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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Tropp

The Fear of BJJ Leg Attacks!

Knee Injury from BJJ leg attack
Leg attacks should be trained with a partner you trust

Why are people afraid of heel hooks, knee bars and ankle locks? Lets be completely honest, because you could end up with your knee blown to bits or leg torn to shreds.

If this happens and a person does crank a leg attack beyond the point of no return you most likely will not be able to train for months and its very likely you will end up having surgery.

This is a "worst case" scenario. Forget about the pain, the limping, the inconvenience of having to wear a brace, the rehabilitation and than refamiliarizing yourself with BJJ again. As well, there is going to be a fear you have to overcome similar to the first time you drive after a horrible car accident. Again, this is worst case and doesn't happen a lot.

Leg attacks are usually for advanced combat sports practitioners however you perhaps should be familiarizing yourself with them early in your training (Blue belt). Its good to ask your professor what they think about this.

How do we practice leg attacks safely?

  • Communicate with your partner. "hey, are leg attacks cool"?

  • Catch and Release, when you get a "bite" on the heel you should let go and move on to other attacks or positions

  • Train with people you trust and are comfortable with doing leg attacks with. These people will let you work escapes and positions minimizing the threat of injury or sprain.

  • Tap early and tap verbally. Let the person know they got the submission right away. Its better to be safe than sorry.

  • Go slow and remember "position before submission". The entry into leg attack positions should be fast however the hyperextension or twisting of the joint should be with extreme care. I.E. you can very quickly advance into leg attack opportunities such as 50/50, 411 (honey hole) or the SLX (reap) and than hold the heel hook in an effort to allow your opponent to respond.

What is a heel hook? A heel hook is a submission hold that involves twisting an opponent's heel in an attempt to hyperextend their leg. This can cause severe pain and joint damage, so it's important to be careful when applying heel hooks. People known for leglocks in BJJ are John Danaher, Gordon Ryan, Lachlan Giles and Craig Jones. What are the different variations of heel hooks in BJJ? There are a few different variations of heel hooks, including the straight heel hook, the grapevine heel hook, and the reverse heel hook, Inside and outside heel hook and backside 50/50 heel hook are just a few examples. Each variation involves slightly different technical insight, but they all aim to tear the various connective tissue within the knee and/or potentially hyperextend the opponent's leg. What is a leg lock? A leg lock is a submission hold that involves twisting or hyperextending an opponent's leg in an attempt to hyperextend the leg and/or force them to submit (tap). Leg locks can be extremely painful, so it's important to be careful when applying them. Some well-known practitioners of leg locks in BJJ are John Danaher, Gordon Ryan, Lachlan Giles and Craig Jones. In my opinion you should learn leg attacks when you’re ready. There is debate that you should not learn them when you start BJJ. Every school is different, and each instructor has a different method to guide your progression. Safety also plays a significant role in this particular area. Keep in mind that if you’re a competition school learning leglocks may not be part of the curriculum. IBJJF doesn’t allow leg attacks until brown belt I believe. (NO GI). You may have to work the attacks into your sequences with people you are comfortable drilling with or that are ok with these attacks.

10 reasons why you should be scared of BJJ heel hooks and leglocks. 1. They can be extremely painful. 2. You can get injured if you're not careful. 3. They can cause joint damage. 4. You could tap out and still get hurt. 5. Your training partners may not know how to properly apply them. 6. It's hard to escape from heel hooks and leg locks once they're applied. 7. There's a risk of getting hyperextended joints. 8. You could end up with a broken bone. 9. There's a chance of nerve damage. 10. Heel hooks and leglocks can end your BJJ career if you're not careful! 11. If you learn them at white belt you can get your blue belt faster? 10 reasons why you should not be scared of BJJ heel hooks and leglocks. 1. They can help you gain an advantage in a match. 2. You can learn to apply them safely. 3. They can be used as a defense against an opponent's attack. 4. With proper training, you can avoid injury while using heel hooks and leg locks. 5. Your training partners can help you get better at applying them correctly. 6. It's possible to escape from heel hooks and leg locks once they're applied. 7. There's no risk of getting hyperextended joints if you're careful. 8. You're unlikely to break a bone unless your opponent applies the hold incorrectly. 9. The chance of nerve damage is low if you tap out before the hold is fully applied. 10. Heel hooks and leglocks can be a useful part of your BJJ repertoire!

11. Its easier to tap someone who doesn’t know them =)

How can I safely apply heel hooks in BJJ? When applying heel hooks, it's important to be careful not to hyperextend your opponent's leg. You should also tap out if you feel any pain or discomfort, as this could indicate that the hold is too tight or that you're about to hyperextend their leg. Make sure you communicate with your training partner. Perhaps use the “catch and release” frame of mind. When you get the bite on a heel or knee, you can wait for your opponent to acknowledge the attack and continue training. The other problem with heel hooks is that by the time you start to feel the tension in your knee it may already be to late (snap). Be mindful and tap early to be safe until you are more proficient.

Feel free to email me with questions, or to submit an article for consideration.

Train safe,

Matthew Tropp | BJJ Report

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