Full Review: Aikido is not a style that has held much interest for me in the past. I tried it once several years ago, and was very put off by the extremely formal class I attended, where the instructor seemed more interested in impressing the students with the fact he'd been to Japan, rather than teaching them any practical skills. Wristlocks are something that, previously, I had associated with styles like aikido and compliant forms of Japanese Jiu Jitsu, and therefore something that I could do without.
I say previously. Since starting BJJ, I have been caught in several painful wristlocks: while it's fairly rare someone will attempt the submission during sparring, I now know from experience that it can be highly effective when done correctly. I've also seen my instructors incorporate wristlocks into other attacks, such as when setting up the armbar (e.g., during one of Roger's classes in 2007 and a nogi session with Felipe some months later.
Additional sources had provided me with further cause to re-evaluate my position on aikido and wristlocks, particularly given my lack of experience in the style. First there was Robert Twigger's engaging account in Angry White Pyjamas (despite the several cringeworthy passages displaying the author's own lack of martial arts knowledge), then more importantly, I found my way to Roy Dean's website.
As I've mentioned before, Dean is in the unusual position of holding black belts in judo, Brazilian jiu jitsu, traditional Japanese jiu jitsu and aikido, which means he has a unique perspective on martial arts. Better still, he has sufficient command of language to write eloquently on the topic, in both articles and blog posts.
This has now culminated in a new two DVD set, Art of the Wristlock, combining Dean's multifaceted martial arts experience into what is surely the first ever instructional DVD to fuse techniques and concepts from both BJJ and aikido.
The first DVD (68:58 minutes), is divided into six sections, beginning with On Jujutsu (14:55 minutes). This functions a little like the 'welcome' section from Blue Belt Requirements, in that it gives Dean a chance to lay out some theory. For The Art of the Wristlock, that means a discussion of aikido and jujutsu arts in general (Dean places BJJ in that spectrum, quite rightly, given its origins).
If you've read Dean's autobiographical notes on his website, collated in An Uchideshi Experience, then some of this will be familiar to you. In particular, Dean makes important points on aikido and 'the effectiveness gap': unlike many modern aikidoka, Morihei Ueshiba studied a 'hard' style first, not just the 'soft' style he later developed. The single biggest flaw with aikido - and many, many styles that have been lumped together under the acronym 'TMA' (traditional martial arts) - is a lack of resistance.
Dean tells aikidoka interested in efficacy that they should enter a full contact grappling environment – which permits many of the techniques they'll be familiar with, like wristlocks, armlocks, leglocks, chokes etc – and possibly fail. As he says, "failing is the only way that you really make progress." Coming from the average BJJ blue belt, this emphasis on rolling with fully resisting opponents might be shrugged off as 'sport' stylists criticising what they don't understand. Coming from Roy Dean, an aikido blackbelt, this is far more powerful, grounded in personal experience (he relates an illustrative anecdote).
The technical portion of the DVD starts with Basic 5 (13:03), helpfully split into sections (there is also an option to play all): Ikkyo (03:40), Nikyo (02:55), Sankyo (02:48), Yonkyo (02:25) and Gokyo (01:12). For each of these wristlocks, Dean demonstrates the full motion from a wide angle, so that you can watch the entry, the application and finally the submission.
That visual perspective is useful for watching the whole technique, but it does make it more difficult to get the intricacies of the actual grip on the wrist: ideally, the camera would have zoomed in at this point. However, as I'm guessing Dean is using a static camera on a tripod in a corner of his dojo for the filming (naturally I could be wrong, as that's entirely an assumption on my part), that may not have been workable.
As in his previous DVD, Dean provides lots of fine detail, showing how to deal with common reactions from your partner, along with several variations. Dean's broad martial arts experience is also put to good use, as with several of the wristlocks, he can demonstrate both an aikido interpretation and a traditional jujutsu version. Even better, Dean can also add his BJJ knowledge, such as an armlock on the end of ikkyo.
Shihonage (02:13, also called four corner throw) and Kotegaeshi (05:55, also known as a wrist turn), the next two sections, follow a similar pattern. Carefully detailed demonstrations reflect both a typical aikido approach, a Japanese jujitsu variation and then an armbar on the end.
