The Ankle Lock, the Gateway Drug
Attacking the lower body has recently become one of the biggest phenomenons in bjj. There is a revolution going on in the Jiu Jitsu community today. People are getting more and more skilled at lower body attacks. This could be attributed to several different things but it is primarily because of the rise in submission only events. There are so many professional grappling platforms that have sprung up out of nowhere and many of these have submission only rule sets.
Some of these big submission only tournaments include the Eddie Bravo Invitational, Metamoris, Fight To Win Pro, Kasai pro, ACBJJ, and many more. These tournaments have increased the popularity of lower body attacks. But why? Well people are starting to realize that they are often neglected. Many people spend so much time on their guard and passing but fail to work on lower body attacks.
Just as recently as 10-15 years ago it was frowned upon to do lower body attacks. Eddie Bravo infamously has a story about when he was a purple belt competing he went for a toe hold and everyone in the crown started throwing things at him, yelling, and more. Today, knowing lower body attacks is the norm!
So what are some of the best lower body attacks to know? Well, that depends on your level of knowledge; a great intro level leg attack is the strait ankle lock, this is the fundamental leg lock and the core of many of the intricacies necessary to complete other attacks.
The Ankle Lock
The ankle lock is the foundation of many of the high level leg attacks. This is the introductory leg lock and it is legal in almost every tournament at almost any belt level, and age. It attacks the Achilles tendon, the metatarsals, the foot, and the ankle. There are so many variations of the strait ankle and strait foot lock and so many different ways to apply it, and finish it. The core of the foot lock is getting into the position and controlling the foot.
Although this is considered by many the basic leg lock, it is also one of the most complex depending on how you choose to finish it. So lets break this down a bit. It is the foundation of many leg locks because the leg entanglements necessary to finish this technique are identical to the ones use to finish the heel hook. Therefore, mastering the details on the leg entanglements of the ankle lock will allow you to make a quick transition to heel hooks. You can apply a foot lock from ashi garami, outside ashi, 50/50, saddle, belly down position, modified X hook, and almost every famous leg entanglement position. Leg entanglements just refer to guars or positions you use to finish leg locks, for example, single leg X could be considered a leg entanglement.
The strait foot lock also has a very similar finish to the heel hook. The intricacies and the details necessary to finish a strait foot lock are almost identical to a heel hook. For instance with a strait ankle you would ideally want to have both hands connected, you want to be on your side, you want three points of contact with the ground, and you want to keep your knees tight for starts. Once you have all of this to apply the finish you want to push your hips in as you arch your back so you can engage your hips, core and back. We know there are a lot of details; these are almost all the same for the heel hook. Check out this video below of Dean Lister breaking down a proper strait ankle finish.
So as you can see above, Dean uses so many details to finish this “basic” foot lock. What makes this foot lock basic? Well, you see, the thing is that it is relatively safe. People have a lot of time to tap and they are never in any serious danger that occurs abruptly. Meaning that if someone throws on a toe hold, heel hook, or estima lock fast it can happen extremely abruptly. This is not to say that a strait foot lock cannon happen abruptly, it is just less likely to happen fast. As you can see in the above video with Dean Lister, this submission is meticulous, detailed, and highly technical so you can be patient and methodical with your finish. The strait foot lock is the core of all other foot locks.
If you want to have a good primer for lower body attacks, take 6 months to really get a handle on the strait foot lock. Learn the leg entanglements, the finishing details, the set ups, when to bail, the reactions, and everything there is to know and then your transition to other leg locks will be seamless and simple.
To this day the IBJJF does not allow Heel Hooks at all, in gi, nogi, and at any black belt level. The heel hook is one of the best submissions to learn.
How to Evolve From the Ankle Lock
Let’s assume that you have now taken the time to learn the ankle lock inside and out. Let’s assume that you only used this leg lock for 6 months to a year and that you are ready to adapt new leg locks. The ankle lock will lead you to the heel hook and this is one of the most difficult to master.
Why is the heel hook so hard to learn? Well, it is because people lack the knowledge necessary to finish the proper heel hook. They want to get right to the destination and ignore the journey; they get submission happy and don’t understand the proper timing for a good heel hook. Many people will not take the time to master the guards necessary for the ankle lock and the heel hook, they won’t learn all the details to finish the heel hook and ankle lock, they won’t learn all the leg entanglements and they will not know a sequence of moves.
People know the heel hook is lethal so they just want to do it and do it fast, they try once or twice and since they don’t have all the finishing mechanics in order and they don’t have a sequence of moves or leg entanglements to transition from they can’t finish the heel hook. They may get a bite on the heel but they are not going to be able to finish high level guys with their heel hook.
The ankle lock will allow you to learn how to do all of this without ever even using the heel hook. If you just master the finishing sequence of the ankle lock it will advance your heel hook game exponentially. This is because many people are able to fight the ankle lock so you may really have to apply all the details, where as with the heel hook if you have everything right, no one will be able to fight it.
