When Should I Start Training Leg Locks?

Reader Question: Im a white belt with close to a year of BJJ. When should I start learning leg locks?

The Jiu-Jitsu Times: A great question. My opinion?

Not right away but within the first year of training.

Allow me to explain why I say “not right away”. Because leg locks are not as important as learning to escape, transitioning to dominant positions, and performing the basic submissions.

Your jiu-jitsu needs the foundation of those basic positions of passing the guard, getting to mount, or taking the back to control and submit more than it needs snatching leg submissions.

Yes, it is true that a lower belt can submit a higher belt with leg locks. But catching the occasional submission is not as conducive to your ultimate jiu-jitsu development as getting a solid command of the basic positions.

Listen to the cautionary tale of “Peter”. When Peter came to jiu-jitsu, he was stronger than the average grappler. Like all beginners, he got dominated by smaller, more experienced training partners. This was not fun for Peter. He didn’t like tapping to much smaller, less athletic guys.

Then he discovered the straight ankle lock. He got a few taps back and promptly tossed out every other BJJ technique! That is all he wanted to do. Why spend time trying to pass the guard? Just go for the ankle lock!

His training partners started to counter his ankle lock and the success evaporated. If he lost the ankle lock, the opponents quickly got on top and dominated him. In order to get the tap, he had to go full power and crank the foot lock quickly. Unfortunately, this didn’t allow his training partners to tap safely and several sustained minor injuries.

His instructor advised him this was not a wise strategy for his jiu-jitsu progress, then forbade him from using footlocks before finally kicking him out of the BJJ club.

Peter could have been a good fighter. But doing too many leg locks ruined his jiu-jitsu.

His is a more extreme story but similar, milder scenarios have played out in many BJJ academies: white belts getting injured from poorly understood leg locks applied without control, and less experienced students being seduced by early success and failing to train the fundamental positions.

Once you have a sense of all the basic positions, then go learn leg locks. ADCC Champion and leg lock master Dean Lister recommends starting with the basic ashi garami leg control, which is IBJJF legal and provides a solid foundation for the more advanced leg locks.

It is possible for more advanced belts who to have a poor understanding of the various leg lock positions; therefore, it is important to train leg locks at the lower belts. IBJJF rules prohibit many leg locks at the lower belts. That only means that you can’t use them in competition but you should still train the legs.

Attacking leg locks is not a substitute for learning how to pass the guard or practice sound positional jiu-jitsu.


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