The problem with heel hooks… Or rather the problem with the way they’re learned…

There’s been a lot of argument on the interwebs over the past few days about heel hooks as a result of a match between two teen girls at the EBI over the weekend.  One of the girls who has been featured on jiu jitsu times executed a heel hook on the other girl and the girl being heel hooked did not tap in time, it was a troubling situation.  Are heel hooks more dangerous than other submissions?


Heel hooks are scary in that if you are spazzy with a heel hook either in defending or in applying catastrophes will likely happen.  For this reason, most people are not taught heel hooks early enough for it to really become part of their “jiu jitsu DNA” and as a result there is a certain inherent fear of the heel hook.

There’s also a bit of history with lower extremity submissions, specifically the Luta Livre vs BJJ rivalry and the competition between the Gracies and Oswaldo Fadda.  I’m going to go ahead and leave those details out of this analysis, but I wanted to address that they do play a role in the grand scheme.

Heel hooks need to be respected.  They also need to be taught with precision and delicacy that very few other submissions are granted.

I always like to use the kimura as a submission that I cite when discussing the heel hook.  If I tighten the kimura before cranking on it, it can injure the other person as quickly and as catastrophically as a heel hook.  Given the anatomy of the hips, the knee and the ankle, a heel hook is already relatively tight before any sort of cranking goes on, so it is fundamentally similar to a kimura applied once everything is elongated and positioned correctly.

Just as one should tap as soon as that kimura is set up, one should be ready to tap as soon as the heel hook is set up, think of it as a grapplers’ version of a checkmate, no reason to keep moving pieces.  On the other side of things, if I apply a kimura with the intention of ripping the other guy’s arm off if he’s not familiar with the kimura he won’t have time to tap, the pain will set in simultaneously with injury, like a heel hook.

Now, I know that medically speaking the heel hook and the kimura are two very different beasts, but when it comes to the potential explosiveness and time off if the submission is not treated with respect, similarities exist.

But here’s the catch: we’re taught kimuras from day 1, by the time people are legitimately trying to rip our arms out, we have a grasp of when to tap, heel hooks on the other hand are dangerously neglected, most people only start to learn them once they’re legal for them to do in tournaments.  This might be problematic.

What do you think of heel hooks?  When did you first learn the heel hook?  What do you think of the analogy of a heel hook vs a perfectly set up and applied kimura?  If you had been taught heel hooks since day 1 would your opinions be the same?


  1. The view that many people have on heel hooks is silly. Alot if academies never teach them or if they do, not until higher belts. This , i feel is part of the danger. Where i train, we do them in the all levels class but we only work the technique and position, then the defences. I dont roll with a white belt and throw on abheel hook because the inevitable whitebelt reaction of spazing out will enevitably injur them.

    We dont normally allow them in gi unless both partners agree in advance and are reasonably experienced. They are allowed in no gi but in all cases the fact that we all know the position, and the lack of ego in my academy contribute to a safe environment. My training partners know how to grab a heel hook and allow me time to respect the move, just like any sub. And i have the respect to either try a technical escape during setup, or tap as soon as i recognize the sub coming together if its not easily escapable. You will not see someone furiously trying to roll out of a heelhook like its an omoplata or positional escape because from day 1 (or nearly) we learn the move, how it works, why it works and how to respect it.

    Like all jiujitsu, heel hooks have great potential and for this reason require great respect.

  2. “I tighten the kimura before cranking on it, it can injure the other person as quickly and as catastrophically as a heel hook.”
    That’s just untrue. Being able to walk is a far more advantageous ability than being able both arms. Cite for me one person who does not agree with this.

    Regarding your timing assertion; any submission can be performed with sufficient speed and pressure that tapping cannot be performed quickly enough to prevent injury once the pressure is felt. The only alternative is to tap before any pressure is applied or roll sufficiently slowly that this is not an issue.

    What it really comes down to is the following:
    Do you want to compete in sport that more or less closely approximates actual combat? If you want it to be more, you need to allow heel hooks. If you want it to be less, than you need to be for the ban of heel hooks.


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