Dean takes his kotoegaeshi a step further, following the classical version with modern applications, again based directly on his experience in competition. The overhead punch and telegraphed straight punch are compliant and not especially applicable outside of the controlled environment of a dojo. As Dean states, the timing has to be precise and you have to be reading their movements very clearly. Working kotoegaeshi off a clinch, on the other hand, is rather more useful. This brings the wristlock back into a more realistic environment, combining aikido with wrestling.
Taken together, these opening technical segments of the DVD introduce the fundamentals of aikido. The instructor seems to effortlessly spin his partner around and to the ground with elegance and economy. If you're a viewer like me, with a background in Brazilian jiu jitsu rather than a TMA, you're left with the question Dean raised earlier: what about a fully resisting opponent? Then from my perspective, how could I incorporate these techniques into my BJJ?
While the first question will have to wait until the Demonstrations segment, the answer to the second comes in the next section, Groundfighting (11:21), with numerous wristlock applications. Like my own instructors, Dean kicks off by showing a gokyo (gooseneck) off the armbar in order to either break the grip or submit them straight from the wristlock. That is followed by a gooseneck from both the triangle choke and then from sidemount, trapping their near arm with your leg. I often find myself rather limited on top in sidemount, so I'm looking forward to giving that one a try during rolling.
A wristlock can also be applied when going for the omoplata, this time the nikyo (which Dean also refers to as an s-lock). This isn't a situation I often find myself in, unlike choke defence: I'll be trying to escape a choke most lessons. So Dean's next technique, a sankyo shortly after they try to wrap their arm around your neck, might come in handy.
The only problem I'd have there is that you have to grab their fingers in the course of that technique. This isn't something I'd want to do in sparring, particularly as I seem to remember it's illegal to grip the fingers in BJJ anyway (though I could be wrong: either way, finger-grabbing is something I've always classed amongst the 'dirty' techniques, like digging your knuckles into their chin or rubbing your stubble on their face).
Sankyo pops up again in combination with the kimura, after which Dean shows gokyo against a sidemount escape. I was more interested in the actual escape itself (escapes from side control being one of my main focuses), where you lock out your arm and push into their far arm, shrimping out and coming on top. The danger is that your arm then becomes vulnerable to being trapped, and as Dean demonstrates, wristlocked.
Two options for kotegaeshi complete this section. First, you can use it to set up a scissor sweep, breaking their posture, then finish it after the sweep or move to an armbar. Secondly, you can use kotegaeshi from the knees: this is similar to the motion Dean showed from the clinch.
That's a lot of techniques to fit into just over eleven minutes. On the other hand, each wristlock has already been carefully detailed in the previous sections, meaning that the groundfighting segment functions as the last part of the progression. First Dean shows us how its done in aikido, flowing into the Japanese jujitsu variant, some further possible applications in a more realistic setting, until finally incorporating the technique into a BJJ environment.
Demonstrations features four sections which trace much the same path, along with two advertisements. Watching this sequence enables you to understand the traditional environment, then see how those same technique might be utilised in a competitive setting.
Aikido shodan (05:43) and Seibukan shodan (05:36) showcase formal gradings in aikido and Japanese jujutsu. They are both compliant but nevertheless skilful, reminding me of the beautiful ukemi you can develop through aikido. Both demonstrations are especially interesting if you've read An Uchideshi Experience, as they both feature Sensei Julio Toribio, of whom Dean speaks highly throughout his memoir. That also means that these are older videos, as can be seen in the reduced picture quality.
Grapplers Quest (02:54) is quite different, and encapsulates what the DVD is attempting to accomplish: this is where Roy Dean examines aikido against a fully resisting opponent. The bout itself is short, but made immensely more interesting by the brief introduction from Roy Dean. He comments on the personal importance of this fight, from back in 2000, which was twofold. Not only was this Dean's first ever submission grappling victory, but it also demonstrates the use of a wristlock.
