Leglocks: The Great BJJ Neutralizer

Leglocks in a grappling competition can quickly turn the tide on the outcome of a match.  In the blink of an eye, one competitor can go from being apparently dominated to having his arm raised via submission win.  But there are a few things you should know before you go to your club and try to practice getting good at these things.

The first- most important- thing to know about leglocks is that they are dangerous without proper education.  With the right supervision and understanding, leglocks can be practiced as safely as armlocks.  However, that’s a big problem for most gyms.  There is very little education available at many traditional BJJ schools because the instructor either simply doesn’t know much about leglocks, or he or she feels they are too dangerous to be practiced at all.  Some gyms take a hard line on the latter approach and impose rules such as “no leglocks at all below purple belt.”  This is actually the most dangerous approach of all, because it breeds fear, not understanding.

The second thing to know about leglocks is that they shouldn’t be thought of as exchanging one’s position for a hail Mary shot at finishing a match.  This is contrary to the strategy of every single high level leg-locker I’ve ever had the opportunity to discuss the subject with.

Now, once you’re past the “disclaimers” (see also the article on 5 Myths about Leglocks), here’s the heart of the matter.  Leg attacks can help you win a fight you might otherwise lose.  Perhaps the best example of this in MMA is Masakazu Imanari vs Mike Brown:

 If you look around enough, you’ll find dozens of examples of this happening in a grappling match.  However, there is one match that sticks out in my mind as the turning point for leglocks in sport BJJ (with the gi).  Before 1999, leg attacks were widely booed in BJJ competition in Brazil.  However, that all changed to some degree with one brutal submission:  a toe hold by Rodrigo “Comprido” Medeiros against “Roleta” Roberto Magalhães.  This wasn’t just any match, either- it was the finals of the absolute division at black belt, the most important match of the year for both of these great competitors.  Roleta’s guard was considered by many to be unpassable.  It was ridiculously crafty and innovative.

Comprido showed the limitations by popping on a super fast toe hold.  It was a real wake-up call for those of us who let our feet dangle in the open guard back then, and the beginning of my personal education in leglock safety.  Check out 1:17 at the video below:

A new generation of competitors in the US, Brazil, Japan, and all over the rest of the world continue to improve the ever-evolving leglock game.  If you can safely integrate these attacks into your arsenal, you can overcome a grappler who might otherwise have your number.  Be sure to practice leglocks safely and often!

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