What is a Leg Lock?
What is a leg lock? – Lets start here:
Leg locks are submission attacks of the lower body joints which use levegare and sometimes rotational force to cause enough pain and damage, usually in the form of a catastrophic break.
They are most common in the martial arts of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Sambo.
In the past leg locks were not given as much attention and were often ignored in favor of the other more poppular upper body submissions such as strangulations and upper body joint locks.
However, John Danaher, a famous and highly influential BJJ blackbelt, changed how people viewed leg locks. He was able to create techniques that revolutionized leg attacks and train several standout athletes, giving it the attention it always deserved.
From then on, leg attacks have been viewed as a highly effective and dangerous type of submission.
To see an example of their high success rate and popularity take a look at the all of the successful submissions from the 2022 North American ADCC trials:
To add to that, leg locks can be seen as some of the most advanced type of attack that any BJJ practitioner will learn as they progress in rank.
For this reason many gyms do not recommend or limit the number of leg locks allowed to be performed by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu beginners until they reach the higher belt levels:
- they require excellent control of the limb you are attacking
- they also leave you vulnerable since you ar often playing from the bottom position and sometimes leave you vulnerable to attacks from the back by your opponenent
Moreover, leg locks are not only limited to grappling sports but have already been show to be highly effectiv in mixed martial arts.
You can note that there are several UFC players that have won because they were able to execute a lower leg attack making their opponent succumb to the submission such as Garry Tonon, Ryan Hall, and Rousimar Palhares.
Check out this bjj leg lock compilation video.
What do leg locks do?
So what do leg locks do to your opponent?
Leg locks like mentioned previously are lower body attacks.
So it can severaly damage the leg joints, muscles and bones like . Therefore, when unable to escape a leg attack, you can expect that you will experience an immense breaking pressure or rotation pressure causing an intense amount of pain and even a full break of the joint or ligaments (most notably the ACL or MCL ligaments in your knee).
To add to that, keep in mind that if caught in a good position and unable to escape.
- One should know when to tap because leg locks are so dangerous.
- Alternatively, If you are attempting leg locks while training always perform them in a slow and controlled manner to give your training partner enough time to submit without causing unnecessary injury.
Leg Lock Positions
Let’s breakdown some common leg lock positions.
In bjj the ideal, general process that is taught to jiu-jitus beginners is to:
- Take your opponent down > 2. move to a domination position > 3. attack a submission
However, with leg locks this formula is changed:
- You can enter into a leg lock position while taking them down (by use of a kani basmi or by pulling guard into ashi)
- instead of moving to a dominant position once your opponent is on the ground you can entangle their legs then fall back to bottom position to perform a leg lock
However, even when attempting a leg lock you should always try to have control of your oppeont by either:
- controlling both of their legs by using a leg knot or your free hand
- constantly keeping them offbalanced
We’ve seen that if this is not done especially in a MMA scenario where their is striking involved that it can have detrimentl outcomes:
So for one to be able to find the best leg lock attack to their opponent, they must be able to position themselves first with strong controll and offbalancing of your opponent.
Read along and we will go over the most important leg lock starting positions in BJJ.
Ashi Garami is considered one of the first to learn and easiest leg lock position to get oneself into.
In this position, you want to block your opponent’s hip with one leg and the other leg will be in between their leg, preventing them from escaping.
Another way to describe this position is you want to entangle your legs towards your opponent or do a leg wrap on one of their legs. Lastly, this position is also known as single leg X.
|easy to enter into||can easily be escaped|
|can lead to sweeps from bottom||doesn’t offer much control|
|easy to transition to other leg locking positions||isn’t the best finishing position for submissions|
Since we’ve talked about ashi garami already, we will now talk about “cross ashi.” So what is a cross ashi? Cross ashi, just like any other leg lock position, is that you want to entangle your opponent’s leg. You can also call this position the honey hole, 411 or saddle.
|offers control of both of their legs||can lead you slightly vulnerable to back takes|
|leads to one of the most effect leg locks (inside heel hook)||must avoid them getting upper body control to avoid them passing|
|easy to transition to other leg locking positions|
Furthermore, in cross ashi you can either find yourself in a closed or open leg entanglement. So what does this mean? In an open position, your legs will not be closed or locked together.
To add to that, in cross ashi, your advantage is that you can control bothe of their legs and decide when you want to attack.
Outside ashi is the same as the typical ashi garami except both of your legs are wrapped around one of your opponent’s legs.
|enables you to get a closed wedge around opponent’s leg||can lead you very vulnerable to back takes|
|leads to one of the most effect leg locks (outside heel hook)||must have heel control before committing to this position|
The main goal is of course to be able to control both legs of your opponent and to off balance them.
So what makes outside ashi different? The main difference is that in this position, your feet and ankles are crossed with each other outside your opponent’s leg securing you a better position and giving you more control to attack.
