As a white belt, when you first start out in training it can be overwhelming trying to learn the names of everything, the basic positions, the fundamental body movements and which submissions are which and which ones you are supposed to be most focused on. Once you have a little mat time under your belt, you inevitably will see other grapplers attacking the legs and obviously start to wonder if you should be doing that too. First and foremost, it’s important to talk to your instructor, they may have structured rules around this, or maybe not, it may be a case by case situation, but either way, talk to your instructor before going rogue and trying to break people’s knee’s. (obviously we aren’t actually breaking people’s knees)
There is definitely some controversy around when you should start learning leg locks. It’s interesting to me because I personally don’t really see the reasoning behind this. Are they more complex than other positions or attacks, it doesn’t feel like they are? Are they more dangerous than joint attacks on the arms? Again, it doesn’t feel like they are. As with any submission, we are putting extreme amounts of trust in our training partner to release the submission immediately upon us tapping. I mean, think about that for a minute. If the person you are training with decides not to stop the Kimura when you tap, your shoulder is going to get destroyed. So, if we trust our training partners not to rip our arms and upper body apart, it would stand to reason that we can trust them not to tear our legs apart too, right?
There are certainly some variations of leg locks where the submission comes on quick and can be very dangerous, such as most properly executed heal hooks, and with these types of submissions it might make sense to wait until the grappler is ready from a capability and respect standpoint. Personally, I feel this has much less to do with the color of the belt around their waist and much more to do with their outlook on the sport, and their mindset on the mats. There are going to be some students that come in with an ego and need to tap everyone to prove something to themselves, typically these students are going to be a bit more aggressive and unpredictable. It would make sense to not allow these students to attack certain submissions until they are able to get it under control. Whereas some students are going to come in on the other side of the spectrum and be overly cautious about keeping their training partners safe during training. In this situation, what’s the harm in letting them explore the more dangerous submissions?
It’s important to know that according to the IBJJF, the only leg lock that is acceptable in competition is a straight ankle lock. While other competitions may have other rules, the thing to note is that regardless of the rules, knowledge is power, no one submission should be your only plan of attack so therefore the rules changing between competition should not impact you much.
Let’s take a look at “Basic foot locks and leg attacks for BJJ white belts” by Warren Brooks.
The first leg attack shown is the IBJJF legal straight ankle lock. Warren starts standing with his opponent on their back playing an open guard position. Warren first needs to decide which leg he wants to attack. Once he decides which leg he will be attacking the steps between his opponent’s legs, splitting them with his leg, and ultimately his body as he grabs the ankle of the leg he plans to attack and pulls it to his hip. In this moment Warren has his left leg in front of his right leg with his left foot under his opponent’s butt. His left hand is cupping his opponent’s knee and his right arm is over the leg he plans to attack in preparation for the next step which will be getting a grip on the leg.
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From here Warren reaches his right arm under and around his opponent’s ankle with the goal of being able to reach his hand to his chest. To achieve this grip, he may need to turn slightly one way or the other in order to get the correct angle allowing for his grip to be as deep as possible.
At this point Warren now sits to his leg control position. To do this he simply brings his right foot that was previously behind him acting as a base for stability, to the outside of his opponent’s hip, making his feet close together and putting his knees on either side of the opponent’s knee. From here he sits straight down, (try not to fall backwards here, you will lose control of the knee and therefore, the attack will be compromised) and uses his grip on the opponent’s knee to pull himself in towards his opponent to ensure that their knee is above his knees (closer to his torso). It’s also necessary to note the position of his feet in this position. Warren’s left foot is between his opponent’s leg and his instep is hooked under his opponent’s right leg, whereas Warren’s right leg is on the outside of his opponent’s left leg (the one we are attacking) and his foot is “stepping” on his opponent’s left hip.
To finish the submission Warren likes to use what he calls the “tea cup” grip meaning he makes a fist “the cup” with his right hand (the arm that is gripping the opponent’s leg) and then supports that fist with the “saucer”, his other hand in a cupping like grip. From here he pinches his knees together and while pushing off of his left foot aims to put his nose on the mat. When looking to put your noes on the mat, think about looking up and away at a 45 degree angle, that’s the direction you want to go. Looking up and away as you start to put your nose on the mat will increase the pressure on your opponent’s ankle whereas turning into them will release pressure, or at the very least not increase the pressure. If the opponent has not tapped at this point, simply drive your hips into their leg and arch your back, continuing to look up and away.
