ANKLE LOCK BJJ
The modern form of grappling has evolved past shooting for takedowns, pulling guard, sweeping opponents, and passing the guard. The development of the leg entanglement game has seen a worldwide interest in learning intricate leg weaves like the series of ashi garami jiu jitsu positions, the saddle, and the truck position.
What this article covers:
- What Is an Ankle Lock
- The Origin of the Ankle Lock
- The Finishing Mechanics of the Ankle Lock
- Entries Into the Ankle Lock
- Defending and Escaping the Ankle Lock
- Is It Safe for All Levels to Practice Ankle Locks
Many of these leg entanglements will give a competitor a serious look at different leg lock submissions like the heel hook, the toe hold, the calf slicer, the ankle lock, and the bjj knee bar. Even though most of these submissions can only be used in competition by higher level athletes, there is one submission that can be used at all levels of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
The ankle lock, or the straight foot lock, or in Brazilian terms "Botinha" is one of the first submissions that a beginner will learn, in terms of the leg entanglement game. Locking on submissions to the ankle are fundamentally easy, as many of the techniques are simplistic with their steps. The harder aspect of the technique is the entries into the ashi garami position. Practitioners are well known to use guard positions like the single leg x guard, the de la riva guard, the x guard, and the k guard, to advance their position into an attacking formation that can target specific leg lock submissions. The ankle lock is basically the bjj building blocks towards more advanced leg lock submissions like the heel hook, the toe hold, and the knee bar.
WHAT IS AN ANKLE LOCK
There are many different submissions in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu repertoire, with some of them simple techniques, and others much more advanced. The ankle lock is one of those simple techniques that can be achieved by all levels within the sport. Beginners of the art will often start their leg entanglement journey by practicing the straight foot lock. This technique is one of the more common leg submissions jiu jitsu has to offer, and is extremely simplistic to execute. The mechanics of the ankle lock include isolating an opponent's leg, by pinching it between a practitioner's two legs. The practitioner will then secure a grip on their opponent's foot by either trapping it deep with their arm, while their toes are in the armpit, or a more shallow version, where the blade of their wrist targets the achilles tendon. Once the practitioner has a secure grip they will use hyperextension to apply pressure to the talocrural joint through plantar hyperflexion. This submission maneuver causes a compression lock to the achilles tendon, and can also target and strain the calf muscle.
THE ORIGIN OF THE ANKLE LOCK
The history of the ankle lock dates well back into ancient Greek wrestling, as these brutal athletes would compete in pankration tournaments. The fast paced grappling combat saw iconic positions like the ankle lock, the toe hold, and the heel hook. Later down the track leg locks were showcased again in the medieval times in Japanese folklore. It was said that the Samurai would use many submission tactics like the ankle lock against warring opposition in feudal Japan. Many of these submission maneuvers were passed down through tradition, as many Jiu Jitsu clans would revolutionise different aspects of this submission game. The ankle lock would eventually be showcased in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and catch wrestling in the early twentieth century. Helio and George Gracie were two practitioners that utilised ankle lock submission techniques, as they decimated their opponents in early Vale Tudo competition. Rolls Gracie was another athlete who also utilised ankle locks during the 1970's, as well as many Judo practitioners.
Even though ankle locks were eventually banned in Judo competition, athletes would wonder are ankle locks legal in bjj. The art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu did always allow submission holds to the feet, and the legs. Contrary to early Brazilian Jiu Jitsu history, leg submissions were often frowned upon by many academies throughout Brazil, as they instead heavily favored aspects in passing the guard, and setting up submissions like arm locks, and choke holds. Even though ankle locks were not illegal in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition, athletes stayed away from these kinds of techniques. However there were many practitioners that did like to use ankle lock, or leg entanglement positions with athletes like Rodrigo Cavaca, Dean Lister, Renato Cardoso, Felipe Pena, Luiz Panza, Victor Estima, Nivaldo Oliveira, Marcus Almeida, and Caio Terra. Nowadays the new age grapplers like Gordon Ryan, Craig Jones, Lachlan Giles, Gary Tonan, and Eddie Cummings are leading the way with high level leg entanglement positions, and intricate leg lock submissions.
