The past couple of years have seen an explosion of submission-only events as well as the popularity and visibility of leg locks in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).
If you’ve been training in a gym with a curriculum that revolves around the IBJJF ruleset, you have likely emphasized upper body submissions, and leg locks are probably very new for you. So, where do you start, and how will you get better at them with the IBJJF restrictions practiced in the gym?
The beauty of leg locks is that you can transition between them, which means that working within IBJJF rules still gives you enough room to learn entries that will serve as the foundation of a more sophisticated leg lock game. Here are some tips for getting started.
1) Improve Your Straight Ankle Lock Finish
The only IBJJF legal leg lock allowed for white, blue, and purple belts is the straight ankle lock. It is a very effective submission, which can be devastating if done correctly. It also leads to reactions that set up many other attacks. A key detail to keep in mind is to apply the blade of your forearm to your partner’s Achilles heel and be sure to hold up your forearm to maintain the pressure.
2) Perfect Your Ashi Garami
Despite the many variations of applying pressure to the ankle, the most common and important component is the position to enter and maintain it—the ashi garami. When holding the ashi garami, try to keep your partner in the position by pushing down with your knee that is on his hip and ensuring that the same knee touches or covers your other heel. This will thwart his attempts to turn away or pull his leg out.
One of the bonuses of learning the ashi garami position is that it is also the launching pad for many other submissions, which makes the straight ankle lock not only a threat by itself but also a first step in a submission chain.
3) Experiment With Different Entries Into The Straight Ankle Lock
Now that you have a legitimate straight ankle lock submission and the means to hold the position through the ashi garami, it’s time to explore different ways to enter it. You’ll quickly discover that the straight ankle lock can be applied from a wide range of positions, including x-guard, single leg x-guard, De La Riva, passing open guards, and even side control. While finishing the submission is the ultimate goal, leg lock experts, such as John Danaher, recommend that leg locks be initiated more from a bottom position. The rationale is twofold: 1) being in the top position in a self-defense situation is an incredibly advantageous position in itself that should be advanced, and 2) learning to pass the guard is a practical, fundamental skill that needs continuous attention and development.
One interesting observation you’ll make as you explore different entries is that just the threat of ankle locks can later limit your partner’s game and even force unfavorable reactions. Make sure, though, that it is a legitimate threat!
4) Enter The Inside Sankaku
The inside sankaku is considered one of the most dangerous positions in the leg lock system because of how it limits your partner’s options and the number of submissions that are available to you. Entering it is a little tricky because of the IBJJF rule against knee reaping, but rest assured that there are effective and legal ways to do it. One of the key ways is to bait your opponent into entering the reap himself, such as in the smash pass position or hip switch counter to a butterfly sweep. When you enter the position, you cannot manipulate your partner’s near leg (the ankle open to an inside heel hook). From this position, you are free to ankle lock, knee bar, or toe hold.
5) Learn Transitions Into Knee Bars And Calf Crushers (Brown And Black Belt)
The next layer of leg locks features knee bars, calf slicers, and toe holds, which are only allowed for brown and black belt. The popularity of leg locks has spurred a sudden increase in knee bars being applied in competition.
6) Learn Toe Hold Entries And Submissions (Brown And Black Belt)
If you hold a black or brown belt, you need to capitalize on any opportunity you see when your opponent’s foot is exposed. To get into the toe hold, you can use the entry into the heel hook. Grab your opponent’s foot with your hand closest to them and form a figure-four grip with your opponent’s foot and both your hands. Once this is secure, twist your opponent’s ankle to finish the submission. From here, you can transition to other leg locks.