The recent submission only competition events have featured many of the winners dominating with leg locks. Is this merely a new trend in BJJ and submission grappling or is it something that all jiu-jitsu practitioners should be looking to train more?
Many more traditional BJJ academies do not allow beginner students to perform leg locks as they carry a certain type of risk of injury (which we will discuss today). The IBJJF rules prohibit many leg lock techniques in competition. Those schools and competitors who are focused on IBJJF tournaments will not allocate much of their training time to techniques and strategies that do not contribute to tournament success.
So how should the BJJ student look at leg locks? After all, the legs make up half of our body and jiu-jitsu is all about submissions to the joints of the human body. A Brazilian instructor first explained his philosophy of leg locks and why they were considered more dangerous than armlocks or chokes.
“With an armlock there will be more pain before any damage to the arm and the opponent has enough time to tap out and avoid injury. The legs are different. There is discomfort and not much pain in many leg locks (especially the prohibited heel hook) UNTIL there is a pop and something has been damaged.
Arms : big pain / little injury Legs : little pain / big injury”
For a student without much experience, they will have less understanding of the limits of their bodies. They can be caught in a submission and yet may not feel like they need to tap…suddenly POP! Ouch!
The doctor says “Sorry to tell you this but you’ve torn a knee ligament. No jiu-jitsu for you for the next 6 months.” Nobody wants to see this happen.
Now let’s talk about the positive aspects of training leg locks.
A) As jiu-jitsu students, we need to understand the anatomy of the legs and how to apply submissions (and as importantly counter those submissions!).
B) The ankles and knees are often easier to access and attack than passing the guard and achieving a full mount.
C) Leg locks can be a great equalizer between smaller and larger opponents.
D) To be a complete grappling game, you need to have an understanding of all aspects of jiu-jitsu and this includes leg locks.
Regarding training leg locks, your head instructor will let you know which leg locks are permitted in the academy and which are appropriate for your belt level. White belts should not be attacking inverted heel hooks in rolling!
When you attack the legs, look for control most importantly and then gradually, slowly apply the lock to allow the training partner adequate time to tap. If you are caught in a leg lock, do not thrash about wildly in an attempt to escape. Accept that you have been caught and tap. Re-tie your belt and start training again. Safety first!
Advanced belts will have more legal leg locks available to them. New students should start with the basic Achilles / straight foot lock as this is both legal in most competitions and a great starting point to learn to control the opponent leading to different leg submissions.
My final point is that it is important to train leg locks throughout your jiu-jitsu learning. If you only learn the knee bar at purple belt once it is legal in IBJJF rules then you will find yourself a purple belt with a white belt level of knee bar die to inexperience.
Train your leg locks, but safety for you and your partner is #1!
see also : Safety On The Mats
Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Saigon, Vietnam