THE MODERN LEG ENTANGLEMENT GAME
In the current format of professional submission grappling, the leg entanglement game has grown with innovation. Many high level superstars of the sport like Gordon Ryan, Lachlan Giles, Craig Jones, Dean Lister, and John Danaher have developed extraordinary systems in entering the leg entanglement position, and finishing high level leg lock submissions. The modern day athlete is using innovative guard systems like the rubber guard, the k guard, and the 50/50 guard to advance their position into a dominant attacking leg entanglement. Many of these types of systems are specifically designed to target, and isolate an opponent's leg, giving them little to no option to escape. The last few years specifically have become increasingly deadly in terms of the inside heel hook, the calf slicer, and the toe hold submissions. With the rise, and the success of the international No Gi competitive scene, the leg lock is the shining beacon for the new age grappler. Learning these systems are now becoming a fundamental basis in which athletes can build a comprehensive Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game style from.
THE FINISHING MECHANICS OF THE ANKLE LOCK
There are multiple ways to finish an ankle lock submission, but generally the same mechanism is used. The practitioner will secure the ankle of their opponent, by scooping around the back of the heel while keeping their toes firmly trapped underneath their armpit. With most ankle locks a practitioner will specifically target their opponent's achilles tendon by placing the blade of their wrist in deep, and pressing into the achilles. Even though the opponent’s leg does not have to be secured to finish an ankle lock, it does make the submission fundamentally easier to finish. The practitioner will apply extension on the ankle by lifting their hips in the direction that will hyperextend the foot away from the shinbone. This creates a severe bite underneath the achilles tendon, and forces hyperextension where the fibula, and the tibia bones meet the foot.
ENTRIES INTO THE ANKLE LOCK
There are many different ways to enter into a leg lock submission. Depending on which submission an athlete is going for will determine how they will enter any specific leg entanglement position. One of the best positions to secure an ankle lock is from the ashi garami, which in essence is the single leg x guard. This involves an athlete to pinch their opponent's legs with their knee on the inside of their thigh, while their other leg is wrapping around the outside, and planting their foot firmly in the hip. From here the athlete will clamp their legs onto the thigh of their opponent, using the leverage to whip them down to the mat, as they hunt for the ankle lock position. Once they secure the blade of their wrist around the back of the achilles tendon, they will apply pressure. To get the finish, a good tip is that once the athlete has secured this position they can drop their elbow backwards behind their own shoulder, which will force their opponent's ankle to start to hyperextend. Now they can plant their head into the mat, and use their whole body extension to apply a significant torque on the ankle.
Another good way to secure the ankle lock is from the 50/50 guard. Commonly the 50/50 guard is used to set up heel hook submissions, but there is also good application for execution of a straight foot lock. This is a very simple technique to master, and involves a simple bridging of the hips. To secure this lock the athlete will wrap their wrist bone shallow around the achilles tendon of their opponent, as this may look similar to a guillotine set up. From here the athlete will place both of their feet into their opponent's hips, clamping their thigh firmly between their legs. To finish this type of ankle lock the athlete only has to lift their hips high off the mat, as they use the bite of the achilles grip to administer the submission lock.
The standing foot lock is also a highly functional submission hold. To execute this type of footlock an athlete simply needs to pretend to pass their opponent's guard. This can be as easy as taking hold of an opponent's ankle, as they start to maneuver their feet from side to side. The opponent will commonly believe that they are about to get their guard passed, as they start to set up frames in order to stop the pass. It is at this moment that the athlete should wrap the blade of their wrist around the achilles of their opponent, and from here they have two options. The first option is to crank on a standing foot lock, as they will lift their chest high, arching their shoulders back, and pushing their chest outwards, which creates a leverage based crank on the ankle. The second option is once they have secured the achilles lock they can jump into an ashi garami position, by slotting their knee on the inside of their opponent's thigh, while wrapping their other leg around the outside, and falling into a seated position. From here they can simply use the same technique by either bridging their hips up, or falling to the side, and using their whole bodies extension to secure the tap.
