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Master the Outside Heel Hook with John Danaher
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Master the Outside Heel Hook with John Danaher

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The continual rise of the leg lock has changed the game in many ways.

Its allowed new stars of BJJ to enter the arena, and it has forced an entire league of BJJ competitors to up their game. No longer can the lower half of the body be ignored.

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The Danaher Death Squad as they called it, burst onto the no gi grappling scene with a level of leg lock pedigree and knowledge like no one had ever seen. They cultivated something special in that blue basement, and then unleashed it on a world that was seemingly unprepared.

Stars of the sport such as Gordon Ryan, Garry Tonon, and the young Nicky Ryan began submitting some of the world’s top grapplers with their unmatched skill sets and relentless pursuit of some of the most brilliant leg entanglements games we’d ever seen.

Where did this all come from?

For years, many of us had never been exposed to lower body attacks, and they certainly weren’t taking center stage in the competition arena. I remember seeing a straight ankle lock here and there, but these intricate systems of tying up the legs were inaccessible to many, and off the radar of most.

The brain behind the DDS, John Danaher had developed a system of attacking the lower body that allowed these grapplers to navigate the legs with incredible efficiency.

The leg lock continues to be an enormous force in the no gi grappling community, and now John Danaher has made his systems available to anyone that wishes to study them.

Let’s take a look at some samples of Danaher’s work. We’ll begin with a master class on the outside heel hook. I have always found the outside heel hook to be the most difficult leg attack to comprehend. The finishing mechanics in my opinion are very specific. Sure, you may produce a tap from an inexperienced player by cranking and inducing some panic. But when someone truly knows how to defend, everything has to be just right to secure the submission.

let’s take a moment to view the master class and see if we can gather some important details on this integral piece of the leg attack puzzle.

Danaher begins with some details on forming the initial ashi garami position. As he enters, he weaves his outside leg over his partner’s leg and plants his heel firmly in the hip. Hi other knee closes the position from the top, and allows his instep to conform to the underside of his partners hamstring on the opposite leg. This forms a strong connection to his partner body.

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Although the entanglement is strong, the preliminary position is not the best for finishing. To further pursue the heel hook Danaher will transition through several forms of the ashi garami position.

With a stomping motion of his foot, Danaher turns his hip into the leg he wishes to attack. This exposes the heel and allows him to gain his initial grip. With this initial supinated grip, he also pairs the forming of a triangle with his legs near his partner’s hip. This keeps his partner contained and unable to retreat to his knees to defend. Danaher continues on, clasping his hands and threatening the heel hook to entice his partner to keep rolling. They’ll now land in the outside ashi garami position.

To finish the submission, Danaher uses opposing forces. He pulls his partner toward him with his legs as his head rises. His elbow guides his partners toes back toward him, and the lock itself on the foot pulls the heel toward Danaher, creating tremendous breaking pressure.

Let’s break down some of the concepts at play here, and get a little more specific.

Close the circle

The idea of closing the circle around your partner's leg is of great importance here. At any point through this process should you allow that circle to be broken, your partner will exploit that, and use it to begin escaping. In the initial ashi garami position, this is done by having proper placement of the feet, and knees. The heel and the knee from a connection on top of your partner’s hip closing the circle.

Expose the heel

To create heel exposure, we need to bring out partners foot topside. With the downward push of the foot and a turn of the hip we create a much more accessible way to acquire the heel. Resist the urge to belly down and dig for the heel from this initial position, as this can actually put you in danger.

Prevent escape

Your partner has three methods of escape at this juncture. Rotation, creating distance, and dismantling the structure of the position are all a means of disrupting the sequence of events. To shut down all of these methods of escape, Danaher employs a triangle of the legs. To make this triangle effective, and keep our own feet safe, we point our knees in the direction that were headed and tuck our feet safely behind our partner.

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The Finish

As we complete the roll through and land in the outside ashi garami position, the bite on the heel has become incredibly tight. Once again, we use our legs to pull our partner’s hips toward us. We then use our elbow to push the toes back, and our grip to pull the heel toward us.

Troubleshooting

You will encounter some issues as you begin to delve in. The first troubleshooting aspect that Danaher addresses is what he calls the idea of a “shared spiral”. Both the attack and the escape share the benefit of spiraling motion. As Danaher applies pressure to the lock his partner turns in the same direction to relieve that pressure. This motion must be stopped, or it leads to several rolls across the mat, and no results.

Using the triangle of the legs and the outside variation of the ashi garami for the finish stops the spiraling sequence and locks our partner into a position where he can no longer turn with the pressure of the break. At the completion of the roll, Danaher’s hips are facing away from his partner, toward the knee that’s under attack, and his legs are controlling his partners hips making any further efforts to continue moving almost impossible.

Another problem that can have disastrous consequences as you make your way through this entire process is the separation of your hips from your partner’s hips. Its very common that as we travel through all the stages of this cycle, we will start to create too much space between us and our partner. Danaher feels this is probably the most shared difficulty for beginning heel hook students. Failure to keep this connection will result in the dismantling of the position itself and ultimately lead to escape.

Through all the cycles of your ashi garami, be sure to implement a pulling action, keeping your partner hips close at all times. And distance that’s created through eh cycle will be a detriment to the structure of the position and your finishing power.

At close of the technique, Danaher has one last bit of advice. To assist us in keeping our partner from creating any distance, he transfers much of his weight to his back foot by lifting his hips off of the floor. This adds even more strength to the bite of the back leg, and loads additional weight onto his partners leg.

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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