You can see the techniques from earlier in the DVD in action, but not by Roy Dean: it is his opponent who first goes for a wristlock then tries to flow into a second. It also emphasises the importance of ukemi, which is what helped Dean to win the match. As he has commented in the past, ukemi is perhaps the most beneficial aspect of aikido, directly applicable to BJJ's 'flow with the go' principle.
Self Defence (05:02) is like the summer seminar on Seminars: Year One or BJJ Combinations on Blue Belt Requirements, in that it’s a demonstration but the dialogue is covered over by a soundtrack. Both Dean and Rick Ellis are wearing gi pants and a Roy Dean Academy t-shirt, showing typical defences against somebody grabbing your wrist, how to fall correctly, kicking from the floor, getting back up and several submissions.
Jiai Aikido is a thirty second advert for an aikido dojo, presumably either a friend or old instructor of Dean's. Similarly, BJJ Blue is not a demonstration, but a trailer for Dean's previous DVD, Blue Belt Requirements.
The second DVD consists of three seminars at the same location, beginning with Yosokan Morning (30:54). This is clearly a traditional dojo, as can be seen from the very formal opening, with lots of bowing and Japanese terminology. As you can see from TJ's white belt, the footage is older than the rest of the DVD (it's later dated as October 2007), but the content works well as a follow-up to some of the submissions demonstrated in Blue Belt Requirements
Like the first DVD, Dean's seminar combines concepts from both aikido and BJJ. Generally, Dean uses an approach from aikido to then contrast with a longer section on a position in BJJ. The majority of the seminar focuses on basic armlocks and chokes, with references back to aikido throughout. As ever, the instruction is clear and detailed, though because it’s a recording of a seminar, you generally only get one or two angles. The submissions here stay relatively basic and easy to follow, so again it is ideal for beginners, or for those who want to develop the fundamentals of their technique.
That is followed, naturally enough, by Yosokan Afternoon (17:12). This time, the theme is transitioning to the ground. While generally the technical content is still solid fundamentals, Dean also includes submissions like the anaconda, building on attacks against the turtle position (mainly clock chokes, in this instance). Along the same lines, Dean shows an entry into the crucifix position, with several choke possibilities from there. The camera work also features greater complexity, with the perspective zooming in on Dean's demonstration, some slow motion replays and multiple angles.
Finally, Dean shares his Monterey Nogi seminar, which again is at the same dojo (possibly on the same day as well, as some of the faces look familiar, but I'm not certain: could just be they showed up to both). There are several cross-overs with the earlier seminars, such as a nogi version of the anaconda, which comes towards the end of the segment. Despite this seminar being nogi, there are still several students taking part while wearing a gi, which is strange. I guess they didn't have a chance to go back home to grab a t-shirt to change into or something, if it was on the same day.
Dean begins with various footlocks, which isn't surprising from a Roy Harris black belt (as Dean acknowledges). He even shows heel hooks, though importantly emphasises how dangerous this technique is, so should not be applied in sparring by anyone inexperienced. Personally I avoid leg and footlocks entirely, as I'm far too worried about injuring my training partners (and an injury from a footlock can be very serious, with years of recovery required for the knee), but it would be useful to know the defence. It is also sensible to develop the ability to see footlocks coming, so you know when you're caught. The biggest danger of a heel hook is that the damage is done before you feel any pain, so an awareness of the submission is therefore essential.
The seminar then moves into armlocks, the most useful part for me being a tip on how to finish an armbar when stacked. Dean introduces this variation as great for smaller people, so of course that applies to me: I can remember seeing a version of this video on Dean's website earlier in the year, where this part stood out for me. When you're stacked, you can't extend with your hips, so instead put a hand on the back of their thigh, spin, come out the other side and complete the armbar. It's around eighteen minutes in, if you want to see for yourself.
This DVD is ideal for the aikidoka who is thinking about starting BJJ, or has recently taken up grappling. It is also useful for people looking to improve their armlocks and chokes, as the seminars included on the second DVD cover those in detail. Then of course there are the titular wristlocks themselves, with some useful ideas on incorporating wristlocks into your grappling. As always with Roy Dean, it is well-presented, detailed and insightful. Available to buy here or on iTunes.
To finish, here's a trailer Dean put up on his YouTube page, along with various other examples from the DVD: