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Three Simple Leg Locks You Can Use Today

Three Simple Leg Locks You Can Use Today

Due to the rapid increase in the popularity of leg lock submissions, it is vital that every grappler learn them in order to be successful submission artists. As John Danaher says, “why ignore 50% of the body?” Although not every black belt is a leg lock expert, there are numerous resources we can utilize to help us learn them outside of the academy. 

There are a few leg locks that are considered fundamental leg submissions, just like how the triangle and arm bar are fundamental finishes of the upper body. Even if you don’t like leg locks, it’s important to learn some of these submissions for the rare circumstance you might end up catching one.

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In this article, we will go over some of the most important leg locks every grappler can apply. The submissions include the straight ankle lock, the heel hook, and finally the toe hold. Be aware that some competitive promotions have restrictions of certain leg locks.

Straight Ankle Lock

The straight ankle lock is the first leg attack every grappler should master before progressing to learn others. First, the straight ankle lock is easy to set up and finish, but it is also approved for use in most competitive scenes, even for white belts.

Since I started practicing the straight ankle lock years ago, I have learned it dozens of different ways, each with different details. The one that stuck with me the most, however, is Dean Lister’s set up and finish.

In the following video, Dean will explain the basic straight ankle lock with all the necessary details. When applying the straight ankle lock, each small detail is very important in helping you get the tap. See below:

One of the most widely disputed details of the straight ankle locks is the exact grip one should use. From what it seems, the grip you use depends on the size of your arms and hands. For me personally, I have always found most success with the simple guillotine grip.

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The position Dean is attacking the straight ankle lock is single leg x, often called ashi garami. When using this leg entaglment, you have to pay close attention to what your feet are doing. Your outside feet should be placed on the hip while the inside foot reaches for the far glute. This is important for maintaining double leg control.

Heel Hook from Butterfly Guard

The next leg lock you should move your focus to is the heel hook. Although this leg attack is more intricate, it is extremely effective once mastered, as has been seen in the biggest competitive scenes. The heel hook has gotten really popular lately because of its high breaking risk but also because it’s a relatively newer submission, which always tend to do better.

Another reason the heel hook is popular is that it is not specific to any one leg entaglement. You can attack the heel hook from ashi garami, outside ashi, and inside sankaku(aka 4/11 or saddle). The best entaglement is inside sankaku, of course, but it is also the most difficult to attain. 

In the following video, Craig Jones, notoriously known for his leg lock entries, will illustrate how to enter inside sankaku from butterfly guard and finish the heel hook. See below:

The two most important details when setting up inside sankaku from butterfly guard is preventing the cross face and getting control of the far leg. Even the top player can get a cross face, they will be able to flatten you out, resulting in a pass. Reaching for the far leg also helps keep the defender on top of you, which is where you want them.

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The biggest mistake I’ve made using this set up when I saw other competitors use it is locking of a triangle too early. The triangle is actually not essential for inside sankaku, but due to the nature of the position, it feels like something you should do as soon as possible. If you do lock the triangle, it will make it difficult to rock your opponent over to their side.

The base of this entry is the simple butterfly sweep we should all know anyway. Realistically, you should attack this with the butterfly sweep, and if that fails, proceed by entering the leg entanglement. If we are able to complement simple sweeps with leg lock entries, our overall game will improve and not just our leg attacks.

Toe Hold Against De La Riva Guard

One of the most commonly used forms of open guard is the de la riva guard. This simple guard is very effective for attacking sweeps and setting up back takes. The de la riva guard is especially dangerous when utilized in the gi, where the guard player can take advantage of various grips with the sleeves and lapels. 

Due to the dangers of being stuck in this common guard, its important as a guard passer to learn how to deal with it effectively. Outside of just setting up passes, we can use various attacks to advance our positions. One of my favorite ones is a rolling kimura. Another great attack you can use against de la riva guard is attacking a toe hold. 

In de la riva guard, one of the guard player’s legs is free while the other one is maintaining the hook. We can take advantage of the that free leg to attack it in various ways. The two easiest attacks here would be the estima lock and the toe hold, the latter being the more effective.

In the following video, Professor Tom DeBlass illustrates how to execute the toe hold against a guard player utilizing de la riva guard. See below:  

The main two issues you will face when attacking the toe hold here is the defender rotating to alleviate the pressure, and/or extending the leg being attacked. If either of these two things happen, the toe hold becomes weak and it becomes difficult to get the leverage to actually break the ankle.

Something I used to do when trying this toe hold is falling to my back and trying to finish it like I would a toe hold from some different leg entanglement. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well as it is easy to defend. This is also dangerous because if the attack fails, you could lose top position.

Although this toe hold isn’t one hundred percent effective in getting the tap, it can still force the guard player to abandon their guard which can give you the pass. Interestingly, you can use a very similar set up against reverse de la riva guard as well.

I hope you enjoyed these simple leg attacks. They are easy to attack and are low risk compared to many other ones. Even if you don’t want to become a master leg locker, you should still add these simple ones to your game for some added versatility.


John Danher is one of the few people to have athletes be successful at the highest levels in both Professional Grappling as well as MMA. He has systemized his approach to teaching,learning,and APPLYING his Jiu-Jitsu. Enter the System with John Danaher!

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