Weapon Name: Hands
These are our war faces.
Description: Those things attached to the ends of your arms. Last time we looked at standing fighting, with punches and blocks. This week we’ll look at ground fighting and joint locks. Both of us are beginners at this, hence the white belts, so the joint locks covered here are pretty basic.
Where Can You Get One? A horror movie, maybe? Why would you want extra hands?
Natural Genres: Everything
Unnatural Genres: Maybe a fight scene of people trying to Riverdance. Somebody write this and send it to me.
What’s It For? In this post, joint locks and other forms of incapacitating an opponent.
How Long Can You Fight With It? Ground fighting is tiring, but it can go on for several minutes if the characters know how to conserve their energy. If they’re really good at it, it might even stretch into the half hour, hour range before somebody wins. If either side has allies, though, going to the ground is a stupid idea because the outnumbered person will quickly be defeated by the people still standing up.
What Muscles Wear Out First: It’s more of a total body exhaustion thing than one particular muscle group getting tired.
Can it leave enemy debilitated but alive long enough to deliver a monologue? Yes. That’s largely the point of joint locks.
Learning Curve: High. Ground fighting is technical and tough to do well. If one character has more training than another, they will probably win.
Nifty Fact for Authenticity: When gripping a sleeve or pant leg, the character should avoid tucking their thumb in the sleeve, as this can wind up dislocating it.
Another nifty fact: When trying to hold a joint lock or otherwise clasp two hands together in ground fighting, it’s best to avoid intertwining the fingers. Using a full-hand grip is stronger.
Will You Hurt Yourself With It? You can, particularly if you have a grip on something and you lose that grip suddenly. This is what I was doing when I punched myself in the face. Twice.
Things Your Characters Can Do With It:
1. Choke from behind.
2. Choke from the front, using the jacket collar.
3. Elbow locks/armbars.
4. Wrist/shoulder locks.
5. Use pinned arms to throw the opponent’s weight off balance.
6. Trap opponents’ arms in locks behind their backs on the ground.
7. Trap opponents’ arms in locks behind their backs while standing. This was hard to photograph, but picture the same lock as above, done while both people are standing up.
9. Grab a standing opponent’s ankle to trip them.
10. Push up to gain greater leverage.
11. Trap an opponent with the legs and pummel them.
Things Your Characters Cannot Do With It:
1. Really convoluted joint locks. Some of these exist, but they shouldn’t show up in your fight scenes. They’re just too hard to accomplish.
2. Win a fight easily. Unless one opponent severely outmatches another, these types of fights will last a few minutes and involve a lot of struggling. Even an untrained character can provide significant resistance in a ground fight.
3. Intuit strategy. A lot of ground fighting involves going against your natural impulses, e.g. turning with a joint lock instead of resisting it. Characters can’t learn to fight this way through instinct.
4. Look flashy. Ground fighting is subtle. Half the time spectators won’t even realize a fight is over until one combatant stands up and the other stays down.
5. Grab sweaty limbs. Sweat is slippery. If both opponents are sweating and one tries to grip another’s wrist, they probably can’t hold on very well.
6. Defeat a group from the ground. The outnumbered character should regain their feet as soon as possible. Otherwise the remaining opponents can just kick them. Or swing a sword at them.
Joint locks and ground fighting are highly technical, precise applications of hand-to-hand combat. They’re also really, really cool, and can produce some awesomely detailed fight scenes. Use them wisely, with characters who know what they’re doing, and you can create some impressive choreography. Avoid just making stuff up, though. Chances are, it wouldn’t work in real life. Talk to a martial arts practitioner if you have questions about whether your ideas would work in your book’s fight scenes.
This information is provided for assistance in writing fight scenes only, not for real-life application.