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Unraveling the Nuances of Leg Locks

Unraveling the Nuances of Leg Locks


One of the fastest growing movements and developments in the world of jiu jitsu and grappling has been the attention placed on lower body submissions and leg locks.  With the increased popularity of No Gi and sub-only events across the world, the current rock stars of competitive jiu jitsu also happen to be leg lock wizards.

With this said, today's jiu jitsu practitioner would be absolutely crazy to ignore the world of leg attacks.  Gone are the days when one might think they have a well-rounded BJJ game without understanding the nuances of leg locks and the positions from which to achieve them. So where does one start?  If you're lucky enough to begin your jiu jitsu career at one of the epicenters of leg lock instruction, like the Renzo Gracie Academy in the blue dungeon with the likes of John Danaher and his team of tendon terrorizers, like Garry Tonon and Gordon Ryan amongst others, you will quickly be immersed in the complexities of leg entanglement and will not have some of the hang ups that other practitioners or instructors may have have with leg attacks.

There are a number of reasons why it's important to jump right in and start learning as soon as you can.  So why isn't everyone teaching and learning leg locks from the very outset?  There are a number of possible reasons.  Let's take a look at a few here.

Lack of understanding

On a real basic level, there is a great deal of open space in the world of leg attack instruction.  This is primarily because of the relative youth of the techniques in the history of jiu jitsu.  There is also the fact that many practitioners train solely in Gi techniques and because of IBJJF rules and general safety, many leg locks are not allowed.  There is also the fact that with the rise of sub only competitions, knowing techniques that give someone a competitive advantage in those competitions can be very valuable and these techniques are sometimes coveted and kept under wraps.

Fear of bodily injury

There is a general risk in any physical activity and training jiu jitsu with it's laundry list of chokes and joint manipulating techniques are no different.  The beauty of training the art, is that with one simple tap of the hand to the opponent's body, we admit that we are caught and the technique is halted and the injury is avoided.

With many submissions, when applied, there can be a certain threshold or range of application that can be felt and endured before a tap is necessary.   When someone is caught in an omoplata shoulder lock for instance, if they have relatively flexible shoulders, there will be a range of motion in which a person may be able to endure the discomfort and pain of muscles and ligaments being pulled and stretched, giving one a chance of possible escape.

With leg attacks on the other hand, especially heel hooks, there is much less margin for error in the application.  The tendons of the knees, ankles and feet are twisted and turned and often snap at the exact moment discomfort or pain sets in.  This gives the novice grappler almost no time to process the fact that they are trapped in a solid leg submission before they are injured.  For to these reasons, it's important to have sensible instruction as well as very careful and controlled drilling plans to allow students to develop the proper sensibilities to help them survive leg attacks.

Fear of ego injury

There is another reason that I believe keeps practitioners away from lower body attacks, techniques and submissions.  Historically because of philosophy and rule sets, many practitioners do not get exposed to leg locks until they are purple or brown belts, or even black belts.  By this time, a grappler can become set in their ways and allow their own ego to take back control.  It takes a big person to swallow their pride and recognize that alth ough they wear one of the elite color belts, or even black belts around their waste, they are essentially still white belts in the area of lower body techniques.  Rather than open themselves up to this process of "starting over", some practitioners would rather ignore them and even speak negatively of them.

For many years, the world of BJJ ignored the realm of leg attacks.  It is said that historically, the Gracie family held a feud with a another BJJ academy and team led by Oswaldo Fadda.  Legend has it that in a series of jiu jitsu battles, the Helio Gracie led group was actually bested by the Fadda students.  The key to the the victory for the Fadda led grapplers is said to have been their use of leg attacks.  And for this reason, it is said that the Gracie family and their powerful and influential marketing skills marginalized leg locks and cast them out of the accepted arsenal of techniques.  

For many years, these techniques, often referred to as the "dirty thieves" of jiu jitsu were seen in a negative light and were all but considered cheating in competition.  It wasn't until pioneers like the American Dean Lister who often employed leg attacks to best some of the sports all time best competitors.

One of the most legendary competitive performances was Dean Lister's 2003 ADCC run.  To learn more about this legendary run, check out this article from BJJ Fanatics here!  Dean is one of the most sought after instructors out there.  You can also take advantage of his knowledge by checking out his "Leg Attacks and Grappling Hacks" instructional here!

 For a quick and easy breakdown of the different types of legs locks, check out this previous article from BJJ Fanatics on the topic here!

 The video below breaks down all of the major lower body positions and the various names by which they are known.  It's important to open yourself to the new vocabulary and begin to speak the language to begin to understand the techniques, the transitions, and the submissions that become available from these positions.


 In the next video, Renzo Gracie black belt and Danaher Death Squad cousin, Shawn Williams talks about his philosophy of leg locks.  He brings a sensible perspective from a primarily gi oriented academy and IBJJF friendly competitive approach.  

 One of the key ideas that Shawn shares is that no matter what, it is important for all students to understand the concepts and nuances of the basic leg submissions.  For him, it is important for his purple belt students to begin broadening their leg games to prep them for the time when most leg locks become legal in IBJJF regulated competition, brown belt.

 In the second video from Budovideos featuring Renzo Gracie black belt Shawn Williams, he breaks down his favorite or perfect leg lock position.


 Jay Wadsworth is a cop by day and a leg locker when he's not taking down perps.  Check out this unique toe hold variation from the "checkmate" or inside sankaku position.  Notice the key details that he shares in his instructional below.

 Hopefully by now your mind has been opened to the world of leg techniques, if it hasn't prior to this.  By understanding the history, the key players and the different rule sets and belt levels that these techniques are allowed will go a long way to helping you better put together your personal game plan when it comes to becoming a truly well-rounded grappler and starting to play with the "other half" of the opponent's body.

If you're ready to get yourself tangled up in leg locks and the ashi garami position, you will want to take a look at Jay Wadsworth's "Ashi Leglock System" for the insane price of only $39!  Get ready to dominate with your new leg lock skills by hooking it here!





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