One common submission that is very ideal when you find yourself in this position is the outside heel hook.
Reverse ashi is like the regular ashi but the catch is you are facing the knees/toes of your opponent. One entry point is, imagine yourself on the mats with your opponent and you are controlling them with your regular ashi. From this, your opponent will try to escape by pushing your leg down.
So what will be your next move? You will transition to outside ashi to prevent the escape then from there. Then you now have room to do your reverse ashi you are now able to do your reverse ashi which limits the chance of escape and gives you room to submit your opponent with leg attacks like: knee bar and or toe holds.
|great for knee bar and toe hold submissions||can lead you very vulnerable to back takes|
|easy to transition to other leg lock positions||usually must fight to untangle opponent’s legs to attack|
50/50 position is when you and your opponent have both your legs intertwined with each other.
There are two variations of this position:
- Front side 50/50 when you are facing each other
- Back side 50/50 when your opponent is facing away
Here is a video of Ryan hall achieiving a heel hook from the backside 50/50 position in MMA:
This is a very popular positions that has been growing recently.
While the frontside position gives both you and your opponent equal oppurtunies to attack submissions, the backside position is a very dominant finishing position and can lead to easy transitions into other leg locking positions such as cross ashi.
|Frontside 50/50 Pros:||Frontside 50/50 Cons:|
|can sometimes lead to easier finishes||its gives your opponent an equal oppurtunity to attack you|
|makes it hard for your opponent to get up||leaves you slightly vulnerable to back takes|
To keep it simple, you are each other’s mirror. You are both positioned in a way that leaves you both open to attack and defend. Moreover, there will be difficulty in standing for both parties.
|Backside 50/50 Pros:||Backside 50/50 Cons:|
|can lead to easy finishes||if your opponent frees his leg he can easily begin passing|
|dominant position since your opponent is facing away||leaves you slightly vulnerable to back takes|
|easy transitions into other leg lock positions (such as cross ashi)|
Check out this video talking about the different leg lock positions to start with.
Straight Ankle Lock
Straight ankle lock also known as the ankle lock is one of the most common leg locks in bjj. It is an attack that is legal to all ranks in BJJ and can easily be learned by jiu-jitsu beginners.
One common entry to the straight ankle lock is the ashi garami which we discussed earlier.
So what is the effect of a successful ankle lock on your opponent?
There will be a downward pressure on the instep of your opponent’s foot while you control their leg. The result? The ankle will bend beyond its normal range of motion causing pain and damage if the opponent does not tap.
Marcelo Garcia escaping a straight foot lock in this video.
Heel hook is one of the most aggressive and powerful leg lock submissions.
So let’s break it down – Heel hooks are done by controlling the knee and hips which creates room to expose the heel of your opponent.
From there, force is applied transversely which results in the heel twisting laterally or medially.
The result of this will be a torque like motion on the ankle then transfer to the knee.
Therefore, this attack is so dangerous that it can cause possible injury to multiple joints.
Toe hold is another dangerous leg lock attack which is not allowed for BJJ beginners. It is a submission move that attacks the joints of your opponent’s lower leg. Some may even consider this attack the Kiimura of the lower body.
So how is this attack done? One must grab the opponent’s foot and place a Kimura lock on it causing pressure and pain on one’s toe and knees. The result will be pain on your opponent causing them to either break their bone or tap out.
Knee bar is one of the strong and powerful leg attacks for higher ranks in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu. So what is it really? It is when pressure is applied on the knee joint by pushing it to the opposite side of the knee and pulling the leg to hyperextend one’s limb.
To add to that, you can actually consider this attack the armbar of the lower limb. It can actually be done from different positions like on your back, on your hip or from a belly down position.
Moreover, keep in mind that it is vital to make sure you are in a good position and that you are able to pinch the knees well, keeping it straight before attacking.
Calf slicer also known as the calf crusher is a leg attack so dangerous that only brown and black belt BJJ practitioners are allowed to use it.
So why is it so dangerous? It is deemed as one of the most painful submissions in BJJ. One will put an enormous pressure on the weakest point of your opponent’s calf with your shinbone. From there you will pull down on the toes of your opponent creating so much pressure that they usually instantly tap when felt.
If one does not tap during this leg attack, note that it can cause damage to the calf muscles and fracture to the tibia or entire knee.
How to do a leg lock?
How to do a leg lock? In BJJ, you have to keep in mind that one of its fundamentals is that you want to be able to find yourself in a position where you will be advantageous enough to submit your opponent.
So what are the common positions before submissions that you can take advantage of in order to attack your opponent?
- Ashi Garami
- Outside Ashi
- Reverse Ashi
- Cross Ashi/Honeyhole/Saddle/411
- 50/50 (Frontside and backside)
So what happens next if you are able to find your good position? Then consider yourself as the attacker, since there will be alot of openings for you to attack your opponent. Some of these leg attacks are the following:
- Straight ankle lock
- Heel Hook
- Toe hold
- Knee Bar
- Calf Slicer
Who can do leg locks in bjj?
