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Live to Fight Another Day: Escaping Heel Hooks with the Ruotolo Brothers
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Live to Fight Another Day: Escaping Heel Hooks with the Ruotolo Brothers

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Recognizing Where You Are

In order to understand heel hook defense, we need to be a little more specific. There are two general variations of this attack: the outside heel hook and the inside heel hook. An inside heel hook is also commonly called an inverted heel hook and is usually distinguishable by two features. When in this position, the opponent’s leg will be across your body and you’ll be able to see the “inside”, or often the bottom, of their foot. This is the tighter of the two variations of heel hook. 


The second form of heel hook, and the focus of today’s escape, is the outside heel hook. In this position, the opponent’s leg is being attacked on the same side as their knee is isolated, meaning that their leg is not across your body, but parallel to your side. In addition, you will be able to see the “outside”, or top, of your partner's foot if you are attacking an outside heel hook.


Although the inside heel hook is more damaging, both locks carry the potential for crippling damage in the hands of an inexperienced or an irresponsible practitioner. That’s why it’s super important to be familiar with the correct technical escapes. Trying to explode your way out of heel hooks, or leg attacks in general, is a sure path to injury. The defenses we’re discussing today apply specifically to the outside heel hook. This video gave me some great tips on how to think about the mechanics of this position.


Shutdown The Modern Leg Lock Game With The Ruotolo Brothers! Click Learn More!

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Defending Against The Outside Heel Hook

 

Defensive Positioning for Heel Hooks

In the video above, Kade and Tye Ruotolo do an excellent job of breaking down some major considerations for escaping heel hook attacks. They split the idea into two general categories: proper defensive positioning and the escape itself. Remember that while the positioning tips are useful for any heel hook, the escape here is specifically for an outside heel hook. Additionally, these details do not apply to other forms of foot locks, like toe holds and ankle locks, where these motions may get you tapped even faster.


  • Defensive Detail #1: Keep your as straight and strong as you possibly can
  • Defensive Detail #2: Point your toes like a ballerina in order to relieve pressure
  • Defensive Detail #3: Hide your heel by pushing closer to your opponent
  • Defensive Detail #4: Hand fight with your opponent. Underhook the arm if possible.

Escaping an Outside Heel Hook

This escape begins before your partner is able to grip their hands around your heel. Once they achieve that position with a gable grip, things are much more difficult and this escape no longer applies. Instead, start thinking about getting out long before your opponent can work the leg attack. To initiate the escape, make sure that you’re executing defensive details one and two above. You need to straighten your leg out, keep it strong, and point your toes; the Ruotolo brothers call this “the ballerina”.


Once you’ve assumed the ballerina pose, you’re ready to dance your way out of this heel hook nightmare. The next step is to turn your torso to face behind you and away from the opponent, placing your hands firmly down on the mat, forming a strong connection to the ground through your arms. Your spine will be coiled a little like a spring, and you can now unwind by squaring your hips up to your top half. In order to do this, you’ll need to step your free leg over their body and roll in the direction of the heel hook.


That last point is very important: always roll with the heel hook. I mentioned the need for a high level of technicality in leg escapes, and this is a key example. Rolling against the heel hook will lock it down and likely cause you injury. If you don’t know which way to roll for an escape with absolute certainty, then don’t roll for an escape at all; tap and walk away with two good knees. 


Once you complete the roll, your partner will often still be on your heel with decent, but slightly weakened, control of your legs. You may need to initiate the escape again, perhaps multiple times, in order to “clear the knee” and escape. In other words, you need to get your knee out from in between your partner’s knee. Once you do this, you’re free either to disconnect or to pummel back in for a pass, sweep, or attack.

Rising Stars in the No-Gi Scene

Kade & Tye Ruotolo are new to the instructional and competitions community, and already making waves. These young brothers are products of 10th Planet’s Brandan McCaugheran. They’ve gained notoriety for their use of little known and creative submissions, such as the buggy choke, in high level competitions.


The Ruotolo brothers have already demonstrated a natural ability to teach side-by-side with their creation of a few instructionals for BJJFanatics.com. If you’re tired of icing your knees and ankles, check out their incredibly necessary system, Scientifically Shutting Down Modern Leg Attacks. In it, you’ll learn how to avoid damage from all types of leg attacks while using the positions to your advantage.

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