Leg Locks: talked about by most, employed by some and feared (unnecessarily) by many. Leg Locks are definitely the current ‘flavor of the week’ in submission grappling, but why? Leg Locks have been employed for longer than their current climb in popularity, yet there is still some stigma around their use, with many techniques being deemed illegal for competition or even considered ‘too dangerous’ for the training room.
I’d like to explore this topic a little bit for the benefit of you as the reader and hopefully to reflect some different ways of thinking about Leg Locks within Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
In a recent episode of the ever popular Joe Rogan Podcast, Joe interviewed Renzo Gracie Black Belt, John Danaher. Many within the Jiu-jitsu & MMA community know Danaher as a sought after coach, mentor and masterful tactician who has been key in bringing the popularity of leg entanglements and leg lock techniques to the fore.
In the interview with Rogan, Danaher references a conversation he had earlier in his jiu-jitsu career with the veteran grappler Dean Lister, who himself was a huge proponent of leg locks. Danaher recalls Lister saying: “Why would you ignore fifty percent of the body?”, and that it was this question that caused much of Danaher’s musings and developments around leg lock and lower body submission systems.
So why would we ignore fifty percent of the body? Many techniques considered ‘traditional’ in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu are executed upon the upper half of the body; strangles of the neck, arm locks and even spinal locks, but why has the bottom half of the body been neglected? It is worth asking this question. Many have made arguments from a variety of viewpoints, such as rule sets in competition, the relative danger & risk of injury with lower body attacks or otherwise. It is important to test the validity of any argument; especially ones that discourages learning or the access to new knowledge. This is fundamental critical thinking. What would we think if someone had arbitrarily pronounced that chokes were too dangerous for people to use in competition? Would we just ignore the neck of our opponents? The entire art of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is designed around effective and efficient manipulation of an opponent, there should be nothing excluded from that.
As someone who has always been encouraged by my coaches to be open-minded, I struggled to understand a lot of the fixed mindsets and dogma I encountered around leg attacks. The only time I’ve ever seen people injured by leg attacks was out of their own error (such as executing an unsafe escape attempt or by not tapping), never from the pure application of the technique. All techniques in Jiu-jitsu are dangerous when applied, that’s the whole point! An arm bar is designed to hyper-extend the elbow joint, a lapel choke or rear naked choke is designed to cut off blood supply to the brain… any given leg attack is no different and should be treated the same.
I do not think that it is sufficient for anyone who is striving to become a proficient grappler to avoid learning the application of any technique or how to protect oneself from any technique. Every practitioner will favor different approaches to attacking & defending and different styles of practicing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Why should we limit those styles?
Surely, if we want to see Brazilian Jiu-jitsu stay the seminal grappling art to learn for self defense and combat, we would keep looking to move the art forward and absorb techniques that allow us to reach a greater understanding of what it means to be a grappler. Personally, I feel a great sense of excitement at the thought of all the new avenues that new techniques open; I see new options for attacks and counters, more defenses and ways to protect myself to employ.
I guess for many practitioners this isn’t even really an argument I need to make considering how popular leg locks are becoming. In my opinion, I think the whole point is to see them simply as just another technique; another technique which we can allow to influence our practice in our pursuit to become better martial artists.
Thanks for reading,