Here’s Why You Need To Learn How To Perform — And Not Simply Defend Against — Leg Locks

It was leg locks week in our BJJ school’s curriculum. Many of the students (predominantly blue belts) expressed enthusiasm. They had some experience with leg locks but recognized some gaps in their knowledge.

One white belt student arrived late to class and when he learned the topic would be leg locks, he couldn’t hide the disappointment in his facial expression.

“Ugh! I hate leg locks,” he said. “I just want to learn how to defend them!”

I can sympathize. Having your lower limbs twisted and cranked into bizarre configurations is not the most pleasant of experiences.

Jiu-jitsu innovator Eddie Bravo says “There are two types of people when it comes to leg locks: those who love leg locks and those who are afraid of leg locks.”

Why the opposite attitudes? I would say it mostly comes down to a basic level of knowledge of the potential hazards of leg locks and a level of knowledge on applying the various major techniques.

A little knowledge goes a long way to dispelling the myth that an IBJJF illegal knee reap will cause your training partners joints to explode like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. One of the common sayings about leg locks (more specifically heel hooks) is that there is little in the way of warning pain before a joint is damaged. And there is some validity to this. A heel hook being applied doesn’t carry the same level of early discomfort as a straight arm bar.

With this warning echoing in their heads, I’ve seen some BJJ students immediately panic tap when their opponent starts to apply a sloppy straight foot lock. Perhaps in their minds they narrowly avoided a catastrophic knee or ankle injury!

The solution lies in learning leg locks, not just how to counter them. This is a common misconception from strikers coming to MMA. Some say that they don’t want to learn to take someone down or perform a triangle choke; they just want to learn the defenses. But to learn effective takedown or submission defenses, you need to learn both sides of the attack and defense.

A key part of defending any technique is having an understanding of the elements of how and why the submission works and then denying your opponent those elements.

In our example of a straight foot lock, there are several main elements needed to get the tap. First, the opponent’s leg needs to be mostly extended straight. Second, the attacker needs a foot on your hip in the standard ashi garami to keep the distance.

With this information, you will know how to defend. In order to avoid getting your leg straightened, pull your opponent’s lapels and scoot your hips in tight. You will also know that you need to keep your opponent’s foot off of your hip.

By learning how to attack, you can deconstruct the elements that the opponent needs, then deny them.

This approach to learning attacks and defenses will go a long way to demystifying leg locks and removing some of your lack of confidence in the position.


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