WARNING: This is exhaustive. This discussion contains no walkthroughs or tutorials on leg locks. It serves as a contextual reference for the orientations and nuances used by the best grapplers to secure leg locks. It may be best studied in sections so as not to seem overbearing.
Here at wrestlejitsu we’ve seen that individuals with prior wrestling experience often incorporate leg locks into their game. This is due to a number of reasons. First, many leg lock positions allow equal opportunity for both individuals in the position and thus the individual who is more aggressive in attacking them often secures one first. Second, although many of the positions seem neutral, positional dominance can be achieved. Those who wrestled are often more aggressive and prioritize positional dominance.
Now that we’ve grossly overgeneralized the reasons why the wrestlers we’ve studied use leg locks we’re going to delve more deeply. Having spent an inordinate amount of time researching jiu jitsu one niche remains largely unfilled: the theory of leg locks. Although most leg locking positions have a designated nomenclature (many of which in fact have multiple names), to my knowledge no one has assessed positional dominance coupled with entries in to those positions and options from them using the games of the most predominant current leg lockers. This includes Masakazu Imanari, Rousimar Palhares in MMA, Davi Ramos, Joao Assis, Dean Lister, Eddie Cummings, and Gary Tonon in nogi, and Luiz Panza, Renato Cardoso, Edwin Najmi, and Hunter Ewald in gi.
A myriad of leg locking walk-throughs and tutorials can be found in instructionals and online, but finding realistically effective patterns requires the analysis of footage coupled with basic principles in physics and knowledge of the human skeleton.
Using leg locks effectively requires two things: control and risk reduction. The geometry of the human body allows for both players to attack each other’s lower limbs with their upper ones when the lower face each other. Controlling the position allows you to attack your opponent’s legs and prevent their escape while staving their ability to attack your legs and reducing your risk of being leg locked.
***Click on the .gifs to enlarge them***
We will begin with the most controlled leg lock position with the least amount of risk and work to the least controlled with the most amount of risk. Incidentally, the most controlled positions are the hardest to acquire. Take the first position for example:
In this position the attacker’s (whom henceforth will be referred to as you) legs are deliberately breaking the plane of both of his opponent’s legs in a wrapping fashion. This allows you to cross your opponents feet under your armpits and inside heel hook the bottom and trapped leg. This position can be achieved by escaping closed guard and reaping both legs:
The double over prevents your legs from being attacked while allowing you to attacking both of your opponent’s legs. In a high level match this is as close to “check” as you can get.
It can also be achieved by first leg dragging your opponent though I’ve never seen live footage of such. It is also worth noting that there is indeed a more secure leg lock position referred to as the Russian Leg Knot that Max Bishop and Gokor reference but I’ve never seen live footage of this position either. If it was more realistic, it would be the “check mate”.
This position is when you are using one of your legs to reap your opponent’s leg and this same leg (or most often your other leg) is tucked under your opponents far side leg. In this position you’re attacking the foot on your outside hip (their foot is out). This position is extremely secure and as you might imagine hard to obtain. Your feet are hard to attack in this position and with your opponents foot on the outside of your hip it makes it hard for them to rotate and loosen the position. It can be achieved on the bottom by reaping from single leg x as pictured above.
This position can sometimes be achieved by falling back when in your opponent’s open guard. You’ll notice here that Tonon underhooks the leg to make the position tighter as his opponent’s rotation creates space during their reaction. The over-under/out position can also be made more secure by tucking your reaping leg under your other leg that is tucked under your opponents. This hides your feet further and makes it increasingly hard for your opponent to rotate.
Another entry into this position is from the Imanari roll, though this position more often results in our next position, the over-under/in. If you can manage to get the reaping leg across to your opponents far side leg and tucked under, the shearing force is immense. In this position outside heel hooks and knee knots can be attacked.
This position involves one of your legs reaping your opponents with the same (or often both legs) tucked under your opponents. In this case the leg you’re attacking is on your inside hip and you’re facing inward. In nogi jiu jitsu this position represents a balance between a secure and controlled position with your feet hidden from your opponent’s attack and their ability to more easily rotate than seen in the previous position. This position also has the most options for attack depending on your orientation to your opponent. It’s often called 411, The Honeypot, or Saddle.
More often in the Over-Under/In position your hips are detached from your opponents as can be seen above and here:
Entries into this position can be from the standing, top, or a number of guards.
From standing, the flying scissor takedown can result in over-under/in:
The Imanari roll from standing can also end up here.
Here Tonon underhooks the leg in an Imanari type movement to enter the position:
Inside heel hooks are available in this position though it is possible (albeit dangerous) for your opponent to rotate out of this position and escape.
Eddie Cummings often enters single leg x in an effort to get his opponent to step in and switches to attacking the other leg:
This position can also be entered by first getting into deep half guard and then reaping the leg:
Depending on your opponents reaction, kneebar attempts also often result in an over-under/in with a hip-to hip orientation:
As this position is not torqueing the knee, it is IBJJF legal and legal in tournaments when reaping is not allowed. Kneebars can also result in over/in, over/out or complete parallel alignment of your spine with your opponent’s femur.
