A young woman walks to her car. As she reaches for the door handle, a large man suddenly grabs her from behind and locks her in a bear hug. She struggles to fight back, but it’s useless. He is much too strong and quickly overpowers her. He lifts her off the ground with ease and attempts to throw her into the back of a nearby van. At that instant, by sheer luck, another driver enters the parking lot and startles the assailant. The attacker runs off, and the girl fortunately survives, shaken but uninjured.
Scenarios like this happen all too often. And regardless of the exact details of each attack, one thing remains constant: Predators look for prey and purposely target those who are smaller and weaker. If you are attacked by someone who is significantly larger and stronger than you are, matching strength with strength will not work. So what can you do to even the odds? One simple solution is to use your strength against one of the weakest parts of your attacker’s body: his fingers.
Finger Lock Fundamentals
Finger locking techniques exist in many of the martial arts systems of Asia. They can be found in the Chinese arts in the form of China, in the Japanese systems of aikido, aiki-jitsu and jujitsu, and in the Korean hapkido repertoire. However, enrolling in a martial arts class is not necessary to learn effective finger locks that can be applied in many self-defense situations. With only three basic finger locks, virtually anyone can learn to control or take down an attacker, or even break his bones. Only about 8 pounds of pressure are required to dislocate a finger or hyperextend a joint, making finger locks a powerful equalizer for men, women, teenagers and even the elderly.
There are a few basic principles a person should follow when applying any version of a finger locking technique. First, for best results, never capture more than two of your opponent’s fingers when performing a lock. This allows you to use the power of your entire hand against only two fingers. If you grab three or more fingers, a stronger person could resist or possibly even reverse the technique against you. Capturing one finger is also acceptable, but be cautious if you have a large hand, as a smaller one may slip through your grasp.
The second principle is to use less to accomplish more. When first learning finger locks, most students tend to exaggerate their movements, moving their entire hand and arm to try to achieve a greater result. This is counterproductive since it delays locking of the fingers and the application of pain. It also gives the attacker an opportunity to pull away or strike at you because little or no pain is inflicted to properly incapacitate him. By focusing your strength on the exact knuckle joint of the captured finger, you can achieve instant immobilization and create intense pain.
Finally, you must learn to apply various degrees of intensity when performing finger locks. With proper control of your strength, you can use finger locks to achieve everything from simple, humane control to numerous broken fingers. This makes your use of force proportional to the attack, which may range from a friend who gets out of hand at a company party to a vicious attack on the street. Learn to quickly recognize the severity of an attack and practice scaling the application of your finger locks accordingly.
One of the most underestimated attacks a person can encounter is a grab. Although a one- or two-handed grab may not seem as dangerous as a punch or a kick, grabbing attacks are serious threats. If you are grabbed, you immediately lose your ability to be mobile. Since you are unable to create distance or move away from your attacker, you now have no choice but to use physical force. And against a larger, stronger opponent, this may prove extremely difficult.
Grabs also tend to induce panic and often cause you to tense up. This reaction actually makes it easier for an attacker to control you, especially if his goal is to lift you or throw you to the ground—a tactic often used in attacks against women. Relaxed, dead weight is much harder to lift and control than a tense, rigid body. One of the greatest dangers of a grab is that it is often used as a precursor to a more serious attack, like a punch to the face or body or a close-quarters stab with a knife. Grabs are also prevalent in multiple-attacker scenarios in which one assailant grabs and controls you while another targets you with strikes, kicks or weapon attacks.
Despite the dangers posed by grabs, they are actually extremely easy to counter if you have a sound knowledge of finger locks. When someone reaches to grab or push you, his hands are open and his fingers are extended. This is a perfect opportunity to apply a finger lock because he literally “gives” you your preferred target. Compared to a punching or striking attack, locking the grabbing hand also enables you to address the threat before it escalates.
Even a powerful bear hug, as described in the opening scenario, can be defeated by using finger locks. Rather than fighting the strength of the attacker’s arms, the defender can “peel” one or two fingers from his closed fist and bend them backward against the joints. Done quickly and decisively, this tactic will cause intense pain and should force the attacker to release his hold. At that point you can either escape or continue the application of the lock to break the fingers or drop the attacker to the ground. The keys to making finger locks work are to apply them confidently and to be ready to adapt your tactics to the changing dynamics of the situation.
Finger locking techniques are very versatile. They can be a complete defense on their own or, with some practice, combined with strikes, kicks and other tactics to make them even more effective. For example, if an attacker attempts to grab you, you can capture his fingers and drop him down in pain. While he’s momentarily immobilized, you can seize the opportunity to finish the job with short, quick front kicks to his face, body and groin. With some additional training, you can also learn to throw powerful elbow strikes and punches while maintaining the pressure of your joint lock. Quick, powerful jerks on the finger lock can also be used to propel your attacker into the path of your strike to create a head-on collision that significantly increases the impact of your strike.
As mentioned earlier, it takes very little force to break a finger joint. The pain and shock of a broken finger can bring a quick end to an attack and give you an immediate opportunity to escape. If not, it will at least diminish your assailant’s ability to target you with that hand and make it easier for you to follow up with other fight-stopping strikes.
Finger locks may not be as well known as other self-defense techniques, but they are a great place to start your training. They are easy to learn, don’t require significant strength to execute, and produce dramatic results. More importantly, they teach you how to fight smart by using your strengths to exploit your attacker’s weaknesses—a smart defense is always the best defense. The author is the owner and chief instructor at Red Phoenix Martial Arts and Self Defense Academy in Coral Springs, Florida, holding a 5th-degree black belt in aikido and a 2nd degree black belt in Japanese jujitsu.