Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years and paid zero attention to BJJ competitions and trends, you have no doubt watched the incredible rise in attention that the lower half of the body has been getting in jiu jitsu. As more and more competitions rise up to challenge the dominant authority of the IBJJF, there come new rule sets that encourage the use of leg attacks along with the traditional menu of submissions.
Long gone are the days when students are expected to simply learn to break or maintain guard, pass that guard or sweep that opponent, and work for some sort of something or dominant position focusing on the upper half of the body. The fundamentals and concepts of closed guard, half guard, and pressure passing no longer completely dominate the new student’s lexicon. Terms like “ashi garami”, “sankaku” and “kazushi” now get thrown around as much as “bro”.
The time is here for you to step out of the early 90’s and begin exploring the lower half of the body to help you become a leg lock ace.
So now, here you are, finally ready to stop ignoring 50% of the human body when you’re training jiu jitsu? Wait, what. You didn’t hear BJJ black belt and jiu jitsu mastermind John Danaher on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast? If you missed it, during that podcast, he recalls a brief comment made to him by the one and only Dean Lister concerning the nature of his BJJ game plan.
John Danaher had earned his black belt from the legend Renzo Gracie and had classically trained in Renzo’s brand of traditional BJJ which taught the importance of breaking guard, passing guard, achieving dominate positions and submitting opponents. For Danaher and nearly every practitioner at this time, there would have been very little time spent on lower body submissions, for a variety of reasons. He had come up in a lion’s den with people like Matt Serra, Ricardo Almeida and Ryan Gracie. There was little reason to question his jiu jitsu upbringing or philosophy, until a west coast grappler crossed his path.
That fateful day when John had been admiring some work on the straight ankle lock that Dean was showing as a guest of Matt Serra at the Renzo Gracie Academy and as someone who was not adept in leg locks he engaged Dean in conversation. This conversation would help change the course of the training in the Renzo Gracie Academy in a matter of minutes.
During that brief conversation, he made a statement that completely changed Danaher’s point of view related to BJJ in general and submissions specifically. The statement or question was, “Why would you ignore 50% of the human body?” Lister was referring to the commonly held belief that lower body submissions were (insert myth of your choice from that time) 1)Cheap or dirty techniques, 2)Ineffective submissions, or 3)Dangerous to learn or practice.
Danaher went back to his laboratory with this change in perspective and began taking another look at jiu jitsu as he understood it. From that change in perspective, grew the philosophy of submission grappling that has spawned athletes such as Eddie Cummings, Garry Tonon and Gordon Ryan, with many more on the way.
Simultaneously, grappling pioneers like Eddie Bravo who was working on the Left Coast on his system of grappling meant to maximize one’s ability to control and submit opponents in the world of Mixed Martial Arts. Eddie too, sought to maximize the number of submissions available in the cage. This led to a strong foundation of lower body submissions within his 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu curriculum.
Until fairly recently, practitioners were more than likely limited to learning the occasional straight ankle lock or knee bar. With the rise of so many new competitive stages and competitors battling it out on those stages who are specializing in leg attacks, more and more academies are opening their doors and minds to the other half of the body.
The truth is that lower body submissions are no longer widely thought to be cheap or dirty. This old school mentality probably grew out of the fact that it seemed to be a way for someone to circumvent passing the guard, which was seen as the be all end all starting point for jiu jitsu dominance. As Garry Tonon has said on a number of occasions regarding the underlying principle of efficient and effective submissions being the number one goal in a jiu jitsu match, why would he spend 15 wasted minutes trying to pass some masterful guard player’s guard when he can simply secure a quick, efficient and devastating leg lock?
And the question of whether lower body submissions are effective is quite silly when you see the vast number of high level matches from up and coming promotions to the highest renowned stages like the ADCC finishing with devastating leg attacks. A probably secured leg lock can be the most effective submission you can land.
The question of the relative danger of the techniques is something we must look at in a little more depth. First and foremost, any submission can be dangerous and can cause damage physically to an opponent. Any submission can also be dangerous within the training academy if the practitioners are not educated on the risks and the move is not practiced safely. The same goes for lower body submissions. With proper education from experienced instructors and a safe training environment, the techniques can be practiced with the utmost safety.
