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Three Steps to Defending Leg Locks

Three Steps to Defending Leg Locks


Defending leg locks is no easy task especially with their recent explosion in popularity.  People are becoming much more effective and versatile with their leg locks.  There was a time in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when leg locks were frowned upon.  These days, there is a leg lock revolution going on, it is like the bjj gold rush.

If you are not going with the times and learning leg locks, you should definitely be learning leg lock defenses. When we use the term “leg locks” we are referring to heel hooks, strait foot locks, toe hold, estima locks, knee bars, and any lower body attack.  Although they are tough to defend there are some steps you can take to do so.

 The first thing to keep in mind is that you have to have good base and posture while passing guard, the majority of leg locks, theoretically, can’t be finished while you’re standing.  The second thing is grips, for the most part; you need two hands to finish leg locks so control the hands.  The third thing is if you get swept, grip fight, clear the knee line and stand again.

The Importance of Base for Grappling a Leg Locker

If you find yourself in a grappling match with someone who is well versed with leg locks and you decide to play top, do NOT let them sweep you.  Easier said than done?  That’s true, but there are some principles you can apply to help you not get swept. 

You want to have good posture, especially if you’re standing to pass, you also want to have an aggressive passing game so your opponent is reacting to your motions.  Dictate the pace and make your opponent play your game, don’t play theirs.  Be aware that they probably can’t initiate and finish many leg locks as long as you remain standing.  When leg lock killer, Eddie Cumming went against Augusto Mendes, Mendes managed to nullify the majority of Cummings attacks with excellent base and posture. Check out this 50/50 pass from Leandro Lo, 50/50 is one of the worst positions to be with someone who likes leg locks.

The Importance of Grips when Grappling a Leg Locker

Now that you know you can’t get swept, you realize how difficult this can actually be.  So let’s assume that your opponent is about to sweep you, or has already done so.  Don’t panic.  Once you’ve fallen, you need to immediately establish grips on one or both of your opponent wrists.  A good option is to go 2 on 1 on one of their hands so that you can control it better.

Many of the best leg locks require the use of hands, the heel hook, the ankle lock, the estima lock, and toe hold, for the most part, require both hands.  If you can control one of your opponent’s hands you can surely buy yourself an adequate amount of time to start establishing escape routes.  A great method of escape is to immediately stand back up.  Anytime your defending leg locks it is wise to get to your feet.  Check out this video on an in depth escape for a heel hook from Dean Lister.

The Importance of the Knee Line when Grappling a Leg Locker

Now you’re grappling a pesky leg locker and they manage to sweep you and you can’t control the grips, this can be trouble. Depending on what type of leg lock he or she is attacking, clearing the knee line can be the most important thing to do and a last ditch effort to escape.  If you are in a heel hook, ankle lock, estima lock, or knee bar, for the most part, you can clear the knee line and you are safe.

What is the knee line?  The knee line is right below your knee cap, where your ACL is.  You want to get your knee free from their legs so that you have knee mobility.  If they control the knee line, they will control the mobility of your knee and ultimately submit you.  If you are deep in a leg lock and you can’t seem to clear the knee line or defend, just tap, it is a learning experience. There are more methodical and specified applications for escapes but this is a brief overview.  If you want to learn some cool leg locks in the gi, check out our article “Three Devastating Leg Locks in the Gi.”  Also, check out this pass from Ashi Garami or Single Leg X.

One of the best ways to defend leg locks is to know what your opponent is trying to do to you.  If you want to research leg locks and learn some, check out this DVD Bundle on Leg Locks that includes 13 DVD’s from some of the best to ever leg lock including Dean Lister. 



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