The ankle lock will also give you a vast amount of knowledge on how to switch from one leg entanglement to the other and when you do it a lot you will be able to see your opponent’s reactions so you will know how to move. You will develop a sequence of moves and positions.
Combining The Ankle Lock With Other Leg Locks
So now that we have taken the time to delve deep into the topic of the strait ankle lock, how can we combine this lethal weapon with other lower body attacks? It is actually quite simple. The first step and the first topic that we discussed was the use of leg entanglements. Assuming you spend about 6 months to a year perfecting your strait ankle lock, in that time you would have surely learned several entries into several leg entanglements.
The main leg entanglemens are going to be Ashi Garami, Outside Ashi, Cross Ashi, and Reverse Ashi. All of these positions are going to be excellent for the ankle lock, the heel hook, and the toe hold. One thing that should be noted is the use of the ankle lock to control. The best grip you can use to maintain control over your opponents lower body is going to be the ankle lock grip. Whether it is Gi, No Gi, or MMA. This grip will allow you to keep their knee line compromise, which will eventually allow you to switch to a heel hook.
One of the most common errors that we see with the heel hook is that people get to eager to attack the position and therefore, their opponent is able to escape. When you get a bite on the heel, you should be able to end the match. All to often we see high level grapplers neglect the control aspect of the lower body and attempt to finish, this eagerness comes at a high price. If they do not control the lower body well and attempt to attack the heelo hook, there is a larger chance of escape and time to free the knee line.
You want to be precise with you attack, that is why learning the ankle lock is imperative, and when it comes time to combining it with the heel hook, use it to maintain control, create a reaction, and execute the finishing leg lock with precision. We see this methodology with the Danaher Death Squad guys, they are very precise with their finishes. They focus on control, they are patient, and they use the ankle lock to maintain the lower body control and isolate the knee line. John Danaher is actually in the midst of releasing his first ever bjj instructional, here is a segment from it where you can see his details on the heel hook entry, control, and execution.
How to Incorporate Heel Hooks and are they Actually Dangerous?
The heel hook is considered by many, the ultimate lower body attack. Why is this? Well, simply put, the heel hook has the capability of inflicting unprecedented damage. The heel hook attacks the ligaments in the knee, the tendons and bones in the ankle, and if your opponent does not tap, they are going to severely regret it. So how can we safely go from the ankle lock to heel hook? As we mentioned above, the ankle lock is the gateway drug. It is the best way for you to develop a system, the finishing mechanics are similar to the ankle lock and all of the leg entanglements are also similar.
To incorporate them at first, you will want to learn how to get a "bite" on the heel. This is like getting into a straitened arm bar and not imposing your finish. This will teach you how to safely get into the position without hurting your opponent. Once you know how to get a bite on the heel, assuming you have already learned ankle locks, you can start to threaten the finish in an extremely controlled manner. This is vital for your training partner, the heel hook is not something that you want to be a spaz with.
There is a common misconception with the heel hook that it is an extremely dangerous submission that should not be practiced. This is extremely untrue, it is no more dangerous than the likes of a kimura, americana, or an arm lock. The problem that we see with this position is actually caused by a lack of knowledge. Many people do not understand this submission, therefore, they do not know how to properly apply it, escape it, or finish it. This is what causes injuries. When you know the idea of a submission but not the details. You need to be able to be extremely controlled.
One of the best methods for learning how to keep control of the lower body as we mentioned above is the ankle lock, but how can we learn to control just the heel so we can threaten a heel hook? Well, as we mentioned above, you want to be able to get a bite on the heel and hold it. You want to exercise your control, not hurt your partner. This is what will ultimately help you to be good at heel hooks.
Having a System
You want to develop a system, and as we mentioned above, the ankle lock is the best way to do this. You can learn the core positions that you need to finish. We discussed leg entanglements above, but you have to remember to develop a chain of attacks as well. For example, you may go from knee bar to toe hold to ankle lock to heel hook. Or whatever order you want. Many people want to learn systems but the best way to get really good at leg locks is to try and develop your own system of attacks.
For instance, some people may be better at knee bars than toe holds or vice versa. Therefore, you can use one submission to open another and ultimately get to your A game submission. For the vast majority of people the best submission is going to be the heel hook because it is the most devastating but there are some people who have toe holds that are just as devastating. We urge you to take the time to learn systems. We just recently release our best selling DVD ever in the John Danaher Leglocks DVD.
John is simply the pioneer of heel hooks. he has changed the game and has infamously raised some warriors at the Renzo Gracie Academy in NYC. The Danaher Death Squad is the most feared no gi team in the world. They are notorious for their lower body attacks. Check out the Leglocks DVD below.
If you want to learn some of the best heel hook entries in the world and some of the best lower body attacks check out one of BJJ Fanatics new releases. We had the opportunity to film with the rising star Craig Jones who was able to make his debut at the ADCC 2017 in Finland one of the best in history. He submitted 5x black belt World Champion Leandro Lo. He recently competed at EBI and beat everyone via heel hook except for the reigning champ, Gordon Ryan. Craig has the best heel hooks and lower body attacks in the world that have been filmed.