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ARE LEG LOCKS LEGAL IN BJJ?
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ARE LEG LOCKS LEGAL IN BJJ?

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In the modern era of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, athletes within the sport are well known for the leg entanglement game. This highly effective position in grappling has become more popular due to high level athletes like Gordon Ryan, Gary Tonon, Felipe Pena, and Craig Jones. These world class athletes have showcased their innovation of the leg locking position. 

What this article covers:

Nowadays leg locks have become the bjj building blocks to a more effective, and advanced style of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu technique. The problem with the leg entanglement game in the modern era, is that many of these techniques are not legal for every belt level, or legal in every competition.

Learn all of the IBJJF legal leg submissions from 13X World Champion Marcus "Buchecha" Almeida and BJJFanatics.com!

are ankle locks legal in bjj

Utilising leg locking submissions like the heel hook, the toe hold, and the calf slicer bjj technique, means that these movements can only usually be done by brown, or black belt level competitors, as well as predominantly in the No Gi division. This is because these types of high level submissions are too dangerous for lower belt athletes to utilise, and are extremely dangerous to execute whilst wearing a Gi. In the Gi divisions, the uniform is very abrasive, and is made from strong material, which gives an athlete a better grip, and therefore can cause devastating injuries to the knee of an opponent. 

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THE HISTORY OF THE LEG LOCK

The origin of the leg lock dates back to ancient Greece, as athletes that competed in pankration would commonly attack heel hooks, knee bars, and ankle locks. This ancient form of wrestling has filtered down through many centuries, as many other Martial Art forms use these foot locking tactics. Sports like Judo, Sambo, and Japanese Jiu Jitsu all utilised their own versions of the leg lock. Japanese jiu jitsu leg locks became extremely common throughout its history, as many innovators of the arts developed their own significant pathways. As the Japanese art form began splitting into different variations, many forms began developing like Luta Livre, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, and Sambo.

The extensive positioning of the leg entanglement game became even more significant, as Helio Gracie would use ankle locks as one of his favourite moves. This pioneering effort would help push the leg lock toward the twenty first century. Towards the end of the twentieth century, Japanese Mixed Martial Artists were seen using heel hooks to win their fights, as this opened the gateway for western culture to begin their rise. Ken Shamrock was one of the first American athletes to secure a heel hook victory, as he competed in the showcasing of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. With the culmination of leg locks, and Royce Gracie's dominance with Gracie Jiu Jitsu, this paved the way for other innovators like Bas Rutten, Dean Lister, John Danaher, and Masakazu Imanari to develop their own systems of extensive leg lock submissions.

As the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has moved into the twenty first century, the leg lock has exploded with many developments. The modern grappler has an infinite amount of leg lock attacks, from leg entanglement positions, to different attacking guard entries, and an extensive range of leg lock variations. The innovation from athletes like Keenan Cornelius, Gordon Ryan, Andre Galvao, Jeff Glover, Craig Jones, and Lachlan Giles have exceeded all expectations within the last few years. From the single leg x guard, and the 50/50 guard, to the z guard, the worm guard, and all the way to the k guard, these different styles of leg entanglement entries have become extremely popular, and become effective ways to secure leg lock submissions. 

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There is a wide range of leg lock variations that athletes at each belt level can master. At the IBJJF white belt level, competitors can only use straight foot locks, and this is because all other leg lock submissions are much more dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced athlete. Beginners in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are usually extremely reckless, and will commonly use too much strength. This is the same when they attempt to administer choke holds, except they end up applying a bjj neck crank. This is the catalyst for why they need to steer clear of any form of twisting submissions that affect the knee joint. This is why beginners can only do a straight foot lock, and are not allowed to use foot locks that can be applied with more of a twisting action. 

At the blue, and purple belt level, the IBJJF rules do not permit these athletes to use any form of leg locks, apart from a straight foot lock. In the ADCC format a blue, and a purple belt are known as intermediate level grapplers. These athletes have a much larger range of leg lock submissions they can utilise. The fact that they are allowed to execute a bjj can opener, which is a neck crank, then it is no wonder they have a more extensive array of submission maneuvers to choose from. Intermediate grapplers are allowed to use submission moves like a calf slicer, a groin stretch, a toe hold, and a bjj knee bar. Giving intermediate athletes a more extensive range of submission attacks, has driven the popularity of ADCC events. This has also helped these lower belts develop their game style faster, so they are more prepared for brown, and black belt level competition matches. 

In the IBJJF, brown and black belt competitors have a full range of leg lock submissions in the No Gi division. These athletes are allowed to use the knee bar, the toe hold, the heel hook, the calf slicer, and the knee reap. In the Gi division they are not allowed to execute heel hooks, knee reaps, or any twisting knee locks. The ADCC is just the same as the IBJJF No Gi division, and allows athletes to utilise a full arsenal of leg lock maneuvers. This means that heel hooks are in, so are knee bars, calf slicers, toe holds, and any leg locks that twist the knee joint. Given that brown, and black belt competitors are extremely experienced, and have usually been training for ten years or more, their expertise allows them to engage in dangerous submission maneuvers.

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WHY ARE SOME LEG LOCKS ILLEGAL

There are good reasons why certain leg locks are illegal in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition. Beginners do not have the experience necessary to safely apply anything more than a straight foot lock. Their reckless nature, and their inability to use calm and steady pressure, puts them in the high risk category. Intermediate competitors have a much better understanding of dangers that can unfold in grappling matches. Even though these students cannot use high level leg submissions in IBJJF competition matches, platforms like the ADCC, and other organisations like Grappling Industries are more lenient on their competitive athletes. The race for progression must start from a younger belt age, according to these prestigious tournament organisers.