The next leg submission Warren feels is appropriate for white belts is the toe hold. He likes to attack this submission from top half guard. He first get’s into position where his opponent is playing a Z guard or knee shield style half guard. Warren then sits heavy on the opponent’s bottom leg (the one in the half guard) and turns his shoulders and upper body to face directly into the opponent’s shin. This gives him visibility of the foot he plans to attack and moves him into a position from which he can reach everything easily.
The next step is to get the grip on the opponent’s foot. To get the grip Warren uses his right hand to grab over the opponent’s toes, keeping his thumb on the same side as his fingers and trying to get his grip as close to the end of the toes as possible for maximum leverage. Next Warren takes his left arm and takes it over his opponent’s leg and then reaches under the back of the opponent’s ankle, grabbing his right wrist with his left hand. He brings this grip assembly tight to his chest and then is in position to finish. In order to finish the toe hold from here Warren simply needs to push the big toe straight to the mat. Keeping your grips tight is imperative to a successful toe hold.
Finally, the last of the 3 top leg locks Warren feels are important and appropriate for white belts is the knee bar. Let’s dive in and look at this last tip from this leg locking wizard.
For this last submission we are looking at a knee bar from a similar top half guard position. The difference here is that this starting position we are assuming we started to pass and got our knee over the opponent’s leg, and they trapped out foot at the ankle, this is sometimes referred to as quarter guard. From this position Warren controls his opponent’s top side arm and sits on his opponent’s hip. Yes, literally sites on his opponent’s hip. From here he lifts his outside leg (the one that’s not trapped) and spins on the opponent’s hips “like spinning on a bar stool” stepping his outside leg over to the other side of his opponent’s legs.
From this position Warren scoops under the opponent’s top leg just above the ankle using his left arm while cupping over the leg in the same area with his right arm. To do this he will have to lean towards the opponent’s leg to reach. Once he established control of the opponent’s leg, he pulls the leg to his chest as he slides off of the opponent’s hips to his hip. He lets go of the opponent’s leg and swims his right arm to the inside for control. Pictured below is an example of what the position should look like at this point in the process.
To finish, Warren cups the back of his own right thigh with his right hand and stretches while pushing his hips forward, into the opponent’s knee to get the tap.
These are three of the safest, most basic leg attacks that Warren feels are acceptable, safe and effective for entry level white belts to begin experimenting with. Personally, what I like about white belts starting to learn these basic leg attacks from the beginning is I feel that it will allow them to more easily understand the more complex movements down the road without building any bad habits. Being aware of when your legs are at risk in competition is very important. Just because the submission is not legal in that one competition at this level, at some point it will be and if your entire game is based around these leg attacks not being legal you will be forced to start over and build a new game from the ground up once these submissions become legal. Build the right habits from the start and even if you aren’t attacking the legs all that much, at the very least understand the positions and when you are and are not at risk.
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Another word of caution. Do not allow leg attacks to take the place of you trying to pass the guard. While learning these attacks is important, it pales in comparison to your ability to pass the guard. Guard passing is a fundamental part of your Jiu Jitsu training and should not be sacrificed for a leg attack at the white belt level in my opinion. If you are looking to aid your guard passing abilities, check out arguably the best guard passing video instructional “Systematically Attacking the Guard” by Gordon Ryan. This instructional contains over 10 hours of detailed systematic solutions to every guard your opponent may throw at you. Studying these systems from the king himself will undoubtedly put you leaps and bounds ahead of others who started training near the same time.
Finally, if you like Warren’s approach to leg attacks and his teaching style, check out his video instructional titled “Invisible Leg Locks”. In this 4 part series you will learn a unique approach to leg locks from the man who has earned the title of “weirdest, most creative leg locks that really work in BJJ”. If you are a serious competitor, you will appreciate that all of the techniques shown in this video instructional are IBJJF legal joint locks, so you don’t need to be concerned with accidentally learning a technique that could cause you to get disqualified.
While these techniques were geared toward white belt level practitioners, there are some good details in here that can be revisited at any level. I have found that sometimes going back to the basics is refreshing and always seems to pay dividends in my live training.
If you are looking for an ENTRY into Leg Lock territory Invisible Leg Locks By Warren Brooks is for you. It is applicable for all levels ESPECIALLY people new to leg locks! Learn Safely how to dismantle you partner’s other 50% of the body with Warren Brooks!