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Leg locks are getting a lot of attention in the Jiu-Jitsu world these days. Many of us remember training in the “old days” when leg locks weren’t favored and, in some cases, actually were looked down on. Most today would agree that’s a shame, because leg locks can be wildly effective and they are a great way for a smaller person to gain additional leverage on a bigger opponent. In any case, regardless of how you view them, it looks like leg locks are here to stay and they are only going to get more popular over time.

Heel Hook Search

A Google Image Search for “Heel Hook”

I’ve done basic leg locks for a long time, but I never really considered myself a “leg lock” guy. Recently though, I’ve spent a fair amount of time watching the EBI No-Gi submission-only tournaments and I’ve started to get re-interested in leg locks. I think that Eddie Bravo has done a great job with the rules, such that the matches are action-packed and exciting to watch. And it’s impossible to watch an EBI event without getting excited about leg locks and wanting to learn a little more about them.


Promotional Poster for EBI 4, Showing Geo Martinez Setting a Toe Hold

I’ve also watched some of my SCMA teammates compete in recent tournaments and it’s very impressive to watch them play the leg lock game with so much confidence and authority. It’s certainly a part of the modern jiu-jitsu game that you need to understand, and I want to make it a bigger part of my game.


Nick “Tiny Shark” Shafer and Logan “I So Wish It Was 1968” Beuhler Are on the Forefront of the Recent Leg Lock Movement at SCMA
Nick Doing Boston Crab

Of Course, That’s Not Always a Good Thing . . .

The dark side of leg locks, however, is that dramatic injuries are possible if they’re trained irresponsibly or training partners are not on the same page. This type of thing can happen anywhere, regardless of how good the instruction may be. In fact, I was at a seminar one time when Professor Pedro Sauer taught a leg lock, and he preceded it by telling us all to be very careful and to clearly communicate with our partners. He noted that after 6 months of teaching leg locks at his Salt Lake City school his top guys were all in casts because they tapped too late!

All of this got us talking about the safety aspects of training leg locks and the rules that should apply to that training. The “old timers” at SCMA already know these rules but we want to make sure that everyone knows and follows them so that we can train leg locks safely.

  1. If You’re a White Belt, Don’t Train Leg Locks while Rolling With Another White Belt – as exciting as leg locks are, there simply are too many things that can go wrong when two White Belts train them together. Even if you know how to apply them with care, your partner may not know how to safely escape or when to tap. I know this from experience. Chazz and I were both White Belts and one time he set a straight layback ankle lock on me. I didn’t know what to do, but rolling like a maniac seemed like a good idea at the time. Fortunately for me Chazz immediately let go of the ankle lock and probably saved me from a bad knee injury.
  1. If You’re A White Belt and You Want to Train Leg Locks with a Colored Belt, Say Something Ahead of Time and Get Their Agreement – most colored belts are happy to safely train leg locks with White Belts. But a lot of us tend to roll relaxed and easy when we’re going with a White Belt and we often leave our legs open to attack. We won’t do that if we know that you’re interested in playing the leg game, and we’ll know to look for the attacks on you, too.
  1. If Two Colored Belts Are Rolling, the Senior Rank Should “Play Down” to the Lower Rank – you’re a Purple or Brown rolling with a Blue? Don’t use anything other than a straight layback unless you both agree otherwise.
  1. Don’t Play Heel Hooks Unless You Have Lots of Experience, and You Have Lots of Trust in Your Training Partner – if you don’t understand this one, just stay away from Heel Hooks for now.
  1. Be Careful and Use Good Judgment – there’s always some element of risk associated with live rolling and leg locks are no different than anything else in this regard. We all want to go home uninjured after class though, so it’s up to you to use good judgment. Tap early if your partner catches you and try something different next time. And if you’ve got your partner in a leg lock and they don’t tap, let it go and talk about it. We’re all friends and teammates here.
  1. Don’t Be “That Guy”


I hope to see you on the mat soon, and I’ll be watching for the leg lock . . .

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