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Do You Even Leglock?

Do You Even Leglock?


Recently, lower body attacks have exploded in popularity.  There are various reasons for this increase in popularity.  We have seen a rapid rise in submission only and professional Jiu Jitsu event.  Competitions like the Eddie Bravo Invitational, Metamoris, Fight to Win, and Kasai pro have aided this rise in lower body attacks.  With these submissions only, rules there is not as much emphasis on passing the guard, therefore, people are more willing to attacks the legs.  The rules also allow the reap and the heel hook.

All of this begs the question, do you even leglock?!  These days, if you plan on doing a no gi event that is not IBJJF like an ADCC trials, NAGA, or whatever event, you’d better be comfortable with lower b body attacks.  This does not mean that you must know how to execute them, but you should at least know how to defend them.  The chances that you will encounter a leg lock in a no gi event these days is extremely high. 

How can you get up to speed on leg locks and develop a foundation for them?  Well, the best way to learn the fundamentals of leg locks is to master the most basic one, the ankle lock.  Having a good ankle lock will allow you to delve deeper into leg locks and master them faster.  The leg locks are not about the finish, but about the set -up, the control, and the entanglements.

Why The Ankle Lock?

The ankle lock is the most basic lower body attack.  This submission is legal from white belt until black belt at almost every federation.  There are so many ways to get to the ankle lock and in order to master the ankle lock you will need to learn a few principles.  These principles can be applied to almost every other leg lock.  The first thing you need to learn his the leg entanglements and how to maintain/control the legs, the next thing is the set-ups and the last is the finish.  Let’s look deeper into this.

The Leg Entanglements

Now we are not going to write a book for you about all of the different leg entanglements, this is because there are so many.  We are just going to look at the two most basic because these can carry you a long way and give you a brief introduction into leg locks.  The first leg entanglement that anybody should learn is Ashi Garami. 

Ashi Garami is also referred to as single leg X.  Is there a difference between the two?  That is Subjective.  You could look at it this way, single leg X is not a submissions position, but the act of using ashi garami as a guard, ashi garami is the finishing position.  So if you are able to solidify ashi garami and your opponent stays standing, this is single leg X, if you manage to sweep them, then it is Ashi.  For sake of conversation and to make things easier, we will just call it all Ashi. 

Learning Ashi is vital to the development of your leg locks.  This is because you can do almost any leg lock from Ashi.  The heel hook, ankle lock, estima lock, toe hold, knee bar, inside heel, outside heel, etc.  The most important thing to learn from Ashi is how to maintain the position, and how to sweep.  To do almost any good leg lock, including the ankle lock, you want to sweep your opponent. 

First, we need to maintain Ashi.  What you don’t want to do is get into Ashi, and just immediately start attacking just to lose the position or get your guard passed. We need to learn how to hold Ashi.  Look at the position as a guard and find out the proper ways to off balance your opponent, prevent the pass and sweep.  Once you sweep you can now start to attack the ankle lock.

The Control

Mastering the ankle lock will teach you how to control your opponent’s leg.  This is imperative if you wish you to develop high level leg locks.  When you control your opponent’s leg and use patience it will be much harder for them to escape.  Many of the best leg lockers like Garry Tonon, Eddie Cumming, and Dean Lister actually initiate their leg control and attacks with the ankle lock grip. 

Once you have got into Ashi and learned how to maintain the position, you need to learn how to control the leg when you actually sweep your opponent.  How to keep your knee’s clamped, your hips close, your grips tight and how to combat their escapes.  Controlling an ankle lock position will make your opponent expose other lower body attacks.  Much like getting a triangle will expose other submissions like an arm bar.


Many people would assume that entries are before the control and maintaining the position, but this is incorrect.  You need to work control and maintaining the Ashi position prior to learning how to even get into it.  Why?  Many of the passes from Ashi come in the transitions, people will pass as you attempt to pull Ashi so if you are already good at controlling the position, you will have an easier time entering it.  The entries can come from everywhere.  Literally every guard you know has some way to get to Ashi.  Spider guard, Lasso, De La Riva, Butterfly, Closed, Half, etc.  All of these guards have entries to Ashi.

