Locks And Twists - Specialized Moves In Ed Parker's Kenpo

By Dennis Lawson
Published on Jul 15th, 2011

I came across a book project I had started (and never finished) a number of years ago concerning joint locks and their use in Kenpo. This article is a result of dusting off some of those notes. The terms, written in capital letters, are an important part of how students of Ed Parker’s Kenpo describe the “chaos of combat”. Mr. Parker’s saying, “When a man’s mind is occupied with his own injury he is not apt to think of retaliation.” is an excellent example of his approach to the study of locks and twists. In short, it’s much easier to apply a lock to a frightened, unbalanced, or injured opponent than one capable of countering effectively. LOCKS entail combinations of pushing, pulling, or striking moves that immobilize joints, or body parts connected by joints, on your opponent. TWISTS are combined with locks to torque (rotate) an already locked joint, or a body part connected by joints. They are methods of establishing control of your opponent. CONTROL means to regulate force to produce accuracy, as well as, the degree of injury; or to prevent an opponent from taking action, to guide and opponent wherever, however, and whenever.

To apply a lock or twist on an opponent requires you to close the distance to CONTACT MANIPULATION range. Thus, you must cover the various ranges of Out of Contact, Within Contact, and Contact Penetration effectively. Various strikes and principles of penetrating moves are used in order to reach the range of Contact Manipulation. The intent when working at this range is to sustain control of your opponent’s actions while steering or maneuvering your opponent to more suitable and strategic positions. Setting up these positions allows you clear access to your opponent’s targets and helps prevent further retaliation. This is the definition of CONTROL MANIPULATION While attacking or defending at Contact Manipulation range, any gap may allow your opponent to reposition, lessening your lock’s effectiveness, and possibly allowing his escape. I always remember what Mr. Bob Harder, 7th Degree Black Belt (Sichidan) in Judo, emphasized in every one of his seminars that I attended --- “Tight, Tight, Tight!” Whether he was teaching Nagewaza (standing and throwing arts) or Newaza (groundwork), his emphasis on this standard was the same --- No Gaps!

Locks function best when we stay close and limit our opponent’s mobility. One way to prevent our opponent from changing positions is to use a backstop. A BACKSTOP or (BACKING) refers to the use of a body part or environmental objects as a support or brace when striking or manipulating a target. This BACKSTOP allows the principle of SANDWICHING to occur. It’s often easier to apply an effective lock when working on the ground or against a wall or other obstacle. You may use a backstop to limit your opponent’s ability to move away from a lock (ex. his back to a wall), or you could use an object to reinforce and stabilize your position (ex. using the floor as your base when locking his arm on the ground). Either application of this idea, whether using your body or the environment as a brace or backstop, would increase the effectiveness of the lock.

If we are unable to control the opponent’s body position, he can alter his body alignment thus limiting the pressure (compression), torque, or position, minimizing a lock’s effectiveness. If our position is compromised, he may be able to strike us effectively or escape. We must position ourselves in an ANGLE OF CANCELLATION. This is a controlled angle which places an opponent in an unsafe position, thus minimizing or even nullifying the use of his weapons. A complete angle of cancellation prevents an opponent from taking any offensive action. While a partial angle of cancellation may allow your opponent to strike or manipulate, but will limit the effectiveness of his attack.

Many forms of the Martial Arts focus a great deal of their curriculum on locks, twists, going to the ground with the opponent, groundwork, etc. Locks and twists represent a large part of the “base” of their art. This is not a major emphasis in Ed Parker’s Kenpo. The “base” of Kenpo is to keep one’s feet on the ground (most of the time), maintain posture to stay aware of the entire combat arena, and use your most coordinated limbs, your arms and hands, as your primary means of defense. The concern is not simply with one opponent, but the possibility of multiple opponents and unknown dangers in the environment. But a base is also a foundation to build on, so Kenpo encompasses a wide range of strikes, kicks, buckles, trips, etc. and, of course, locks and twists. As Mr. Parker often said, "It is not the purpose of Kenpo to teach you to overkill, but rather become over-skilled." The application of locks and twists is one of many skills learned in Kenpo. As I continue to review my old notebooks, I can only hope these old ideas spawn new articles.


"Old stories still have impact when they reach new ears." Ed Parker


Filed under Techniques and Tutorials

Author Bio :: Dennis Lawson

Dennis Lawson has trained for 4 decades in Ed Parker's Kenpo. During his varied career, Mr. Lawson has been an IKKA Regional Director for Region #3, has acted as Master of Ceremonies for the International Karate Championships, and has published numerous articles in publications for the International Kenpo Karate Association, The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC), and Kenpo 2000.

Mr. Lawson has had the opportunity to study other Martial Arts and holds advanced rank in Aikido and Takemusu Aiki Budo. Dennis taught, competed in, and promoted events in the New Orleans area for 20 years. Among his list of favorite achievements is choreographing and performing Kenpo for the Dance Council of New Orleans. His academic background in psychology and love of music allow Dennis to offer a unique and entertaining approach to tailoring "the Art" to the individual. Dennis has taught seminars in Ireland, Jersey Channel Islands, The Netherlands, Portugal, and throughout the United States.

Dennis holds a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo and was awarded the title “Professor” under the auspices of The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC). Mr. Lawson was inducted into the International Black Belt Hall of Fame as Master Instructor of the Year for 2006.

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