Two years ago Matsuoka Sensei threw me with a form of hijishime I’d not experienced before. It was breathtakingly powerful and lightning fast. We’ve since gained a sincere appreciation for this technique at Ikazuchi Dojo. It works very well for even the smallest people in the dojo. We’ve taught this technique to students at the brown belt level that can execute it so effectively that even our most senior black belts need to react immediately or suffer a devastating result.
This hijishime (elbow-lock) variant is just one of many we practice at Ikazuchi Dojo. Although this variation should not be taught to, or practiced with beginners, we wanted to share our thinking and instructional approaches related to the technique. We know there are many readers of the blog that are senior level aikidoka and instructors who may benefit from this information.
We view this hijishime variant to possess the following advantages:
- Powerful: Two key factors make this a powerful and consistently effective technique. First, it enjoys a key advantage over wrist manipulation techniques: the wrist is a complex multi-directional joint; the elbow is a simple hinge joint. It only moves in one direction. It’s much easier to manipulate the elbow since there are fewer opportunities for the joint to move in a direction that escapes or diffuses the power of the technique. It’s much easier to lock out an elbow than to secure a nikyo or sankyo hold against a resisting opponent. Secondly, because the elbow joint is closer to the attacker’s center of gravity, control pressure applied to the joint has a more direct influence on the uke’s body structure and balance.
- Fast: This hijishime variant takes the attacker’s balance, applies a strong joint lock, brings them down to the ground, and finishes in a pin– all with a single action. The nage’s ability to take decisive control in a single action makes this technique fast and efficient.
- Strong Kuzushi: With proper body alignment and coordination, the initial kuzushi (balance breaking) for this technique can be executed quickly and efficiently. The direction of the attacker’s balance loss leads them directly into the throw and also moves them into a position that isolates their other hand, preemptively preventing a follow up attack.
- Powerful Atemi: We don’t usually use elbows for atemi in aikido, but they are a far stronger striking tool than a fist. Once the nage has made connection with uke’s arm, the inside elbow is in perfect position to deliver an elbow atemi to the attacker’s head. This could be executed as a light tap to distract the attacker or it could be a devastating strike to the temple. While this option should only be exercised in a self-defense situation with a threat of serious bodily harm, the option is there. We never recommend employing this atemi in any form in partner practice in the dojo. It’s difficult to protect against and we even had an incident where one of our black belts suffered a minor concussion from a non-intentional application of this atemi.
- Strong Fail-safe Option: The elbow must be fully extended for this technique to work correctly. If the attacker has a bent elbow or strongly resists straightening of the arm, the nage’s hands are already positioned to switch to a nikyo control (which works best with a bent elbow). Because the elbow is a simple hinge joint, it can really only be in two states – bent or locked out. Between nikyo and hijishime, you’ll have an answer for either state the attacker’s elbow is in.
- Exposure to Additional Threats: There are many hijishime variants, but this one ends with the nage in a kneeling position, pinning the attacker. While this is excellent for controlling a single threat, it’s not an ideal way to position against multiple attackers. Ending up in a kneeling position exposes the defender to threats from additional attackers and limits one’s ability to reposition.
- Risky to Practice Fast: While this technique is very effective, we’ve also found it to be risky to practice at high speed. It only takes 8 lbs. of pressure (per square inch) to break an elbow. The uke also has no intermediary recovery point when falling. They must immediately drop to prone position and can’t stop their descent until the controlled shoulder is pinned to the mat. This hijishime variant should be practiced at slow speed only, until the nage has sufficient control and awareness and the uke has proper instruction and is comfortable with the rapid descent that’s required.
- Control a Single Attacker: Fast, decisive control of a single attacker. This technique can be applied almost exactly the same way from almost any type of grab (munedori, katatedori, kosadori, or ryotedori).
- Disarm: Weapon disarms are inherently risky. It’s especially difficult to strip a bladed weapon from an attacker’s hand without serious risk of getting cut and missing the disarm. If you can get your hands on the weapon arm, a well-executed hijishime can isolate the weapon and disable the arm via the elbow with reduced risk of getting cut by manipulating the weapon directly.
- Nikyo or Ikkyo Henka-Waza: A failed nikyo or ikkyo can quite often be transformed into a hijishime with little or no repositioning required. This technique is an excellent fail-safe to put into action if things didn’t work out so well with your nikyo or ikkyo.
- Ukemi First: Before practicing this technique, ensure the uke is comfortable descending quickly, smoothly, and continuously from hamni posture through kneeling posture and down to a fully prone position. Being able to execute a controlled feather fall (directly from standing to prone in a dynamic balance state) is not a required ukemi response, but it builds the movement skills for a fast, direct drop.
- Full Technique: Start with slow, controlled practice. If this is a new movement, it will take time to develop fluency with the nage and uke sides of the movement. We recommend this technique only for experienced practitioners or those under the direct supervision of a qualified instructor. Practice on different body types. The balance breaking and entry distance will change when dealing with taller, shorter, bulkier, and leaner body types.
- Kuzushi: We practice basic movements in our warm-ups that assist with connecting rotational and vertical hip movement to the arms without a loss of power. We use these type of body structure principles to make the initial kuzushi movement fast and light from the nage’s perspective, but powerful and heavy from the uke’s perspective.
- Henka-waza: With a skilled training partner, henka-waza can be practiced. The defender can execute either nikyo or hijishime and the uke will either take ukemi directly or actively resist the technique, forcing the defender to switch to the other technique. This training method (starting with slow movements and building speed gradually), will cause the techniques and failsafe responses to become hardwired into the neuromuscular system.
In the video segment below, Josh shares the technique with Mark Cheng, a veteran martial artist, movement performance specialist, Chinese medicine doctor, and great friend of the dojo. Matsuoka Sensei stopped by the dojo during our training session to say hello to Mark. Sensei didn’t bring a gi but unexpectedly joined us on the mat in street clothes. Nastia Shuba (recently promoted to nidan) is uke.
The full instructional videos for this technique are available on our streaming video service. Videos cover basic technique mechanics, kuzushi, atemi options, henka-waza, and body structure details. We’ve also included a video of Matsuoka Sensei sharing postural details related to the technique. It’s amazing to see Sensei come onto the mat in street clothes and demonstrate movement principles.