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ezzi91's picture
Against a larger and stronger opponent

A little about my history and then to the subject.

I have been training karate for about 6 years. The club where I train focuses mainly on kihon and kata. That is why I only recently (about year ago) discovered that karate is much more than kicks and punches. Now I have been studying lot's of locks, takedowns and practical kata bunkais.

Nowadays I teach one of my friend (green belt). But the thing is, he is 30 kg heavier than me and stronger too. I have no problem using blocks and punches against him, but I can't make any locks works. Also escaping from his grabs (wrist, collar) is nearly impossible. Against partners that are my size, locks and escapes are no problem. I have also noticed, that it is very hard to find videos, where locks and escapes are demonstrated against much larger and stronger opponent. I think that karate should work against larger opponent and therefore locks should work too. I understand that my technique is still somewhat lacking, but I would like to hear your opinion in this subject.

So, what do you think about self-defence against larger and stronger opponent? Are there some locks that are easier to apply to larger people? What about escaping grabs?

ky0han's picture


ezzi91 wrote:
I have no problem using blocks and punches against him, but I can't make any locks works.

And that is why strikes and punches are your primary tools against an attacker. You simply can't go to anyone and force a lock on that person as well as you can't go and throw someone just like that. That usually is not going to work unless you are much stronger. You shouldn't actively look for locks. When you find yourself in a situation where the oportunity for a lock presents itself you can go for it but as I said earlier when you can hit you better opt for that.

In regards to the training of such methods your partner should help you with that. So at the beginning he should not resist your lock attempt so you can have a chance to get your technique straight. You then can go and ask him to slowly increase the level of resistence. The danger of to much resistence is for the partner to get injured. The more he resists the more force you have to use on him. And sometimes that results in a snaped joint so he also should do himself a favor.

The next thing is locks heavily rely on the flexibility of your partners joints and on the pain threshold of your partner. So if his joints are flexible and he has a high tollerance for pain it is a lot harder to apply a good lock on him or better to benefit from the intended results of a lock.

Just a few thoughts.

Regards Holger

ezzi91's picture

ky0han wrote:

You simply can't go to anyone and force a lock on that person as well as you can't go and throw someone just like that. That usually is not going to work unless you are much stronger.

So when thinking about self-defence/bunkai, what is the point of teaching locks or throws, if they simply don't work against stronger opponent? When I am thinking about good self-defence move/bunkai, I think that those should work to all kinds of opponents. Should we practise things like locks and throws just for fun and when talking about self-defence, we should stick with simpler solutions (punches and strikes)?

ky0han's picture


ezzi91 wrote:
So when thinking about self-defence/bunkai, what is the point of teaching locks or throws, if they simply don't work against stronger opponent?

I didn't say they won't work on stronger opponents. I just stated that they most likely won't work just simply so. If you go to the opponent grabbing his arm and try to apply a lock, he can focus on resisting your attempt. When you hit the opponent really hard it is easier to manipulate him into a position from where you can put on a lock much better because now he is not aware of whats going on. Locks can work really well but one should acknowlege that striking is the better option. Remember you want to end the situation and get away as fast as possible.

The thing is striking/punching is the way to go. But what if striking/punching is not possible or good targets are not available. Then we can make use of secondary strategies like kicking, locking, throwing, getting limbs out of the way etc. That is your backup system if you like.

Regards Holger

Wastelander's picture

Nothing works on 100% of people. That doesn't invalidate it all, though! Karate is primarily a striking art, but it uses those strikes in conjunction with limb control and tuidi (joint locks). Using strikes before you try to lock an opponent is going to make it much easier. It's also important to note that most of the joint locks in karate aren't actually "locks" so much as "wrenches" and "dislocations." It's much harder to apply a "lock," which typically uses gradually increasing pressure to cause pain compliance/submission, than it is to just hit the joint on the way to another target. Of course, you have to practice them more like "locks" because you don't want to injure your partner, which makes it tough if they are resisting. This kind of thing is exactly why flow drills are beneficial, though! You can practice your technique, and if you can't get the lock to work, you can immediately respond to that and move on to something else.

All that said, you mention that you have only been working bunkai for about a year. To me, that means that you probably haven't drilled these techniques enough against an unresisting partner to be able to apply them on a resisting one. More practice will help :)

Steve Gombosi
Steve Gombosi's picture

Just to amplify Holger's point: In Budo, the first book by Morihei Ueshiba (the founder of Aikido), the description of nearly every  technique begins with "First, smash your enemy's face."

