Are Leg Locks Part of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

There is a bit of controversy on this topic.  When I started training and I was originally under the Gracies, I was told that leg locks are:

1)  dangerous

2) on kneebars you turn your back, and turning your back is really bad

3) if you train them your guard passes will suffer

4) that only higher level guys do them and should do them

In Brazil until not to long ago, leg locks were considered dirty.  Are they part of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?  Should you train them?


Assumptions About Leg Locks

First of all, let me define leg locks.  Leg locks are any attack to the leg, which includes: ankle locks, kneebars, toe holds, heel hooks, muscle locks, and miscellaneous twists and cranks.

I have pretty strong feelings about this.  For my first few years of training, I knew how to do an ankle lock, had almost no idea how to do a kneebar, I didn’t know the toe hold, and I had heard of heel hooks.  A student of mine, Carl Canfield, kept talking about leg locks, and telling me that Gokor Chivichyan, Erik Paulson, and Yuri Nakamura were great at them.

I started training leg locks with him.  After a while, I started teaching them to my advanced students.  Then I started allowing my lower level students to do them.  What I found is that most of the assumptions of many BJJ practitioners were WRONG.

1) Leg locks aren’t more dangerous than other submissions.  I have been allowing kneebars in my school for 15 years now, and we have 0 injuries due to kneebars.  0!  We have had popped elbows, shoulders, and ankles, but none on the knee.  The knee is a bigger joint than the elbow, and it can definitely be broken, but it takes more to do it.

2) Turning your back isn’t bad when you land a submission!

3) Your guard passing percentage will go up when you incorporate leg locks into your practice.  If you attack a leg lock when you’re in someone’s guard, even if you don’t land it, now your partner has to think about defending your passes AND your attacks to the leg.  It’s true that if you spend 10 hours per week training total, and you start training leg locks 1 hour per week, you will be probably spending less time practicing your guard passes, but what’s the point of Jiu-Jitsu anyway?  Is it to get a good position or get a submission?  Submission is the goal.  And the way to really be effective in the guard is to combine passes with leg locks.

to be continued on part 2…

19 Responses to “Are Leg Locks Part of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?”

  1. Shawn says:

    Same here Ryan…

    When I first started Leg Locks were considered off limits for the most part.

    We learned like 1 ankle lock from in the guard and that was it. After training for awhile we stumbled across a few that worked and started doing them on our own but were never really taught them or encouraged to learn them.

    There is one heel hook that I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used to win against opponents bigger and stronger than me.

    Great post…

  2. Mike Mahaffey says:

    Hi Ryan,

    I love leg locks. Since incorporating them into my game, the achilles lock has become one of my go-to submissions from a guard pass. Whether they are part of BJJ proper or not, I think it is important to train them, because they work.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. Eric Smith says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Leglocks are just like other things in life. People fear things which they do not understand. People talk and judge things all the time prematurily without investigating for themselves. Leg locks are no more dangerous than any other JOINT lock if trained and taught properly. I’m preaching to the choir here but I thought it might be worth mentioning to those who are new to BJJ and grappling in general.

    Your Humble Servant,

  4. Raymond G. Trammell Jr says:


    I agree with your posting 100%. Since incorporating more leg locks, my game has opened up immencely. It’s not only great for submissions, but its also great for set-ups and transitions. I find myself teaching more leg locks in my class, which not only helps me but students alike.

    Thanks Ryan
    Raymond G. Trammell Jr.

  5. Jake says:

    Most certainly are a huge part of my game!
    Ryan what resources would you suggest for leg locks DVD, and books?

  6. Ryan says:

    Hi Jake,
    Tyrone and I produced 2 Leg Lock DVDs that I recommend. We have gotten a lot of great feedback on them! They are normally $35 each, and 2 for $60, but I can get them to you for $25 for one, and $45 for two, with a money back guarantee if you don’t think they’re amazing.
    We are building a store section for the website now. In the mean time, if you are interested, let me know and I can send them out to you!

  7. Ryan says:

    Thanks Eric! Agreed!

  8. Ryan says:

    Hi Ray,
    Yes, it’s like a Christmas present when as a higher level guy you find this whole new area of training to explore and use! Thanks Ray-

  9. Ryan says:

    Thanks for the feedback Mike.

  10. Ryan says:

    Thanks Shawn. Yes, I’ve seen you leg lock many people. Remind me to watch out next time I roll with you!

  11. Vince Anila says:

    Hey Ryan, how long are those discounted prices good for?

  12. Jake says:

    Send me an email, as I have misplaced your address.

  13. Jake says:

    I cannot find your address, please send me an email. thanks!

  14. Coming from a sport Judo background, I was also pretty much told the same about Leg Locks and I actually believed it and hence, didnt bother practising them. When I started to train with other grapplers from other styles I started to see how important and beneficial leg locks really are. Not only will they make your guard passing better as you say, it will make the person gaurding defend better and think more about sweeps, reversals etc.

    They should be practised by all!

  15. […] our training and sparring? To answer these questions, we’ve tapped into the knowledge base of East West Martial Arts. Let’s start off by debunking a few myths and taking an honest look at leg […]

  16. Bonnie L says:

    Just curious if you’re aware this content has been reposted at ? If not then, well…

  17. Vinicius says:

    Gracies argued that leg locks were dirty simply because were a technic mastered by Fadda lineage practitioners, a ‘rival’ school in the early days of jiu-jitsu in Brazil.

  18. Ryan says:

    Thanks for the info! Someone told me recently that some catch wrestlers gave the Gracies fits back in the 30s.

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