Are Leg Locks Part of Jiu-Jitsu? Part 2

continued from part 1…

4) Higher level practitioners do them and not lower level because most BJJ practitioners are not good at leg locks.  If they are a brown belt, their leg locks are normally at blue belt level.  Beginners may be told that they will learn them when they are higher rank, but in most schools, they won’t learn much about them.  Because many BJJ practitioners do not know them.

I believe that lower level practitioners can do ankle locks and kneebars, and they should be taught to do them with the same respect and control that they are taught to do all other submissions.

Dirty Submissions

To be fair, I have to define what I am talking about.  Leg locks include so many different types of attacks, that you can’t generalize.

What is a dirty submission?  In my opinion, when your arm is straight when you’re put in an armbar, you should tap.  If you wait, your arm will get popped.  If your ankle is straight when you’re caught in a kneebar, you know you should tap.  If your leg is straight when in a kneebar, you should tap.

In a heel hook, there is no point that you know you have to tap.  It is a twisting motion.  I know that shoulder locks are the same, that there is not an exact point that you should tap, but shoulders are built different than knees.  When the lower part of your leg twists, and the upper part is not rotating, it is the knee that is being attacked.  The knee does not have a lot of nerves in it to tell you that you are in trouble.  When you are in a kimura or americana, you feel a lot of stretching and pain before the joint is damaged.  In a heelhook, you don’t feel much.  You just hear the popping sound!

I was training years ago with a Jiu-Jitsu guy and he went for a heel hook.  At that particular school, the rule was no heel hooks.  He went for it anyways, and I didn’t feel any pain.  My knee started to feel strange, and I tapped immediately.   If I were in a competition, I may not have, because it wouldn’t have seemed like I have to.  My knee probably would have been destroyed.

My point is that ankle locks and kneebars are clean submissions.  The leg is straight, you should tap.  You didn’t prevent the attack, and you didn’t escape.

Any other leg lock then is not as clean: heel hooks, toe holds, muscle locks, and other cranks and twists.

In general, leg locks have a greater negative consequence than other submissions.  The Russian military used Sambo leg locks so much because if you break someones arm, they can still walk and fire a gun.  If you break their leg, they can’t walk, and it takes another soldier to help them walk.

But all submissions are dangerous.  If you get caught in a submission and you don’t tap- recognizing that you are finished, you could get hurt.  Now if someone throws on a submission really fast and doesn’t give you an opportunity to tap, then that is their fault.  That lack of control is really irresponsible and students that cannot control themselves shouldn’t know the art of Jiu-Jitsu!

One type of leg lock may have given leg locks a bad name: the cranks and twists.  I have trained leg locks with several people: Erik Paulson, Gokor Chivichyan, Igor Yakimov, John Donahue, and others, and there are some leg submissions that are nasty.  Visualize this: someone has you in an armbar.  You are flat on your back, facing the ceiling, and they are sitting on their butt, perpendicular to your body, and they grab your ankle and start pulling it toward your head!  You will feel pain in your knee, your hip, and even your back!


There was an army commander that had a sign on his desk: “Assumptions are the mother of all f*** ups.”  If you accepted the assumption that you shouldn’t do leg locks, guess what?  You have missed an awesome component of grappling.

To be honest, if someone wants to slow you down from submitting them, all they have to do is keep their arms close to their body while protecting their neck, and then move their hips.  But if you attack their legs, it will not slow you down at all.

It is similar to striking.  If you throw a roundhouse kick to their thigh and a jab to the head, and a cross to the body, you are attacking the low area, the high area, and the middle area.   Protecting the neck and arms is the high area.  Leg locks attack the low area.  You are way more effective when your partner has to think about defending every area of the body!

Besides attacking all areas of the body, one of the great thing about leg locks is they make your attack combinations longer, and you have more counter options.  When I lose an armlock, a leg lock if often right there.

If you don’t utilize leg locks, you are missing a large part of the art.

4 Responses to “Are Leg Locks Part of Jiu-Jitsu? Part 2”

  1. […] continued on part 2… Share and Enjoy: […]

  2. Shawn says:

    I remember when I first started, we had 1 ankle lock from the guard. That was it. We were told not to worry about them till later (which never really came).

    Nice post Ryan… Thanks

  3. Vince Anila says:

    Hey Ryan,

    Could you say something about wristlocks and BJJ? I’ve always kinda wondered about that.


  4. Backyard MMA says:

    Hi Ryan,

    You make good points.

    I’d like to add that perhaps a big reason why schools and tournament directors are hesitant to allow leg locks at the beginner level is because it’s one less potential accidental injury they have to worry about.

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