There's a very good reason for that. ;-)

Locking a resisting opponent without some sort of atemi is extraordinarily difficult (difficult enough that a lot of judoka will flat out tell you "standing locks don't work"). There are certainly people (very few of them) who can do this, but most of us mere mortals are not among them. That doesn't mean you shouldn't practice such techniques - they're very useful in appropriate contexts for creating openings, unbalancing opponents, increasing the effectiveness of strikes, and neutralizing some attacks. Locking is a useful skill - it's just not a panacea.


ezzi91's picture

Thank you for everyone about these tips. Things you said makes sense. Now back to practise with new motivation.

If someone got videos of good drills, I would be glad if you could put them here.

Alex.M's picture

An aspect of whether or not locks and throws work also lies within the weight and strength disparity. If your friend is vastly stronger than you he will be able to resist a lot of what you do by pure strength alone. I remember hearing other judoka mention that they had worked with other more highly ranked judoka who could simply "push their partners off" even when holds where properly applied - by virtue of their overbearing strength. It's not something that's fun to hear - especially if you're in a grappling art - but sometimes you come across people that are so much stronger than you are that they can "brute force" you. That doesn't mean your training is useless, it may simply mean you need to daze them if you are in a SD situation, or attack joints with less restraint to get the result you need to escape a SD situation - but it may also mean that you could find yourself in a position where it is nigh on impossible to escape unless you are swift and strong enough, and technical enough.

Also, final point, the better your grappling technique is, the less your need to rely on your own brute strength - it may help reduce the gap between you and whoever you might face that is bigger and stronger, and that reduction may be just what you need to get away safely. Good luck in your training!

Kamil's picture

In my experience, lock and joint manipulations are highly contextual.  Incidental or accidental, not intentional - opportunities that are seized when presented.  If you slip a strike and an elbow or wrist is right there, sure you should twist it or lock it.  But whenever I go looking for a lock, I usually look right past the fist coming to my nose.  Like others have said, applying a lock absent a strike to distract or disorient is the reserve of unreserved masters.

I've found that pain compliance and the like are more useful when the size and strength between the combatants are more even.  In those circumstances, percussive techniques might be less necessary - you can lock an arm instead of having to break a rib. Also it is important to consider the joint that you are attacking.  When a larger person is trying to grab, intercepting the fingers and the small joints of the hand can be effective but trying to grab hold of a wrist that is greater in circumference than your hand is obviously problematic.  Bigger people have strength as an advantage; strength is effective up close - it stands to reason that clinchwork and standing grappling isn't the most logical thing if the opponent clearly outmatches you in size.

All sorts of locks that you can't make work against a larger opponent bare-handed usually work marvellously if you have a nightstick or tonfa to help :-)

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Size and strength always play a part and I totally agree that locking is largely “incidental or accidental” as opposed to a preferred option. As Funakoshi said, “Never forget that the essence of karate is found in ending the fight with a single kick or strike. Great care must be taken, not to be defeated, by being overly concerned with applying a throw or lock.” That comes directly after Funakoshi stating that locks and throws are a part of karate. They are an important part of what we do, but within the context of civilian self-protection striking is the preferred and primary method.

When talking about locking generally, it should also be acknowledged that skill can negate strength and size.  A highly skilled locker will not struggle to lock someone much larger. I think this footage of a very large 600 pound plus sumo wrestler and the incredibly skilled Hoyce Gracie prove that.

However, for mere mortals I would agree that locking can be a difficult skill to apply when facing someone larger.

All the best,


Mr P
Mr P's picture

I always say that if you want to apply a lock or throw you need to put in a weakner first. In a real fight it has to be something mean and nasty. Such things are not the sort of thing you can do to a dojo partner.  Compliance is a must to learn a technique, this should be followed by progressive resistance or non compliance to add realism and build your skill. When you reach the sort of resistance that you cannot overcome then that is the time to throw in a very nasty weakner if on the street fighting for real. In training their will always be a point you cannot cross for safety of your training partner.

DaveB's picture

Ultimately I think that what the OP is facing is the limitations of self training. A good jujitsu or Krav/kapap teacher should be ableto show you how to vary and adapt techniques to suit different opponents and different responses to your defences. Control techniques in striking arts act as ways of ensuring the opponent stays still and undefended when you want to punch him, as well as giving you increased options for the various situations you may find yourself in.

Paul_D's picture

Being on the small side I had similar problem when I trained Ju-Jitsu in that I realsised these techniques were too difficult against stronger opponents to be practical.  It was only when I read (or heard in a podcast, can't rememer which) Iain use the phrase "the blow before the throw" that things started to make a lot more sense. Ultimaltely the fact that the style of JJ I studied had virtually no atemi was one of the reasons Ieft.  

miket's picture

For the most part:  "Blow before throw!"  That's a great maxim (Iain's! :-) ) I tell students you need one of three conditions to throw:  1) you need a stunned ('softened') opponent 2) you need a DIRECTIONAL 'energy' input from the opponent (i.e. pulling or pushing, etc.), which you then 'suddenly reverse' your own resistance to 'harness', or 3) both.  