The standard step over kneebar attempt from top can also result in Over-Under/In. Here Tonon steps over from double unders:
Here Calasans does a step over kneebar from top on Tanquinho. Notice his control of the bottom of the foot to keep the leg elongated:
Another entry is by elevating your opponent and lifting them with a kneebar or Lincoln sweep:
Davi Ramos can enter into this position using similar movement from the double guard pull. He often feigns attacking the kneebar and secures a toehold during his opponent’s defense:
Here Dillon Danis uses a rolling kneebar to escape back control and finishes in the over-under/in orientation:
Here he uses a kneebar to counter the leg lasso with the same position:
Though not part of any controlled leg lock position, the best leg lock counter to the lasso is the Estima lock (only legal at brown and above at the IBJJF level). There’s an awesome iphone app on how to hit the lock from a myriad of positions. Capturing the hip with your foot is of upmost importance to securing the lock. It also takes quite a bit of practice as securing the lock is nuancy and requires a decent amount of related proprioception:
Also unrelated to the position, but an opportunistic leg lock nonetheless is the rolling toe hold. I’ve only seen one hit at the black belt level (so please PM me if you know of any more) when Galvao hit one on Popovitch as a counter to being in deep half guard (finding footage of this match is tricky).
One of the challenges of this position is if you cannot control the leg you’re attacking, your opponent can figure four their legs together to limit your attacking options.
One option for this response is a calf crusher/Achilles lock as Davi Ramos does on Kayron Gracie here:
In this position your inside leg is crossing over the plane of one of your opponent’s legs outwardly (and therefore IBJJF legal), while you attack their foot on your outside hip. This position is often entered in an effort to belly down. In this case, it minimizes the ability of your opponent to attack your feet and increases your ability to torque the footlock while minimizing the ability of your opponent to rotate:
This position can be entered from the top by falling back as Edwin Najmi shows here:
This basically secures the same position as the typical entry from bottom in a variation of footlock x guard by bringing your inside leg across your opponent’s, pushing their leg outward, and bellying down. Renato Cardoso has made an entire career out of this position:
Eddie Cummings often use single leg x to enter this position and similar to a belly down footlock, hits an outside heel:
Here he sets up the position from an omo attempt:
Tonon often does the same thing.
Here Luiz Panza counters Joao Assis with this position:
Joao himself is pretty good at it seen here in this variation:
Kneebars can also end in a similar orientation. Here’s a glorious one from the Sambo master Igor Kurinnoy in his belt grab Victor roll:
This position is also most commonly referred to as 50/50 though variations of other positions can also be seen in the same light. In this position your inside leg is crossing over the plane of one of your opponent’s legs outwardly while you attack their foot on your inside hip.
If the far side leg is not immediately controlled in this position, you’ll notice that your opponent can easily enter the same orientation. Each of you has an exposed leg to attack in this position.
Similar entries to those we’ve seen before can result in this position if either 1) the reap can not be fully secured and tucked into Over-Under/In or 2) you’re in a gi and reaping is illegal.
From standing the flying scissor can result in Over-In/In as seen in the classic upset of Anderson Silva:
Notice how Dean ends up here after a scramble while falling back from top in an effort to reap the leg:
Also notice how he controls the bottom of the foot and reaches his far side arm across to separate the legs and secure the inside heel hook. Max Bishop also always stresses that control of the far side He also tucks the I’ve heard both him and Keenan also mention that it’s important to keep your opponent’s hip down to allow you to trap and isolate the legs in this position. This also allows you more movement to protect your exposed foot.
Ryan hall uses the Imanari roll from a bottom open guard to enter 50/50:
He also gets creative and pushes the leg across to force the position from waiter sweeps:
The same deep half guard sweep we’ve seen before can also often end up here:
Kneebars are also possible from the 50/50 as Dillon does here:
Buchecha hit Kron with one of these in an epic scramble-filled match.
A large part of Luiz Panza’s game is also predicated upon the belly down footlock from this position:
He caused quite a few upsets at Copa Podio working these bad boys.
Renato also uses these as part of his footlock repertoire:
In this position your outside leg is crossing over the plane of one of your opponent’s leg, reaping inward while you are attacking their foot on your outside hip. This is often the most common leg locking position for those just learning leg locks (when reaping is allowed) as it is easy to enter but lacks security. It is easy for your opponents to rotate out of this position. Moreover, your feet are also vulnerable to attack in this position. Though, if you’re much stronger than your opponent you can often force the outside heel before they defend, as Palhares made a career out of:
He enters into it from double leg setups:
And by falling back:
Interviews confirm that a large portion of competitors at ADCC were indeed quite scared of this one trick bull.
Dean also hits it by falling back.
So that’s it there you have it – Leg locking positions from most to least secure (in theory) by the best of the best leg lockers (multiple finishes at the highest level) in the world. Practice safely my friends. They say legs are “snap before tap”, though science says a ligament is a ligament and a tendon is a tendon. Up next will be counters and reversals to these positions.
And that’s my dissertation on Leg Locks. It will be appended.