The Importance of IBJJF Legal Leg Locks


I am personally a huge fan of the heel hook because of its efficiency relative to the amount of effort you have to expend when hitting it. However, there is a whole world of leg locks that are legal in competition that are NOT the heel hook. Ultimately if you are refraining from learning and sharpening your gi/IBJJF legal leg lock game, you are missing out and should probably spend more time on this useful skill set.

One of the most interesting submissions that can be done at brown/black in the IBJJF and at lower levels in many local tournaments is the toe hold. What makes the toe hold interesting is its availability from various angles that you may not expect, like from inside of an omoplata, or depending on the angle from inside of back mount. I think of the toe hold as akin to a wrist lock on the foot in that it can be found and applied from many different places.

Similarly, the knee bar is a high effective technique that if hunted for correctly can yield great results. Many positions can be converted into knee bar entries, including guard passes, sweeps and just about any other transitional position. If mid transition you are coordinated enough to switch for the knee bar the results can be tremendous at competition.

Perhaps the most important lower body submission to be considered is the straight ankle lock. A well placed straight ankle lock can work against anyone at any level, and if you are smart with your entries and timing, you can generate as much force as with any other submission making the straight ankle lock a highly important submission to think about, train and develop.

The straight ankle lock is a highly diverse submission that is available from most angles if you know what to look for. It is not an easy submission to master, and when you go for a straight ankle lock there is always a chance that you will expose yourself to potential submissions inadvertently.

I always tell people that because of its relative low risk of injury that it’s ok to drill and go for straight ankle locks when starting jiu jitsu, but because of the white belt tendency to rely on an effective move as a crutch, it is wise to vary between going for ankle locks and focusing on other moves instead.

I have asked a few high level instructors about their thoughts on leg locks, including ones who like to go for leg locks and the unanimous response was that one should develop a wide range of skills and that if an individual becomes fixated on leg locks that can be a problem, be careful to not fall into this pattern.

Straight ankle locks are so effective that when done right they can even be used in competition against people who go for heel hooks. There was a match at the recent Eddie Bravo Invitational in which one competitor went for a heel hook and wound up getting ankle locked.

The power and diversity of IBJJF legal leg locks is apparent, and even if you prefer to go for the more efficient heel hook, the skill set developed when learning leg locks that are in fact legal is worth while regardless of how you intend on competing. Going for leg locks in training helps you start to see submission in places where you otherwise did not. The more you leg lock, the better you will lock legs, and the better you hit leg locks, the more success you will have in competition.

If you decide to not learn about straight ankle locks, you may wind up in some trouble at a competition. Here is a video of famed jiu jitsu instructor Rodrigo Cavaca using a simple ankle lock legal for white belts to submit Cyborg Abreu:

As you can see, nothing too fancy here. Just a simple straight ankle lock.

Learning leg locks can be difficult, but some instructors put out very useful videos and DVDs about how to utilize leg locks. One of the most successful of these instructors is Luiz Panza. He has been able to win many big competitions using his unusual leg lock set ups and finishes. Check out his DVD set in which he covers the nuances of his leg lock game.