That said, I think throws will USUALLY work on a larger opponent, provided you are either given or have created  one or both of those preconditions.  

Locking, I believe is slightly different.  Here again, distinction is required.  Frequently you see a person try to 'hold' or pin a person that is larger or stronger, and, IMO, this almost always fails, even with proper leverage (and there are exceptions where a smaller person CAN hold a larger quite easily.  Usually, such latter techniques involve forcing the person *against the ground or another surface*.   But for the most part, I have not seen locking on an UNCONSTRAINED person as high percentage tactic when considering such a 'holding' context.  Take a standing straight arm bar. The uke will 'almost always' have the strength to force out of the lock.)  

However, personally, I would make the case that this is because the lock is being used 'improperly'.  

To me, considering how I use and teach locking, I do so as a TRANSITIONAL position that is frequently capitalized on in pummeling or BETWEEN softening strikes.  So again take a standing  straight arm bar.  The 'proper' application of that technique-- to me-- would be as a transitional move between say a 'crashing' entry that both provides defensive coverage and softens.    You crash, you find yourself in an entangled limb position where you have forearm to forearm contact SPONTANEOUSLY emerge, and you have pressure or 'resistant energy' in the opponent's limb pushing AT you.   

In THAT context, even if he is 'much larger', a standing straight arm bar should be a fairly easy technique to pull off.   But **NOT** as a 'holding' arm bar where you stand there and give him 'a thorough talking to', but instead as either an elbow tweak, an outright elbow BREAK,  or as a transition to a much stronger holding position e.g. a 'pit lock') , throw, or back to more striking.  You are not TRYING to hold him, the hold exists FOR A 'beat' in order for you to switch gears to something else. As per Iain's vid's. sporting competitions have weight classes for a reason-- precisely to make them MORE sporting by evening the physiological odds such that technique, strategy and 'heart' become the preeiminent deciding factors.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

You could try training with someone who does Judo or Jujutsu, training in these really helped me to start using leverage against strength with these sorts of techniques. It's not easy though, strength and size are simply formiddable no matter what your skill level, especially when you leave the arena of more static practice and get dynamic. As far as joint locks, it's hard to say without more specifics, but generally if you are doing any kind of standing locks, joint manipulation, or throws it takes a long time, and  good training in the subject matter to get to a point where you can apply them correctly (meaning using leverage more than using effort) on anyone, much less someone bigger and stronger, much less in a dynamic situation.

I would say that once you have the time and inclination, if you want to get better at that sort of technique, cross training is your likely option...keep in mind though, this sort of technique has a different learning curve for comptency punches, blocks, and more "basic" bunkai IMO. Also of course, these techniques really are not the primary strategic focus in Karate anyway.

None of that is to disagree with "blow before throw" or any of the other advice given btw - which is very practical advice, i'm assuming you are basically asking how to train techniques in isolation and actually get better at them with a larger opponent..something like a hip throw on a guy 60 lbs heavier than you is going to require someone with more specialized training just knowing the gross motions in a "good enough" way..with a partner much bigger than you need someone with very detailed understanding of the principles involved.

nielmag's picture

I think its important to practice locks, throws, etc.   I have trained w wonderful aikidoists, BJJ & judo players, and I think its good to cross train w other artists.  However, noted author Geoff Thompson says in an article in The Shotokan Way:


Geoff Thompson"If you have to be physical the pre-emptive strike is the only consistently effective technique. From my experience blocking, parrying, trapping etc do not work effectively or consistently when the pavement is your arena. They look as though they might work, they feel as though they should work and in the dojo they are all certainly very effective, but the dojo is not the street, it never has been and it never will be. You only have to look at human conflict (civil, national and global) over the centuries to see that war always demands artifice and it always demands pre-emption. The street might be a war in microcosm, but it is no less war-like. The pre-emptive strike really is just common sense, and the moment you face an angry man who wants to flatten the world with your head you will know, no-one will need to draw you diagrams, you will just instinctively know. What we are generally sold in Martial Arts as effective self-defence is at best foolhardy and naïve and at worst a lie. And the reason I am being so blunt about it is because that lie will get you killed if you don’t question it."

OnlySeisan's picture

I weigh 100 pounds more than my wife or 45kg and I'm about 20 times as strong as she is, and she has no problem throwing, tripping or locking me. She can also get out of most of my holds. It usually just requires a tap in the nuts, but she knows the weak points to all of them, so it's not that hard for her.