The Finish

The last thing you will want to master about the ankle lock is the finish.  The mechanics used to finish the ankle lock are very similar to the heel hook and the estima lock.  You have to learn how to use every ounce of leverage that you can.  You back, your hips, your legs, your chest, core, and grips.  A good ankle lock finish is so important.  Contrary to popular belief if you are able to finish an ankle lock with a high percentage you will probably be able to learn the other leg locks rather quickly.  So there you have it.  Go and master the ankle lock.  Check out this incredible instructional vid from ADCC champ, Dean Lister below where he goes over all the details.


Incorporating Other Attacks

Once you have worked on your strait ankle lock enough, you are going to start wanting to incorporate more devastating attacks like the heel hook, the knee bar, the estima lock, and the toe hold. The heel hook specifically has a terrible reputation in the bjj community.  This is because many people assume that it is the most devastating submission and it can cause injury.  This is just wrong and the fact of the matter is that any submission is dangerous.  

The heel hook is dangerous because for so many years people have ignored it and they have lost the knowledge on it.  For example, people do not train with heel hooks that often so they do not know the mechanics, the escapes, and the finish to a proper heel hook.  This is the big problem.  Think about that spazzy white belt that does not know the mechanics to an americana, arm lock, or kimura.  When they are put in one they put themselves at risk by performing, or attempting to perform, crazy escapes. This is precisely why the heel hook is so dangerous.

So many bjj practitioners ignore the heel hook.  There are purple belts, brown belts, and black belts who never even bother to learn the proper heel hook details let alone learn how to be technical with their escape to it.  This ignorance is what causes this reputation and makers it so dangerous for the bjj practitioners.  So how can you safely incorporate the heel hook into your game? 

Well, it is actually quite simple.  Assuming you have spent an adequate amount of time training the ankle lock, learning the leg entanglements and maintaining control of the lower body, you can start to do heel hooks.  It is important to be a good training partner with this submission and not to spaz out.  The first thing you want to learn is how to get a bite on the heel.  Essentially, this is just getting the proper grips.  Similar to getting the kimura grips but not attempting to finish.  After you learn how to get a bite on the heel and keep the heel exposed and controlled you will want to be able to just hold the heel.

IT is imperative that you develop a good sense of control with the heel.  This is good for both you and your partner because it will minimize the risk of injury and allow you to learn how to control the lower body well.  This is what can make the heel hook safe.  After you have developed good lower body control from the ankle lock and good heel control, you will want to start to work your finish.  Learning the control is important, we would recommend just to get the bite on the heel and hold it for a few months, don't even try and get the finish. 

When you work on your finish, you should already have developed excellent control and be used to getting the heel exposed with a bite.  This will reduce your level of excitement and you will be able to apply the finish controlled. We all know the guys who get so excited to get a submission they go 100% on it.  Don't be that guy.  Slowly apply the finishing mechanics of the heel hook and if your partner does not tap or goes crazy to escape, politely let them know you think they should be more careful.  Slowly pick up the pace.  If you have someone in a heel hook for more then 10-15 seconds and they have not cleared their knee line, just know you can tap them. 

You may even want to incorporate other attacks that you like.  Some people don't like the heel hook and are actually better at applying toe holds and knee bars.  Once you have learned the leg entanglements and have learned to control the ankle well, this can be your opening to other attacks.  The knee bar, toe hold and unassuming estima lock can be just as devastating as a heel hook if applied correct.  

So there you have it.  Learn the ankle lock, and slowly but surely you will be able to start developing good lower body control and attacks. Remember when you start to attack the heel it is not that dangerous, just be controlled and focus more on control rather than a finsih.

If you want to learn a systematic approach to leg locks, check out Dean Lister’s K.AT.C.H system.  This is one of the best and most methodical approaches to learning the basics of the leg locks.  With all of this recent hype and fascination over leg locks it is important to get up to speed and this can be your golden ticket to some knowledge.


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