Rock, Paper, Scissors, Leg Lock

I’ve already discussed the value of leg locks in modern Jiu-Jitsu; why would you ignore them? I’d like to take a little more time to talk strategy and where they fit into the conversation (in my humble opinion).

*Warning* This article will encourage you to learn and reflect on your practice.
First off, I would like to say that forbidding leg locks in training or in competition is the equivalent to telling a boxer that they are not allowed to use a certain type of punch.

You are removing effective techniques, and thereby limiting your ability to develop a comprehensive knowledge of submissions and grappling. 

I was asked recently how I can switch from using leg locks in training to not using them in competitions that ban them. I thought it was an interesting question, but my answer is pretty simple; I try to be one hundred percent aware in every exchange, be it in the gym or on the competition mats.

I try to dedicate one hundred percent of my focus on intentionally applying techniques and thinking about my next move. Obviously this is a  pursuit of that ‘flow state’ or ‘state of no mind’ that takes a lifetime, and I still feel like I have a long way to go, but it is the focus of my pursuit.

Mentally, I’m trying to prepare every day for any eventuality in grappling; being choked unconscious, having a limb broken, or being the one to inflict the former or latter. The reality of hard training or preparation is simple; prepare for everything so that nothing surprises you. This is crucial to what I’m trying to say here in this article. *I can’t remember who passed that lesson onto me, but thank you.

This leads us, in a roundabout way, back to leg locks. I’m fortunate enough to have some very proficient & open minded coaches and training partners who have entertained the inclusion of leg locks in training. Strategically, they are included in every conversation I have with my coaches & training partners when it comes to strategizing or rolling.

As I’ve come to understand it, leg locks are just like everything else; they are effective techniques that work soundly when applied in the correct circumstances. Leg Locks are not the trump card, just as an arm bar or rear naked choke is not the solution to every problem. All techniques are (or should be) sound within their given contexts.

 For example, I cannot apply a rear naked choke if I am playing from a top position and my opponent is on their back. I first have to consolidate a position where that choke is available from. The same is true with a leg lock. I first have to reach a position from which I can apply the technique correctly and achieve a submission. Having a broader understanding of techniques and how they fit in will always help me to comprehend what works and when.

Whenever I hear a practitioner labeled as a “leg lock guy” I always find myself thinking about what else it is they must be efficient at to successfully access positions that allow them to get to leg locks. No one magically just bumps fists and is suddenly balls deep in an inside heel hook; it takes strategy and development to get to the finish, just like any other submission.

I have seen practitioners look confused or shocked when being attacked or submitted with leg locks, but this is not black magic or secret sorcery that the leg locker has developed; it is purely because of a deviation from standard pathways that their opponent did not prepare for. Breadth of knowledge is invaluable in a discipline that promotes creativity and punishes predictability.

Having more knowledge is never going to serve you badly in grappling; engaging with leg locks- or indeed any aspect of grappling that you are not familiar with- will enable you to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how best to break limbs and strangle people.

If Jiu-Jitsu was a game of rock, paper, scissors; the practitioner who knows how to play rock, paper, scissors and leg lock wins.

Thanks for reading,


2 thoughts on “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Leg Lock

  1. Great article! Where do you stand on heel hooks in rolling? Should they only be practiced by higher belts or do you think more emphasis on the early tap will be enough to prevent serious and frequent injuries in the lower belts?

    1. Thanks dude. I’m a firm believer that any injury can be avoided by teaching a person how to defend properly and when to tap. It’s the same with any submission and I believe that heel hooks are only dangerous when improper precautions are taken. However I will always respect the etiquette and rules of any gym/ competition and their policy on what is permissible on the ants.

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