Heel hooks have been a talking point amongst many competitive athletes for a long time now. The IBJJF have only recently allowed their No Gi athletes to utilise heel hooks, and toe hold submissions at the brown, and black belt level. This is most likely to stay in touch with the iconic ADCC organisation, as the popularity of this event has hit an all time peak. Heel hooks, knee reaping, and any twisting leg locks that affect the knee are all deemed illegal in Gi competition. This is due to the nature of the Gi, as the fabric is extremely tough, and provides a really strong grip. This means that these types of twisting leg locks are just too dangerous, and can cause significant damage to the knee joint. Protection for athletes is paramount in all combat sports, and the risks are just too high in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Gi competition.

THE LEG ENTANGLEMENT POSITIONS

In the modern day of grappling many athletes are using high level guard positions to attack leg lock submissions. There are a diverse range of technical systems that allow the athlete to set up inside, and outside heel hooks, knee bars, ankle locks, calf slicers, and toe holds. The most common position is the ashi garami, which can be utilised to set up a wide range of submission attacks. The ashi garami position is when an athlete clamps onto an opponent's leg, by using their knee on the inside of their thigh, while their other leg wraps around the outside of the leg planting their foot firmly in the hip. This position is famous in Judo, and is used in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to secure heel hooks, and ankle locks.

The outside ashi garami is similar to the normal ashi garami, with the only real difference being that there is no knee pinching on the inside of their opponent's thigh. Instead the inside leg is wrapped over their opponent's leg, and is linked up with their other leg, to the outside of their opponent's thigh. This is another common position used in high level grappling competition. The cross ashi garami, or the inside ashi garami is when the athlete threads their leg from inside to outside, and back over the top of the thigh, as the foot hooks underneath the opponent’s opposite hamstring. The athlete's other leg is also hooking onto the opposite thigh, parallel to their first hook. This position can be extremely effective, and is used for a bunch of different submissions like the inside heel hook, and the outside heel hook.

Another position that is incredibly effective, and dangerous to an opponent is the saddle. This position is also known as the 411, the honey hole or the inside sankaku. In Japanese, sankaku means triangle, so this translates into an athlete forming a triangle with their legs on the inside of their opponent's thigh. The saddle is very similar to the cross ashi garami, with the only difference being that the athlete's legs form a triangle. With this position the athlete can still use one of their hooks to trap the opposite hamstring, making this leg entanglement an extremely hard position for an opponent to escape from. This position is one of the more popular ones in professional No Gi competition, with athletes like Craig Jones, and Lachlan Giles becoming masterful at these positions. 

There are other leg entanglement positions like Eddie Bravo's truck position, which is a highly innovative way to trap an opponent into a position. This advanced attacking position can also offer an extensive series of submission attacks. The truck will allow an athlete to execute heel hooks, toe holds, calf slicers, groin stretches, knee bars, and even a spinal crank like the twister. The most common leg entanglement position in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the 50/50 guard. This position is exactly the same leg positioning as the outside ashi garami, with one slight difference. The outside ashi garami has an opponent's leg secured to the outside of an athlete's body, where the 50/50 guard simply transitions their leg to the inside of an athlete's body. This gives the athlete a higher opportunity at securing an inside heel hook. The downside to this guard position is that an opponent has an equal opportunity to attack from their end, as the position is mirrored for both athletes. 

SHOULD ALL LEG LOCKS BE LEGAL 

There are definitely many practitioners that wish all leg locks were legal in all Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions. From the beginners to the intermediate athletes, they all would love a crack at showcasing their leg locking expertise. There are also many that fear the leg entanglement game, and for good reason, because leg lock submissions can be extremely brutal. The fact will always remain that certain leg locks like the heel hook, and the toe hold should only be attempted by experienced practitioners. With the IBJJF adding extra leg submissions to their advanced divisions, and the full exposure of submissions in the ADCC, there is a significant platform for athletes to be able to showcase their leg entanglement game on a world class level. 

THE FUTURE OF THE LEG ENTANGLEMENT GAME

Since the inception of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu into western culture, the art has gone through a tremendous amount of innovation. From the old traditionalists who believed the art was purely a combative defensive system, to the new age sports grapplers who showcased their art through televised platforms. Many creative grapplers like Dean Lister, Eddie Bravo, and John Danaher have added a comprehensive understanding of the leg entanglement game. Their significant contribution to the development of the leg lock position, has become the cornerstone for future athletes to increase the arts development. 

Learn all of the IBJJF legal leg submissions from 13X World Champion Marcus "Buchecha" Almeida and BJJFanatics.com!

are leg locks legal in jiu jitsu

Nowadays the modernisation of entanglements like the k guard, the 50/50 guard, the truck position, and other significant Gi positions like the squid guard, the worm guard, and the gubber guard, have catapulted the leg lock game into brave new territory. The leg entanglement game has taken over No Gi grappling, as the powerful leg positioning has become a deadly weapon for many superstars of the art. The future of leg lock positions, and submissions are in great hands, as world class grapplers like Gordon Ryan, Craig Jones, Lachlan Giles, and Gary Tonan are not only showcasing their finesse in competitive grappling, but they are excelling at spreading their innovations across the globe. The rise of instructional content on mainstream media like you tube, and popular platforms like bjjfanatics.com, is becoming a global phenomenon, as like minded athletes around the world are training extensively in leg lock grappling.

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