The Beginner’s Guide To Leglocks In Jiu-Jitsu

Feb 11, 2023Jiu-Jitsu0 comments

Leglocks have long existed on the fringes of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A few specialists could make them work, but leg attacks were seen as a niche aspect of the sport. In recent years, however, systematic and strategic approaches to leg locking have enabled it to enter the mainstream. Leg locks are now ubiquitous, and every grappler needs to understand them. This in-depth article will break down the fundamentals of developing your own leg lock system.


Essential Leglock Skills

When talking about leg locks, people often narrowly focus on finishing techniques. But there are fundamental skills you must develop first before any specific submissions make sense:

Grip and Inside Position

Grip fighting is the gateway to real grappling. Without the ability to control your opponent’s body, applying techniques is hopeless. Grips enable you to dictate positioning, break down posture, off-balance, and manipulate limbs. Inside position refers to getting at least one of your feet/legs in between your opponent’s limbs. This could be between their ankles, at their knees, hips, or other points. Inside position gives you access to enter leg attacks. It’s very hard to attack the legs when both your feet are outside your opponent’s frame. Develop a positive grip fighting game that targets limbs aggressively with purpose. Work towards inside position immediately – don’t allow your legs to dangle haphazardly. Consistently achieving dominant grips and inside position is the foundation of any good guard.

Distance and Connection

When attacking legs, you want sufficient connection so that your opponent can’t just retract their limbs and escape. But you also can’t be so close that you lose leverage. There’s an art to finding the exact distance where you have both control and space to apply force. Strive to eliminate any unnecessary space while retaining just enough room to utilize leverage. As you improve, you’ll develop a keen sense for the perfect distance at which to apply any given leg lock. Getting this timing right is nuanced, but vitally important.

Breaking Opponents Down

Once grip and inside position is achieved, you must be able to break your opponent’s posture. Their legs need to be exposed and put in vulnerable positions where leg locks can be applied. Gripping should be for a purpose – to dismantle your opponent’s base and drag them into leg entangling scenarios. Against good opponents, you can’t just jump for legs haphazardly. Use your grips to off-balance your opponent and force their hips down towards the mat.

Negating Resistance

When you actually attack a leg lock, your opponent will resist. They’ll defend aggressively because they want to avoid getting submitted. You need skills to neutralize your opponent’s defences so they can’t block or escape your leg attacks. Create constant dilemmas where every time your opponent defends one submission, it puts them at risk of another attack. The more interconnected submissions you can tie together into a web, the harder it becomes for your opponent to effectively resist. Never rely on isolated techniques – make your opponent deal with layers of threats.

Generating Heel Exposure

Once you get through your opponent’s initial defences, you need to control and manipulate their legs to generate heel exposure. This may involve peeling their toes back, rotating the leg medially or laterally, extending the knee joint, or using your own legs and core to tweak limb positioning. Different leg locks require exposing different parts of the heel and lower leg. Master exposing the heel both in tandem with your ashi garami leg control and when isolated on a single leg.

Breaking the Leg

The actual finish comes down to your ability to apply concentrated pressure into the leg to force your opponent to submit. Grips alone won’t finish leg locks (or any submission, for that matter). You must know how to wedge your body parts and generate opposing forces to attack ligaments and compress or stretch joints. Master applying downward elbow pressure, outward knee drive, inward hip motion, extending toes, and other directional finishing mechanics for maximum submission efficiency.

Trying to attack legs without these six core skills is putting the cart before the horse. Build your fundamentals first, get effective at generating reactions and controlling positions, then add the submissions.

Key Leglock Positions

Grappling is an interplay of relative positioning. Certain configurations lend themselves particularly well to leg locks. Master these key positions:

Straight Ashi Garami

This refers to any position where your opponent’s leg crosses your hip without going over your centerline. Their leg stays on one side. For example, an outside ashi garami, where your opponent’s leg goes over your hip, with your leg triangling over top of their thigh. There are endless variations – such as 4-11, 50/50, saddle – but they all involve the straight, non-crossing leg configuration.

Cross Ashi Garami

Here your opponent’s leg crosses your centerline. For example, their right leg goes over your right hip, crossing your midline. This includes positions like a standard heel exposure inside ashi garami. You have access to foot locks and knee bars because of the leg crossing over your center.

Reverse Ashi Garami

In this case, you face the same direction as your opponent, rather than towards them. Such as sitting on their chest with both their legs in front of you. Reverse ashi puts you in position for toe holds and calf slicers.

There are many possible variants of each position, but mastering these three major categories will allow you to apply your essential leg-locking skills in grappling.

Key Leglock Principles

In addition to concrete techniques and skills, overarching conceptual principles also underpin effective leg locking. Some of the most important:

  • Double Trouble Principle: Controlling just one of your opponent’s legs severely limits your attacks. Whenever possible, tie up and control both legs so they can’t defend.
  • Dilemma Principle: Put your opponent in lose-lose situations. Escape one submission, end up in another. The more interconnected submissions you can link together, the more effective you’ll be.
  • Percentage Principle: Not all leg locks are created equal. Prioritize high-percentage submissions like inside and outside heel hooks over low-percentage techniques you may see on YouTube.
  • Central Problem Principle: In every position, there is a core issue driving the action. Identify the central problem and solutions open up.
  • Separation Principle: Isolate controlling your opponent from breaking/submitting them. Don’t try to do both at the same time.
  • Hierarchy Principle: Understand which positions and subs are most valuable so you can focus your training effectively.
  • Opposing Forces Principle: When finishing leg locks, create pressure in opposite directions across the joint for maximum submission efficiency.
  • Holistic Principle: Leg locks work best in combination, not as isolated techniques. It’s a process that begins long before the actual finish.
  • Multiple Ashi Garami Principle: Use different leg controls in sequence for different purposes rather than relying on just one.
  • Closed Wedges Principle: Prefer closed wedges where one leg reinforces the other over open configurations for control.

These principles contain endless insights to guide your development. Keep them front of mind as you train.

Developing Strategic Thinking

Learning techniques and sequences is great, but insufficient to reach your potential. You must develop strategic thinking skills. This enables you to dynamically problem solve, even when opponents resist or scenarios rapidly change. Regard every position first in terms of the core problems it presents for both you and your opponent. Observe how experts solve those problems by applying essential skills and principles. Start simply – don’t immediately jump for submissions. First control positions, create reactions, off-balance your opponent. Chain simple steps together systematically, building your way towards a finish against an opponent trying to shut you down. Strategic thinking allows you to troubleshoot on the fly when things don’t go as planned. Stay focused on fundamentals, keep exploring through live rolling, and dedicate yourself in practice. Your strategic understanding will evolve over time as your experience deepens. Thinking strategically is challenging, but immensely rewarding. It’s what allows grappling mastery.

Master Leglocks At Apex MMA

The leglock game still has so much untapped potential. Approach it with an open mind, focused on fundamentals and principles. Let your leg lock system develop organically rather than forcing techniques. The instructors at Apex MMA teach leg locks in this systematic, conceptual way. Come try a fundamentals class or claim your free 7-day trial to experience how a strategic curriculum can accelerate your growth on the mats.

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Team Apex MMA Martial Arts Coach
Apex MMA is a specialist mixed martial arts gym focusing on Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Led by an experienced team of instructors, Apex MMA offers comprehensive training programs for students of all ages and skill levels. With Apex MMA's systematic teaching methods, passion for martial arts, and strong community relationships, you will gain the tools to succeed in the gym and beyond.
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