Dabbling in The Dark Arts: Practicing Leg Locks When They Are Discouraged
Ever since John Danaher explained on Joe Rogan's podcast that Dean Lister casual mention of how foolish it would be to ignore half of the human body, the popularity of leg attacks in the jiu jitsu community skyrocketed.
While their usage has been documented since the beginning of both Japanese jiu jitsu and Brazilian jiu jitsu, they had received a cold welcome by most instructors and schools. Described as too dangerous to practice in a sport where all techniques are dangerous, leg attacks have been ignored in the general curriculum until their efficacy became undeniable with the success of the Danaher Death Squad. Never one to ignore progress 10th Planet has also embraced leg attacks wholeheartedly and added all their forms into class warm-ups.
But what is a lower belt to do when his or her instructor does not want leg attacks practiced in his school? Indeed, the question of how to learn forbidden knowledge when the master forbids its pursuit is an age old story of curiosity, but it is not without pitfalls and dangers. No one wants to offend their team, their instructors, and no one wants to leave a school simply because of a single technique. Instead, one is perhaps best to covertly delve into the darkest art of jiu jitsu on the down low. Offend no one, admit nothing. Fortunately, for students in the age of technology, there is a myriad of paths to follow and many ways to enter this fascinating area of modern jiu jitsu.
1) Consider training with some gentle Russians.
Sambo is a fascinating combat study, and it definitely values exposing weaknesses in the legs. Finding a new gym where you can quietly learn from practitioners in a different art is an excellent way to cross-germinate ideas and make new friends.
One of my favourite techniques for leg attacks found in Sambo For BJJ by Vlad Koulikov. His "Rolling Knee Bar with A Belt Grab" is simply a thing a beauty, and it definitely a technique that will remind you of John Wick's action scenes.
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2) Pick up a few video resources for late night study.
One of the best paths towards learning the basics is instructional videos. You can find some excellent sample videos such as Neil Melanson's "The Catch Wrestling Leg-Locks", Kazushi Sakuraba's "BJJ Leg Lock" from The Turtle or one of many, many clips from John Danaher's Leglocks: Enter the System. The focus should be to get a feel for the types of positions the leg attacks originate from and to decide which instructor and style best matches the game you are already developing. There is no point in studying heel hooks in no gi submission grappling if you only train and compete in IBJJF tournaments in a kimono.
3) Make an effort to visit open mats, travel camps, and other schools who welcome leg attacks.
You can usually find training opportunities in your area if you ask around or search online. While I am careful in my choices of open mat opportunities, I do make a real effort to seek out academies that embrace leg attacks while I am travelling. My most recent BJJ Globetrotters' camp in Tallinn, Estonia had me learning from Charles Harriott and over 150 killers who were always on the lookout for a tasty foot or knee for the taking. Find the opportunities and then be humble and ask for information after being tapped multiple times. Leglockers love sharing their knowledge with newbies who are clearly no threat to their game.
4) Keep it on the down low, and do not become the evangelist for leglocks.
You would be a fool to learn leg attacks in secret only to begin asking random questions and making outlandish assertions about the validity of leg attacks during a technique class on the Closed Guard. Accept that your pursuit of the dark art is for your personal practice and not meant to be a way to annoy your teammates.
5) Practice entries with a catch and release attitude; look for control and never submissions.
The danger of leg attacks is found when you decide to roll hard and rip the submission at all costs. Your professor sees it. Your partner reports it. You will need to find a new place to train. However, everyone is safe with the sage advice of Craig Jones "Start your rolls with lower belts that you trust and just work your entries - don’t even have submissions in mind. Play a flowing catch and release game. Enter ashi, get a bite on the heel and let go, work your transition to something else to gain a sense of direction."
6) Find the right accomplice. Be careful. Go Slow.
It may be your Mat Nemesis, it may be the white belt who simply wants to fit in, or it might be your mom, but whoever it is you need to find a partner to practice with. Practice should never be in the middle of rolls and it should not involve anything but mutual practice. You need your accomplice to become good at attacking and escaping so that when the time comes to begin working on submissions you are both safe and in no danger of popping ACLs, MCLs and other various tendons.
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7) Choose one position and learn it deeply.
Learning leg attacks needs to take time. Like all jiu jitsu, techniques are best learned one by one and in the context of the game you already play. Spending hours working on a 411 heel hook from a position you never find yourself in may not be the best use of your time. My current favourite attack is a rolling kneebar from Turtle that I learned from Eduardo Telles. In fact, my greatest leg attack came from a roll with a Scottish kimura killer who I hit with the entry from Turtle. He just stopped and said "Was that a rolling kneebar from Turtle?" "Yes, it was." I replied. "So cool." he replied. Spend time in your ecosystem while looking for opportunities.
In conclusion, you do not want to become a brown belt and have no answers to kneebars, straight footlocks or kneebars. At the same time, you never want to be ignorant of the power of the heel hookers; they attack without notice and can wreck the unsuspecting without warning. Any full-spectrum approach to jiu jitsu needs to include leg attack. One never needs to go to the dark side, but we all need to understand its brilliance.
John Danaher has changed the leg lock game with his technical leg lock system. Get his DVD "Leg Locks: Enter The System" and learn from one of the best instructors in the game! BJJ Fanatics has it here!
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