Defending and Escaping the Heel Hook

Defending and Escaping the Heel Hook

Defending and escaping the heel hook can be one of the most intimidating things in bjj.  Lately, leg locks have exploded in popularity because of the increase in submission only tournaments like EBI.  Many people are starting to learn heel hooks earlier than ever and you need to be able to deal with them.  Many people are very fearful of heel hooks because they assume if they get caught in them that it may be late and that their ligaments may already be damaged. 

This is untrue. You can get caught in a heel hook and still have time to tap without being hurt.  When you get caught in a heel hook, you need to remain calm.  There are a few steps you can take to defending and escaping the heel hook.  The first thing is to have good base and not get swept, the second is to control the hands, and the last thing if you are deep in a heel hook is to clear the knee line.

Base, Posture, and Defending the Heel Hook

Base and posture are extremely important elements to defending heel hooks and leg locks before they occur.  Theoretically, the heel hook cannot be finished if you are standing and your foot is still flat on the mat.  So if you have good base and posture, you can prevent your opponent from sweeping you.

Not getting swept is easier said than done but it is the first thing to attempt when dealing with a pesky heel hooker.  If you can manage to keep an aggressive game and have good posture you will be able to nullify the heel hook.  A good attack when someone is playing butterfly guard is the kimura trap and roll, check out our article, “Using the Kimura Grip to Control your Opponent.”  Also, check out this video where Eddie Cummings talks about if heel hooks are dangerous and some principles to defending them.

Hand Fighting to Defend the Heel Hook

Hand fighting is another key element to defending the heel hook.  Theoretically, your opponent probably can’t finish a heel hook with one hand, and even if they can, it will be much more difficult.  SO assume you tried to have good base and posture but your opponent sweeps you, the first thing you should do is hand fighting and attempt to get a 2 on 1 grip on your opponent’s wrist.

Controlling your opponent’s wrist is vital to survival if you have already fallen and are near getting heel hooked.  Check out this video with Dean Lister below about escaping a heel hook.

Clearing the Knee Line

Clearing the knee line may be the most important detail to escaping the heel hook, if you fall and your opponent is starting to attack the heel hook than you need to be able to clear the knee line.  This means that you can get your knee cap out from in between your opponent’s legs. 

Assume you are about to get swept, as you fall try to fall controlled in a position so that you can clear the knee line.  This will help you evade heel hooks.  Check out our article “3 Steps to Defending Leg Locks” to learn more on this concept.  Also, check out this escape to a heel hook below with Reilly Bodycomb.

If you want to develop confidence from any position you should be confident escaping any position.  Check out Dean Lister’s DVD Set “Worry Free Escapes.”  Dean Lister was not submitted for over a decade at the black belt level.  He always keeps his composure in even the worst positions.