“Seize and Control” – Chin Na for Self Defense & Health

Would you like to be able to control an attack against you without actually injuring your attacker? If someone you care about loses control due to anger, drugs or alcohol would you like to be able to diffuse the situation without your “friend” ending up in the hospital or worse? The potential of learning to “seize and control” is to give you this ability. How well it works is really up to you once you have these tools in your toolbox.

If it is true that most fights end up on the ground it is because the attacker moved in to grab you first, precisely where the knowledge of Chin Na or grappling is needed most. Grappling is generally not applied out of thin air with you reaching for your opponent (though it can be) but rather when someone grabs or gets a hold of you.

There are four main aspects of fighting in a complete Chinese martial arts self-defense system. These include: punching, kicking, throwing, and Qin Na (pronounced, “Chin Na”) or the art of “Seizing and Controlling”. Each style will have its emphasis, but all should ultimately be included.

The Mandarin word Qin means basically “to seize or to catch” while Na means “to hold or control”. In this, it includes a multitude of ways in order to manipulate a given situation so that you can be in control.

Chin Na includes the use of the following: 1) dividing the muscle or tendon; 2) misplacing the bone; 3) sealing the breath; 4) sealing the vein or artery; and 5) the use of pressure points.

According to Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming, in his book, “Comprehensive Applications of Shaolin Chin Na,” “Generally, dividing the muscle/tendon, misplacing the bone and some techniques of sealing the breath are relatively easy to learn, and the theory behind them is easy to understand. They usually require only muscular strength and practice to make the control effective. When these same techniques are used to break bones or injure joints or tendons, you usually need to use Jin (martial power). Sealing the vein/artery and pressing the cavities requires detailed knowledge of the location, depth, and timing of the cavities, development of Yi (mind), Qi (internal energy), and Jin (martial power), and special hand forms and techniques. This usually requires formal instruction by a qualified master, not only because the knowledge is deep, but also because most of the techniques are learned from sensing and feeling. Many of the techniques can easily cause death, and for this reason a master will normally only pass this knowledge down to students who are loyal and trustworthy.”

Chin Na, or grappling for that matter, in and of itself is not considered a style. As stated above it is just a part of the Chinese martial arts. However, some martial arts systems emphasize the use of Chin Na and it has become an integral part and mainstay of Japanese systems of Jujitsu and Aikido, likely the result of the significant influence of Chinese culture on the Japanese.

Ba Gua Zhang and Chin Na

The Ba Gua Zhang of Lu Shui -Tian is based not on a collection of techniques but instead on the principles of Yin and Yang, the Five Elements, and the Yi Jing or “Book of Changes”. Utilizing an understanding of these Natural Principals has lead to the development of the fighting principles of Ba Gua Zhang. The details of this are beyond the scope of this article, but a thorough understanding of these principles applied to the use of Qin Na techniques only enhances its use for a practitioner of Ba Gua Zhang.

The use of seizing and controlling techniques carries with it its own set of principles. These are the body principles on how to hold and how to lock the joints or control an individual through the use of the aforementioned Cin Na categories (separating muscles/tendons, sealing the breath, etc.).

By learning and practicing a variety of techniques (both applying them and having them applied to you) you will begin to develop an understanding of Chin Na and how it works. Once the joint locking is understood, you can pretty much come up with unlimited techniques. The key is to learn the proper angles and where to apply the pressure or strength. When it is properly applied, very little strength is actually needed to make it work.

Generally, Ba Gua Zhang does not emphasize the use of joint locking techniques. However, this knowledge is still an integral part of the system. Whereas we are not focusing on ways to apply a joint lock for example, when an opponent presents the opportunity for you, the recognition of this opportunity can result in the application of a lock to uproot (cause a loss of balance) or even a break (which more than likely would end a real threat against you).

On the other hand…

Another way in which gaining the knowledge of Chin Na or grappling will help you is for defensive purposes. Long ago I was told that the best defense against  Chin Na is Ba Gua Zhang. I don’t know if that is true but the statement does have merit.

I do not know of another style that utilizes the mobility of the joints as well as Ba Gua Zhang. This is also combined with the principle to follow your opponent and follow the path of least resistance. What am I referring to here? Well, if your opponent tries to grab and lock you, your footwork combines with your knowledge of how the lock is applied and you can then manipulate the situation (by changing the angles to eliminate the lock and /or by finding the next free, or uncontrolled, joint) for an escape and even counter-attack. The twisting and coiling movements of Ba Gua Zhang make it difficult for you to be “controlled” unless you simply “fell asleep”, the result of which Master Park always said would be, “Just die.” He was not just trying to be funny.

A properly applied Chin Na (Qi Na) technique such as a joint lock is inescapable once it is in full application. The same goes for techniques to “seal the breath” or “seal the artery”: Once the knife or bullet enters your body it is too late. Unless your opponent is just playing with you, you are finished.

Law enforcement use this to control a situation. Their goal is to arrest and not to kill. Therefore, a properly applied controlling maneuver results in the use of the hand cuffs and the nice trip down to the station. So, the “perp” is still “finished.”

How it is learned…

In my personal experience, I was exposed to both “two-person forms” and individual techniques. The forms (there are six) help you to move continuously from one technique to another, both to apply and to escape. Learning a sequence also makes it easy to experience and remember numerous techniques. This continuity helps you to experience how techniques can develop.

The individual techniques are essential to learn “complete control.” Whereas the forms have a continuous flow from one technique to another, individual techniques are simply the repetition of scenarios with each resulting in complete control. Usually, when you are in complete control your opponent no longer resists you – due mostly to the fact that their resistance or even movement results in more pain!

Health benefits?

Yes, the practice of Chin Na also has extended health benefits. I’ll refer to Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming for his description:

“Two of the Chin Na categories are ‘Misplacing the Bone’ and ‘Dividing the Muscle/Tendon.’ These two categories specialize in locking the joints through twisting and bending. Unless you are using Qin Na against an enemy, when you practice with your partner, you will usually not twist and bend the ligaments or tendons beyond the limit which can cause injury. Because of this, Chin Na training has become one of the best ways to stretch the joints.”

“According to Chinese medicine and Qigong, the more we stimulate our physical body properly, the more blood and Qi circulation can be improved. A healthy condition can be improved and strength and endurance can be increased. In fact, this is the basic theory behind Yoga. Through twisting and stretching, the deep places in the joints can be stimulated and strength can be maintained. Like Yoga, from countless practitioner’s experience, Qin Na has been proven one of the best methods of stretching of the joints.”

So there you have it: Chin Na for self-defense and health.


Originally Published September, 2002 under the title “Seize and Control”


Shifu Ahles
Shifu Raymond Ahles, the owner and Chief Instructor of the Blue Dragon School, is a certified instructor of Ba Gua Zhang Kung Fu & Chi Kung and a 7th Generation Lineage Disciple in the Ch’iang Shan Pa Kua Chang Association. In addition to his 30 years plus teaching experience in the martial arts, Shifu Ahles also holds a B.S. degree in Exercise Physiology, he’s a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has an extensive background in the healing arts of Oriental Medicine including certifications in Advanced Amma Therapy, Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture. He is a licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist in NJ.