DEFENDING AND ESCAPING THE ANKLE LOCK
Defending an ankle lock is crucial to the survivability of an athlete in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. These days many athletes are immersed heavily in the leg entanglement game, and this will force many athletes to have better skills in defending leg lock positions. A good way to defend the ankle lock can be extremely simple, and all an athlete needs to do first and foremost, is not panic and stay calm. What commonly happens when an athlete is stuck in a foot lock position is they will panic, which can force them to try and rip straight out of the ankle lock, and this effectively only exposes the ankle even more to their opponent. Using the correct technique is crucial in escaping from a straight foot lock position.
The first step is to activate the trapped foot, by flexing their toes towards their shin. This will give the athlete their first line of defense, as their opponent is actively searching to bend their toes backwards, as they look for the achilles lock. At the same time as flexing their toes, the athlete will also extend their leg deep into the armpit of their opponent, and this will help to alleviate some of the pressure on the achilles lock. The athlete will now post off of their hand on the mat, while they use their other hand to move their opponent's bottom foot from out of their hip. Lastly the athlete will move out of their opponents legs, and into more of a forty five degree position. They can now decide which position they want to attack their opponent in. It is a very basic way to defend the ankle lock, but it is also extremely effective, as the opponent will struggle to keep hold of the achilles lock once the athlete executes these techniques.
Defending the standing foot lock is another really basic concept, which can be executed rather easily by an athlete. Obviously if an athlete is in the seated guard position it becomes extremely hard for an opponent to even access the foot, and this is a great way to prevent any form of ankle lock from the beginning. If an opponent manages to get hold of an athlete's foot, or if the athlete is on their back, their foot becomes accessible to an opponent. Once the opponent has a good bite on the achilles from the standing position the athlete can use a simple technique that can free their foot from the danger. Using their opposite foot they can firmly plant off of their opponent's hips using a push, as they twist their trapped ankle, flexing their toes outwards, which will create enough space to remove their foot from the achilles lock. Using defenses for the foot lock can be relatively basic, like most submission maneuvers there are defenses for nearly every position. All an athlete needs to remember is to use framing, and angle shifts so they can maximise their efficiency in escaping from these types of positions.
IS IT SAFE FOR ALL LEVELS TO PRACTICE ANKLE LOCKS
Leg lock submissions can be extremely daunting to practise, let alone trying to defend them in a competition sense. Becoming comfortable with attacking, and defending leg locks must become second nature, therefore they need to be mastered through repetition. The ankle lock is on the lower end of the leg lock danger scale, as even brand new white belts are allowed to use this submission in competitive grappling. This does not mean that an ankle lock can't be dangerous, because it most certainly can. The ankle lock can cause all sorts of injuries to the foot of an athlete, and worst of all they come on really quickly. This means that a practitioner has very little time to defend, or plan an escape route out of the leg entanglement position.
Although the ankle lock has its apparent dangers, it is relatively safe to practice this submission technique. Training any submission inside of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy like the calf slicer bjj technique, the inside heel hook, and even the ankle lock, are always trained with care, and caution towards all training partners. The etiquette within a training facility is all about respect, and duty of care towards all members of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu family. This means that practising techniques like the ankle lock can be really safe to train. Ankle locks within a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition are a different aspect, as often competitors will reef on submissions hard, and fast. This means that a practitioner must be ready, and understand how to either defend the submission fast, or tap out even faster. Because at the end of the day Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is about longevity, and staying free from injury is how a practitioner can stay on the mats until later in their life.
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