Is there a limit on who can do leg locks in BJJ?
You can keep in mind that these leg locking guidelines will vary depending on your BJJ school or academy you are in. There are gyms who do not allow white belts to perform any leg locks, while some gi gyms do not put as much emphasis on leg locks as the no gi BJJ schools.
However, if you find yourself competing in an IBJJF competition, note that there are different leg locks that are not allowed most especially for the lower ranks.
So for white, blue and purple belt competitors in International Brazilian Jiu Jitus Federation events, only straight foot lock is allowed. Only those brown and black belts are allowed to do the following:
- Knee bar
- Toe hold
- Heel hook
- Calf slicer
Lastly, only those with at the brown belt and black belt rank are the only ones allowed to do the following in these jiu-jitsu federation events:
- Locks twisting the knee
- Knee reaping
- Straight foot lock turning in the direction of the foot not under attack
- Toe hold – applying outward pressure on the foot
If you are new to BJJ and looking for submissions, check out this read by Heavy BJJ on the Best Submissions for Beginners in BJJ.
Are leg locks legal in bjj?
Leg locks are considered legal in BJJ, but this will depend on many things.
Like I previously mentioned, this will depend on the school or gym you are learning the sport. To add to that, you can consider you rank as well.
Moreover, this will also vary depending on the competition that you will be joining. Each of these grappling competitions do have certain rules that they have.
One thing to note? Competition hosts want their competitors or participants in a safe and controlled environment that is why some of them limit several leg locks.
There are also some leg locks not allowed if you are in traditional gi, just like heel hooks.
Are there leg locks in MMA? The answer here is yes. Mixed Martial Arts, unlike in Jiu jitsu competitions, have no limits to what leg locks you can use on your opponent.
The catch? You can note that mixed martial artists or even UFC players rarely attack their opponents with leg locks.
You are probably thinking, why? It is so effective and dangerous, so why don’t these martial artists use them?
The answer is because their upper body will be open making them vulnerable to different upper body strikes/punches.
Check out this video tearing leg locks compilation.
Here’s a read about if Leg locks work in MMA by Heavy BJJ.
Why aren’t leglocks as popular in the gi?
Leg lock attack positions and submissions differ greatly between gi BJJ and no gi BJJ due largely to the ban of reaping and heel hooks in IBJJF gi rules.
Up until recently, heel hooks were not allowed in ibjjf sanctioned events. Now (as of 2021) reaping and heel hooks are now legal for the brown belt and black belt divisions.
A beginner should focus on the standard ashi garami when training leg locks for an ibjjf gi event since straight ankle locks are the only leg submission permitted.
However, in the training room, it is strongly recommened that you become very accustomed to how to train all leg locks safely and effectively.
Gi focused or traditional schools that don’t teach leg locks until the higher belts are doing their students a major disservice.
There are usually the same rules for beginners in no-gi events as they do in gi vents, and the focus should also be on the common positions sush as ashi (single leg x) while avoiding any chance of reaping of course since reaping is cause for penality/disqualificatoin.
While certain events still limit purples belt using reaping positions, heel hooks, and kneebars in their divisions, they still need to practice them and be acutely aware of how to attack and defend them
In the higher divisions the frontside and back side 50/50 positions and cross/outside ashi should be emphasized if the rules do not restrict leg positioning and submissions. These leg attacing positions are extremely popular espeically in submission grappling events that do not limit submissions.
What are some common injuries from leg lock submissions?
While it is highly recommened that you begin learning leg locks at the start of your bjj journey, they should be training with extreme attention and care when drilling and sparring.
Heel hooks and knee bars have been shown to cause the most catastrophic damage to the knee and its surrounding ligmaments.
It is common for these submissions to cause damage to the following ligmaments:
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)* (ACL tears have been seen to be the most catastrophic)
- Medial cruciate ligament (MCL)
- Lateral collateral ligament (LCL)
- Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)
Additionally, the meniscus, which is the cartilage between the knee joint that acts as a shock absorber, may also be damaged by standard heel hooks and inside heel hooks.
When sparring with leg locks it is extremely important to apply pressure slowly to give your partner enough time to acknowledge the threat and tap.
Due to the twisting, rotational force applied to the knee in heel hooks, as opposed to the plantar flexion of the ankle in a straight ankle lock, heel hooks are a bit more dangerous.
Leg locks in BJJ – Conclusion
Leg locks in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu can never be taken for granted. The lower part of the body has so many openings for you to submit your opponent.
However, despite being vital to learn. Do not rush it.
If you are in the lower ranks, focus on your escapes and fundamentals. Moreover, you will eventually transition to learning your attacks and these leg attacks as long as you keep training and progress in rank.
Hope this has been a good read, catch you next time!