The Facets of Chin Na

Two young boys engaged in grabbing one another, trying to gain a momentary upper hand, catching and locking each others joints must go back to the time before the pyramids. One version of this universal game, Chin Na, is the ancient art of joint locking practiced and developed in all styles of Kung Fu. Though there are literally thousands of ways to strike an opponent there are only limited methods for bracing and controlling the joints of the human body. Therefore a plain arm lock, or a strangle, or a neck crank doesn’t really qualify as Chin Na, just universal examples of locking found in every form of the world’s combat sciences.

Han Ching Tan, one of Taiwan's top Chin Na masters

To qualify as Chinese Chin Na there must be characteristics as distinct as your favorite dish or a famous style in painting. Chin Na is more than the art of joint locking, it is specifically the Chinese method of joint locking and shares some of Kung Fu’s main goals. These goals developed through the centuries giving it a special strategy which should be understood to get the most out of it. This is true of just about every form of locking and controlling. Think of it this way, the art of striking is the art of completing a movement. In most situations you WANT to complete the movement by following through with the strike. You could say, however, that the art of locking is that of NOT completing the movement since the pain and threat of the movement is meant to control the opponent without necessitating a real break or strangulation. But this can vary. If you are a member of the police department you may want a control that brings the person to the ground. In some forms of Jujitsu and Escrima the momentary application of locking is aimed at disarming the opponent and little more.


What about Kung Fu? As a general rule its locking arts are less committed than in other styles, that means that you don’t risk very much to attempt a Chin Na movement where other styles might grab tighter, dig deeper and tie themselves and their opponent’s into a very tight knot. In Kung Fu Chin Na there is  less emphasis on the “home run” action that completely dominates the opponent and more on a momentary reversal of fortune in your favor. Of course a real lock, expertly applied can hurt like the devil and break down defenses like the shock of a Taser. But real Chin Na, though powerful and explosively painful, is also meant to be applied with a light and fast hand. When it is successful you forge ahead not only capturing and controlling one joint but progressively roping in the next part of the body and then the next. On the ot

her hand, if the lock slips, or the opponent can still shoot off a strike, or if there is an attempted counter move, the Chin Na technique can be dropped like a hot stone allowing the practitioner to attempt another lock, rapidly change to a strike or try to evade the danger of a counter.

This explains why there are few Chinese styles that are exclusively locking. Chin Na is meant to work in conjunction with the wide range of striking and kicking techniques, not to mention throws, that comprise Kung Fu. It is not supplemental but it rarely stands on its own.


Another specialty of the house is that each style of Kung Fu perfectly integrates its own signature method of Chin Na. This is really an astonishing achievement. The Chin Na of mantis is as different as it can be from, say Tai Chi, while simultaneously being comprised of essentially the same movements. Versatile, deceptive, and sometimes shocking, Chin Na came emerge out of a style like the lunge of a hissing snake head and when it does it merges perfectly with its host style: breaking balance and structure in Tai Chi, startling and freezing the opponent’s reactions in Praying Mantis. A throw in Shaolin might only manifest as a well timed off balance in Wing Chun. Some styles, such as Eagle Claw are willing to drop their whole bodies, even chance a “suicide” throw to get their point across while others such as White Eyebrow or Dragon Boxing are only willing to make the minimum necessary movement to advance their relentless attacks.

Finally, and far less practiced than it should be, every weapon has its own form of Chin Na. Each of these methods is divided into a number of parts. These include countering someone trying to grab the weapon from you, taking these weapon from an armed opponent when you are unarmed, and using this weapon against another to counter and control. Weapons Chin Na is a great way to understand the tremendous difference in leverage which any extension like a stick or spear can give.

Trapping, locking, controlling, reversing, disarming, shocking, restraining, a whole list of verbs describing Chin Na adds a new level of meaning to any Kung Fu movement or form.


DVDs on Chin Na

English language books on Chin Na

Chinese books on the art

VCDS (all in Chinese, less expensive, pretty self explanatory on this subject)

Here’s one page

Here’s another, Tai Chi style