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The Curious Case of Leg-Locks

The Curious Case of Leg-Locks

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a fantastical martial art and sport for it gives people the opportunity to train and compete in combat-like situations in a safe manner. By safe, I do not mean the techniques are not effective; an arm-lock will do serious damage to both your shoulder and elbow joint given the right opportunity, but with the correct training both you and your training partners learn to recognise the danger of these situations and simply tap.

The principle of safe and effective techniques is one we can credit to Judo.

Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kudokan Judo, believed this was the best method in which to train his students – safe and effective – as it allowed them to develop fighting skills against a resisting opponent, but the rate of injury in training was severely reduced. (Eye gouges are all well and good in theory, but try to find a willing person to practice them on.) This meant his students had practical, combat experience reinforcing the Kata (technique or theory).

One particular set of techniques, however, was seen as unsafe for use in Randori (free practice or sparring) by Kano, and although catalogued, have always been a banned attack: leg locks. This bias against foot submissions has certainly carried over into BJJ – you’ve only to look at the illegality of reaping the knee in the majority of competition rules to see that.

However, I’m going to argue a few simple reasons as to why you shouldn’t fear the reaper in your weekly training, and even implement a few foot-locks into your game:

  1. Understanding the proper application makes it safer to train

    Just as with arm-locks, understanding when you’re in danger and having a healthy respect for the potential damage that can occur, makes things like toe holds and heel hooks safer to practice. In the same way that we don’t expect our training partners to rip our arms off, nor should we train with the expectation that they’re going to honestly attempt to take our ACL home with them.

  2. It assists you in passing

    Masakazu Imanari, nicknamed “The Grandmaster of Leg Locks”, actually said he developed his style purely from his inability to pass the guard, but the two can work quite well in tandem. A legitimate threat of a leg lock means that your opponent must play their guard in a different way, and actually in doing so opens up opportunities for you to pass the guard.

  3. Other people are training them

    As stated before, a good number of competitions have rules which are biased against twisting foot attacks. However, this is not all of them e.g. ADCC and NAGA. People at the highest level are using all manner of foot submissions. To get to that level yourself, you must develop a working understanding of this element of the game, even if only for defensive purposes.

Now, I’m not saying that these techniques should be in the day one syllabus for every white belt, but I do believe that introducing them before brown and black belt – when they typically become legal to use in competition – is beneficial to both your safety and your effectiveness in the world of BJJ.


- Nogi