Padlocks and freestyle (an interview for Respect magazine)

Padlocks and freestyle (an interview for Respect magazine)

Marek Pederzoli

“On average, I practice three times a week” (Marek Pederzoli)

People often connect opening locks with picks, skeleton keys or hooks with criminals. Only a few people know that lockpicking is also a sport, in which international competitions are held. Marek Pederzoli (32), has fallen in love with this hobby and compares opening locks without keys to solving brain teasers and puzzles.

You are a Ph.D. student of theoretical chemistry at the Czech Academy of sciences, however, you practice picking locks in your free time. Theoretical chemistry and lockpicking are quite distant areas of interest. How did you get to picking locks?
It was mostly a coincidence. As a researcher, I am trying to solve various scientific questions. Also, I always liked brainteasers and various puzzles that require both mental and manual dexterity; lockpicking has all that.

How would you define it?
In the broadest sense, it is any nondestructive method of opening locks; It may be done as a part of a job by locksmiths, law enforcement officers, fire brigade etc… but for many, it is mostly fun and “art”. It requires finesse, patience and creativity. You may encounter terms like hobby lockpicking, sport lockpicking or simply locksport, in which various competitions are held.

The counterpart of the nondestructive way is obviously the destructive one…
Correct. That is the approach more often used by criminals, where they forcefully pull out the cylinder, snap or drill it rather than picking it with lock picks. If they need to open a padlock, they may cut the shackle. Or they may just break away the door with a crowbar.
It is not like in the movies, where the villains open the lock in one second using lockpicking tools. Of course, unless it is a more sophisticated robbery. In the US, for example, penetration testing in corporations involves not only hacking attempts, but also overcoming physical barriers to get to the important parts of the building. Penetration testers and lockpickers work in the open or undercover to test the physical security of the organization.

And what about locksmiths, when someone loses their keys at 2 AM in the morning?
Even locksmiths, and now I am talking specifically about our region, usually, do not use these non-destructive methods for unlocking doors. Of course, they won’t kick in the door but they will most often drill the cylinder. If lockpicking is used, the customer may save some money for the new lock, but the opening will be more difficult, expensive and time-consuming.

What else is lockpicking about?
Defeating locks without keys is as old as locks themselves. It was about four thousand years ago when first locks were used in ancient Egypt and the Babylonian empire. Materials have changed, the mechanisms have improved but with an exception of a period of more than 60 years during which Bramah’s lock was undefeated, most “unpickable” locks were opened rather quickly. So, lockpicking is also about finding weaknesses in more and more complex mechanisms and pointing out vulnerabilities that can be fixed.

You are a member of the Association of Czech lockpickers, which was formed 10 years ago, was the third of it’s kind in Europe after the Dutch and German associations. In which disciplines do you compete and what is the age and professions of the attendees?
Usually, we compete in four disciplines, in which the locks are passed around the group of contestants. First, there is lockpicking of padlocks, with a time limit of 5 minutes for each lock. Then there is blitz, a quick discipline with one minute picking time. The main discipline is opening of euro-profile cylinders. Each contestant brings his own cylinder, some of which may be very hard to open, especially those brought by skilled competitors. The owner must open his lock in 5 minutes; the others try to open it within 15 minutes. The final discipline is freestyle, where the contestants are allowed to use other non-destructive methods and the time limit is 5 minutes.
Regarding the attendees, they are of various ages and professions. For instance, one of the German champions is a dentist. Also, both men and women are interested in lockpicking.

Aren’t you afraid that someone might misuse these methods?
The community of lockpickers adheres to an ethical codex. We never open locks without the consent of the owner and never pick locks in use. When someone tells me they have lost their key, I will refer them to a locksmith. Car locks are usually not par of locksport. Most importantly, we do not distribute information that could be easily abused. When a new weakness is found, we try to communicate with the manufacturers first.

How often do you practice?
It depends. On average, I practice for about an hour three times per week, usually when I want to relax after work.

The original article can be found here

The author for the Respekt magazine is Kateřina Mázdrová, photo by