin Na. Though this training can still be found in a few of the more traditional schools of kung fu, this knowledge is becoming more rare and harder to find with each passing generation of kung fu practitioners. This situation has changed the focus of Chin Na significantly and encouraged the further development of the joint locking aspect of this art. Nowhere can this be seen more than in police force training worldwide. Policemen, by the very nature of their profession, require a safe and effective method of restraint and control over an attacker. Chin Na joint locking methods have proven to be extremely effective in filling this requirement.
Though joint locks do not, in general, require the rigorous physical conditioning that seizing does, the level of one's martial skill has to be at a significantly high level to actually use joint locking techniques in real life fighting situations. To develop the sensitivity to the flow of an opponent's energy so that you can follow an attack until it has run its course is not an easy undertaking. But this is the point where you can then apply a joint lock and successfully gain control of your adversary. Applying joint locks is truly an art of finesse. One cannot simply grab a stronger, or larger, person's arm and bend it behind their back. To achieve this takes perfect timing and sensitivity to be able to determine when the opponent is at the weakest point in his attack.
It should be noted that all joint locks, and there are literally hundreds of locking techniques, have counter-moves. This of course means that they can be turned around and applied to the one who first initialized the joint lock attack. In fact, in some cases a high level Chin Na practitioner might even open himself up to what appears to be a simple and certain joint locking technique, only to suddenly turn it back around and apply a more complicated and painful hold on his attacker.
This is why it is so important to develop one's sensitivity to an opponent's incoming energy. A chin na practitioner's sensitivity must be so fine tuned that the instant the two combatants touch, the Chin Na practitioner can sense his opponent's mental intent even before it is put into action. Only in this way can one always be ahead of his opponent's next move, thereby always beating him to the punch so to speak.
There is no end to the changes that occur when one follows, and flows, with his opponent's energy. It can be almost like a dance, though admittedly a deadly one. Each and every situation is a completely different experience, and never the same twice. The changes are endless, and so are the techniques.
Another key element to mastering joint locks is the need to stay flexible. Only by remaining flexible in mind and body can one develop the quick reaction time that Chin Na techniques require. This requires a clear and calm mind that allows for quick and fluid movements. The best fighters can always adapt quickly, not only to an opponent's martial style, but to his size, and speed, and strength. They do this by staying calm, and remaining focused in the moment.
Every martial art that utilizes hand techniques has some Chin Na applications contained within their particular style. Often, however, the Chin Na applications are hidden and not easy to pick out. This is the way it was meant to be in days long past. Chin Na techniques are generally considered to be the most advanced and dangerous aspects of hand to hand combat and this knowledge should not be available to just anyone. This is how the old master's thought when they created the forms that make up each particular style. There is a lot of wisdom in this thinking when one considers the life-long damage a joint lock, or break, can inflict upon a person, even an adversary. It was felt, and wisely so, that for a student to reach a high level of skill in Chin Na they must first have the right morals in order so he/she would not misuse the knowledge passed on to them. This is the teacher's first responsibility, after all, to instill high morals in all his students. It is also one of the reasons people study martial arts in the first place.
All experienced martial art instructors `should' have a working knowledge in Chin Na. If they don't then it is a good bet their overall knowledge is just in the basics of whatever style they are teaching. The best teachers also have a `soft-touch' when it comes to applying Chin Na techniques; meaning you won't even feel it happening until its too late. This caliber of teacher is rare and hard to find these days, but with much diligence and perseverance, one can ultimately find such a teacher. But then, maybe that is one of the requirements, that one already have diligence and perseverance, because without these things, even with the greatest teacher, you cannot achieve anything in martial arts, or anything else in life as well, for that matter. But isn't that the real point in studying martial arts. So that ultimately the experience makes us into more than what we were before.