Leglocks, or “leg locks” as they are sometimes called, represent 50% of the joint attacks you can possibly do. They are increasingly important at the higher levels of BJJ and grappling competition. In fact, at the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships in 2011, there were more leglocks than ALL other submissions combined!
Nevertheless, they are seldom practiced with as much regularity as armlocks or chokes. Rather, they are frequently absent from entire BJJ curriculums across the world. Why? The following is a list of five reasons these incredibly effective attacks are feared rather than utilized.
1. Leglocks are more dangerous than upper body submissions.
This myth has the most merit IF the leg attacks are practiced in an environment where there is little to no supervision. If you are reading this and you are practicing with your buddies in your garage, you really might want to consider a “no leglocks” rule. Otherwise, if you’re at a gym where you trust your training partners and your instructor, leglocks can be a safe (and fun) part of your training. That said, you have to abide by the rules set at your gym. If your gym doesn’t allow certain attacks below a certain belt level, you absolutely must follow this rule in the interest of safety. You have to trust your instructor and the rules he or she has set!
With proper education as to what is being damaged by each submission, there is no reason leg locks can’t be practiced with regularity. This is a giant caveat, though- everyone believes they understand when to tap from a Kimura, for example, but if you watch Mir vs Nogueira part 2, the area is a little bit more gray. The same is true of a heel hook, kneebar, or toe hold! With very little force, you can break large joints in the body and even fracture bones in special circumstances. You can even shred ligaments, which can take far longer to heal than damage from broken bones. This is true of all joint locking submissions!
2. Leglocks are low percentage techniques, and you will give up your position by going for them.
This is perhaps the most egregious myth about leglocks. First, there is a right and a wrong time to attempt a leglock. The wrong time is when you have a dominant position, and going for the leglock means you are likely to give up the dominant position if you miss it. This “catch” philosophy need not permeate your grappling experience at all. On the other hand, unorthodox attacks from dominant position may catch your opponent off guard. That said, as a general rule, you are always going to play “position before submission” when you’re rolling, and this includes leg attacks!
Second, there is a right and a wrong way to attempt leg locks. I won’t spend any more time talking about the wrong way, but the right way involves using the leg attack to sweep from the bottom, or to pass the guard when your opponent defends the leglock, or to keep your own guard from being passed. In short, leglocks should be used to improve your position, not the other way around.
3. They’re illegal in competition, so why train them?
This is the easiest myth to debunk. One look at US Grappling’s very clear rules and you can immediately see that some leglocks are allowed in all adult divisions (straight ankle locks for everybody, and kneebars for all no-gi competitors). Toe holds, calf slicers, and heel hooks (among others) are much more restricted, only allowed in a certain few divisions.
Further, competition isn’t everything. There are three aspects of grappling that exist beyond just rolling at the gym, and only one of them is sport BJJ or grappling competition. MMA is another, and most leglocks are typically allowed in MMA fights (although this is well worth investigating, as each state has its own set of rules, some different from amateur to pro!). The third is self defense, and there are exactly zero techniques that aren’t allowed when you’re defending your life! May as well know the most devastating way to end a fight.
4. Leglocks should only be taught at purple belt and above.
If a student is planning to compete at all before purple belt, this is a terrible idea. Nearly all tournaments allow some leglocks before purple belt. Getting a general idea of the submissions that are below the waist is a very good idea, even if you don’t plan to use them yourself when you compete. They could well be used against you, and you had better (at least) know how to tap!
Further, inadvertent leglocks actually do come up fairly frequently at the gym. If you know you’re putting your training partner in danger, you are far less likely to injure him or her!
5. They are far too complicated to execute properly.
This is another dangerous, misleading myth, often propagated by those who don’t understand leglocks well enough to teach them to their students. There are a few leglocks that are, indeed, complicated. There are some, however, that are disgustingly simple to execute.
If anything complicated was shunned, we’d never have such an amazing evolution within our sport! Just watch any highlight video, leglock based or otherwise, and you’ll see an incredible array of increasingly complicated techniques that challenge the mind. Without more complicated stuff, jiu jitsu suddenly gets pretty boring.
The bottom line: educate yourself! Don’t live in the dark with regard to leg attacks. Instead, let knowledge overcome fear, and you can add these amazing attacks into your game, often beating an otherwise more technical opponent.