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Do Leg Locks Work in MMA? (What to know for MMA vs BJJ)


You’ve probably heard about leglocks.

They grew in massive popularity in bjj thanks to John Danaher and their increasing use in both no gi and gi jiu jitsu.

A leglock in bjj is when one performs a submission by manipulating the joints of their opponent’s legs with the use of leverage and pressure in breaking or rotational force.

Leglocks opened up a large amount of attacks for many jiu jitsu players.

Furthermore, leglocks have been present since old times. There is evidence of Samurai schools in Japan, ancient greeks, catch wrestling and even Judo utilizing leglocks in grappling.

You can also see that leg locks are still currently present and highly effective in several martial arts like: 

  • Sambo 
  • BJJ 
  • Judo 
  • Catch wrestling

 Leglocks in BJJ

So let us talk about leg locks in BJJ. Why are leg locks vital in jiu jitsu? One thing you have to keep in mind is to not over look submissions on your opponent’s legs (queue John Danaher quote).

Here are some common leg attacks in bjj:

 So what does that mean? Once you are able to find a good position, there will be a lot of openings for you to submit your opponent with your leg different attacks like: 

  • Heel hooks
  • Toe holds
  • Calf slicers
  • Knee bars
  • Ankle locks

Despite being considered as highly advantageous and effective, leglocks are still not allowed in some ranks, competitions and academies. Hence, one should always be mindful when applying them during a match.  

Keep in mind that what is vital in BJJ is to position before you submit – this is a core principle that should be applied even when attempting to perform leg lock submissions. By entering into controlling positions (usually by fully controlling one or both of your opponenets legs), you can then work towards an effective submission. So continue reading below as I talk about the different positions to start with.

Ashi Garami /Single Leg X

Ashi Garami is also known as Single Leg X. This is the most basic and easiest leg lock position. It is when you entangle your legs or do a leg wrap on one of your opponent’s legs.

You want to block one side of their hip with your foot, and your other leg will be inside your opponent’s legs, preventing their trapped leg from escpating.

 Outside Ashi Garami

Outside Ashi is just like the regular ashi garami has the same goal which is to control both legs and to off balance the opponent or limit their base. But what makes it different is the “closed circuit” leg entanglement involved. 

So what is a closed circuit? It is when your feet and ankles are crossed securing a better position and more control in your attack.

What makes this position good? It can be very effective once your have secured an attack on their ankle usually by either outside heel hook or ankle lock.

Outside ashi garma:

  • often used in a closed circuit
  • often used once you have already secured a submission grip (usually in the form of outside heel hook)
  • leaves you vulnerable to your opponent taking your back (especially if you lose control of their trapped leg)

Cross Ashi/411/Saddle/Honey Hole

Cross ashi can be an open or closed leg entanglement.

What does this mean?

  • In an open position our legs are not closed or locked together
  • You are able to switch your opponent’s leg across your body giving you room to either attack or do an effective guard pass. 
  • However, both of your legs are placed inside your opponent’s leg (as opposed to outside ashi garami where they are both on the outside).

Cross ashi can also be known as the saddle, honey hole or411. So why is it called 411?

It is because you make a 4 out of your legs and your opponent’s leg will be in a number 11.

Your advantage from cross ashi? Well, you can control both of their legs and decide when to attack. 

 50/50 position

The Fifty-fifty guard is when both people have their legs intertwined with each other. You can simply say that they are mirroring each other’s legs. So what one person can do, the other person can simply do it as well. 

If you think about it, it is rare that one ends up in a 50/50 position. So if you and your scramble, and end up in 50/50, think that you both have equal advantage in submitting each other (example submission is: reverse heel hook), so you must either attack more efficiently than your opponenet or escape. 

50/50 position:

  • leaves both players with the same options to attack and defend
  • makes it dificult for either person to stand up
  • provides options to swith to cross ashi or outside ashi
  • backside 50/50 position leaves your opponent facing away from you and vulnerable to attacks (see video below of ryan hall vs bj penn)

MMA Leg Lock

You probably know what MMA is.

It is mixed martial arts, which means all martial arts can be applied during the match. If leg locks are part of several grappling sports then by all means it can be applied. 

But where do leg locks come in in MMA?

We all know that all matches start standing, but when your main skill is BJJ you would want to bring down your opponent to the ground to control, right?

Therefore, if you are able to find a position where you can submit your opponent then you will most likely take advantage of that. 

However, one thing you have to keep in mind is that in MMA, there is striking.

So while you are trying to position yourself or find openings for attacks, you will be vulnerable to strikes from your opponent.

Another factor that you can consider here is your opponent may not be off balanced while you are trying to control them with your ashi garami, and you may not have both of their legs in control depending on how they counter your attacks with their defenses. 

If you do not have control of both your opponent’s legs and if they are not unbalanced then you are very susceptible to strikes from above:

Leg submissions UFC

Leg submissions are becoming so dominant already, and they are taking over UFC. One of the notable fights in UFC that the player got submitted by a leg lock is BJ Penn (see below video)

BJ Penn is the first American world jiu jitsu champion and is actually one of those who were able to get their black belt in less than 3 years. 

Related: How long does it take to get your black belt in BJJ by Heavy BJJ. 

In the video below, you can note that his opponent Ryan Hall who is a BJJ Black belt under Felipe Costa submitted BJ Penn with a backside 50/50 heel hook which is a type of leg lock that affects multiple joints.

Furthermore, you can notice that BJ Penn’s knee popped and that Ryan Hall let go early because he felt BJ Penn’s tap even before the referee stopped them. 

Check the video below of the match I just talked about.

Do Leglocks work in MMA

So do leglocks work in MMA? The answer is, yes they do.

But you must alter your leg lock positions and attacks from regular BJJ sport training and keep in mind that your opponent will always have the option to land effective strikes from above. 

Therefore, you must protect yourself by either tying up both of their legs or keeping them constantly off balance until you secure a leg lock submission. 

I hope you enjoyed the read. Catch you next time!

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