Are Leg Locks “Cheap”?

Very often, I see people accuse leg-lockers of simply doing so because they don’t know how to do anything else.  I also hear people refer to leg locks as dirty or cheap.  I would contend that if the point of jiu-jitsu is to find the most efficient means to subdue another person without suffering damage, leg locks are as legitimate as any other family of submissions, if not more so.

I would like to disclaim this with the statement that if you don’t know how to pass the guard, or if you don’t know other submissions, leg locks will likely fail you.  But here’s the thing: leg lock specialists usually have other weapons in their arsenal.

A well applied leg lock is truly an equalizer on the mat.  While upper body submissions can be addressed using strength and explosiveness, a leg lock gives the attacker the ability to nullify their opponent’s athletic abilities in a way that other submissions simply don’t.  Case in point: a competitor has a much higher likelihood of finishing a heel hook on an opponent twice their size than an arm bar simply due to the dexterity of the arms and the hands.

I would also argue that leg locks get a bad rap.  If you respect leg locks and tap to them the same way you tap to upper body submissions, your chances of suffering injuries in training and in competition go down substantially.  I’ve been injured many more times by arm locks than I have by leg locks.  And yet in competition when I slap on a tight choke or arm bar people are way less hesitant to tap than when I get to an Achilles lock or even a heel hook that has potential to do just as much or more damage.

So why are leg locks considered cheap?  Why does our culture frown upon them?

Well, because the Gracies were elitists and their students used to get beaten with leg locks by the students from Oswaldo Fadda’s academy.  It’s really that simple.  What better way to discredit one’s opponents than to refer to their perfectly valid techniques as “cheap” or “dirty”?

If you are unable to attack an opponent’s entire body, you are inherently going to be a less efficient combatant.  If the objective of jiu-jitsu is to create counterbalance, distraction, and misdirection in order to impose ones will, then all techniques are just as “cheap” as leg locks.  If I attack an arm bar and then when my opponent defends I transition to a triangle and then an omoplata, how is that any different than distracting an opponent with an attempt to pass their guard and when they’re not expecting it sitting back for a leg lock?  Subterfuge is an important part of the game and doesn’t de-legitimize any technique.

The short answer is… it’s not.  Leg locks aren’t cheap.  When done correctly they’re effective and they have potential to be the purest of jiu-jitsu techniques because of their efficiency and efficacy.


  1. Emil, I think this is a fascinating argument. However, I’m not sure where your sources are about Gracie competitors being submitted with leg attacks comes from. Do you have a source you are drawing from that you could share?

      • Thanks for the follow up! It shows a perspective I haven’t otherwise been exposed too.

        How do you feel about the idea that leg locks are inherently more ‘dangerous’ than other submissions? Or perhaps that they distract from positional dominance? These are the justifications that I was given during my training (which was under a Helio lineage school)

        • Leg locks are in fact inherently more dangerous than other submissions because most competitors don’t learn them early enough thus creating a culture of ignorance around them. Moreover most people possess a lower level of dexterity below the waist. However, if trained properly with proper instruction from instructors who understand leg locks they can be perfectly safe. I crank on heel hooks all day with the training partners that I trust, and fortunately have never seriously injured any of them. Maybe some bruised tendons, but never anything worse than that in the training room.

          As far as positional dominance, if you view a perfectly executed leg lock positioning as being as lethal as a locked out armbar or locked in RNC, I would disagree with you. But again, if you train under someone who doesn’t know their ass from a hole in a ground insofar as leglocks go, you’re probably going to get fucked in competition.

          As for Helio, your system, etc


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