Both practitioners must strive to be aware of not only the mechanics of the technique but the most complete understanding of the technique they can gain. According to Garry Tonon, a grappler must know all of the different reactions that are possible when applying a technique and all of the potential routes into and out of the proper positioning to make sure that the technique perfectly fits the scenario that is presenting itself at that time.
Leg locks become like any other technique you can learn. Non-intuitive, perhaps confusing at first, but with time you are able to get yourself acclimated to the positions and entries into those positions. Once you have become comfortable getting into some of the basic positions like ashi garami, outside ashi, 411, etc. you will begin to see opportunities for leg locks and your journey will have finally begun.
As you’ve already experienced in your jiu jitsu training, some techniques come easier than others. Regardless of someone’s innate ability to absorb and begin to implement a position or technique into their game plan, few people would ever argue that jiu jitsu is easy for anyone. The masters of any particular position or technique came by that mastery with a lot of sweat and many, many hours on the mats refining those techniques. So why not start today and get on your way to becoming a leg lock ace. We’ve got some resources that will help you on your way to becoming a terror on the mats.
In the video below, you are able to hear in John Danaher’s own words the story of how Dean Lister’s almost off-handed comment regarding the lower half of the body changed his thinking and his approach to BJJ. The video perfectly blends the interview from Danaher with highlight footage of the great Dean Lister who stands as one of the pioneer American grapplers, but also more specifically as one who was capitalizing on the effectiveness of the leg submission nearly a decade before the rest of the jiu jitsu world fully recognized their efficacy and value.
One of the key ideas that should stick with us from this short video is the way that such a small moment in time completely shifted John Danaher’s mindset. If nothing else, we should always keep an open mind and be listening for the information that could potentially shift our perspective and set our BJJ course for the remainder of our practice.
One of the cornerstone techniques of any grappler who is beginning to explore the world of leg locks, is the straight foot lock, often referred to as the achilles lock as well. In this video from his K.A.T.C.H. leg attack system, Dean teaches all of his fundamental details to the straight foot lock.
In this video, Dean Lister workshops the various grips that one can employ when doing the straight foot lock. With his vast experience, he has seen a number of variations and discusses them all, explaining while his method may be different, it is also has been highly effective against some of the toughest competitors in history. He recommends a guillotine style grip coupled with a mid-forearm blade placement on the calf. Coupled with a collapsed elbow and good posture, the effect will be devastating on the opponent.
Dean also details the importance of controlling the hip on the outside of the thigh and controlling the opposite hip on the free leg to ensure the opponent cannot be too mobile and find a way out. One key mistake that can often be made is to disregard the leg that we are not attacking which can cause us issues with the finish of the technique.
In the next technique video, Dean Lister gets on the mats with 5 time world champion Bernardo Faria to teach his version of the heel hook. Bernardo was dominant during his competitive career in the gi and to see him eager to learn from one of history’s great pioneer leg lockers is a testament to the true jiu jitsu spirit of never being done learning.
Bernardo sums up the key takeaways from this heel hook from the Game Over or Russian Knee Knot position. They are to properly maintain distance using the legs. If at all possible, the ultimate Game Over is best with the legs intertwined and wrapped over both of the opponent’s legs will provide the best control.
The next take away is to always make sure ones hips are directed towards the opponents hips to create maximum torque on the opponent’s legs and knees. Without this additional hip placement, there is a chance they can roll into you and begin to escape.
The last key takeaway is the proper use of the grip, reminiscent of the first foot lock and ensuring that the grip on the heel be secured using the 2-3 inches between the wrist and the forearm to prevent slippage of the heel. The closer the grip is secured to the elbow crook and bicep, the more likely the heel may slip out.
To learn more about the game of Dean Lister, head over to BJJ Fanatics and check out his K.A.T.C.H. Leg Attack System or his 4 volume Leg Attacks and Grappling Hacks instructional. For less than the price of an average BJJ seminar, you can get yourself the entire Dean Lister leg submission collection and you may want to throw in Worry Free Escapes as well.