Ultimate Submissions: Breaking down leg locks (Part one)


In this series of "Ultimate Submissions," we're going to have several parts as we dissect a different kind of limb submission. This will be part one focusing strictly on leg locks.

Leg lock submissions are going to stray away from the conventional limb attacks and will be far different from the frequent tapouts like the rear naked choke and guillotine. Today we are going to check out a submission that is rarely seen in the higher levels of competition in mixed martial arts.


The heel hook.


You don't see a lot of leg locks in mixed martial arts for a few reasons. Most significantly, when you go for a heel hook, you lose dominant position and for the most part leg locks are easily countered with other leg locks -- so if you don’t finish the submission quickly often times you will find yourself in a similar predicament.


Another reason why you don’t see them too often is the risk it puts you in to being punched without having your arms to defend. Most leg submissions require both hands and in mixed martial arts, if you don’t have any protection of your face, you are bound to be hit. This is the main reason why leg locks are mostly utilized in grappling competitions and not in mixed martial art fights.


Regardless, we do get to see them every now and again, so with that let’s jump into part one on leg lock submissions after the jump.


The heel hook can be perceived as quite simple on the surface, but far less simple in its execution.


You need to place both legs around the leg of your opponent while holding the foot attached to that leg in your armpit. Then twist the ankle while holding the heel with the forearm. The twist is what separates it from a standard ankle lock.


That is the traditional explanation of a heel hook. But let’s dig deeper into some technique.


First let’s talk about what the heel hook actually attacks. The heel hook affects multiple joints, the force and leverage of the hold puts severe torque on the ankle, which in turn transfers torque to the knee. The heel hook is a very dangerous leg lock that can cause injuries very quickly. Damaging ligaments in the knee are very common with heel hooks if the hold is applied too long or with too much force. Because of that, it is banned in many combat sports and competitions.

One of my favorite set-ups to the heel hook is to put both your legs around one of your opponent's legs in a triangle. This may seem complicated but just loop one of your legs inside their leg, then back over the top. Then put your foot into the bend of the knee of the other leg.

From there place your free foot behind the knee of your opponent's free leg. This will cause them to fall onto the ground if they're still standing. In this set-up I am usually going for the heel hook while my opponent is standing or when we are in a scramble. Either way this will cause them to hit the mats. Make sure to keep a tight lock on your opponent's leg with your triangle. His foot should be along your side and underneath your armpit and this is where technique matters.


Place your forearm under your opponent's heel on the foot that is near your armpit. This will put his toes under your body with the heel pointing up. I like to keep my low forearm firmly placed along the Achilles’ heel. Technique differs but that is my personal preference. Then crank your arm up and towards your body -- this applies pressure immediately to the other fighter's ankle and will cause them to tap in submission or risk a serious foot injury.

There are several variations of heel hooks, including holding the opponent's foot in the opposite armpit, and twisting it laterally; a move which is referred to as an inverted, reverse or inside heel hook.


Just when I thought I had my guy, he rolled under and now I am sitting in a heel hook. What should I do?

Tap out.

Seriously, if the submission is already locked in and you can feel pain, submit. Live to fight another day. If you are feeling pain there is a good chance you are already experiencing some ligament damage. Leg locks are career killers and if you are doing jiu-jitsu and grappling as a hobby then you don’t want to be dealing with medical bills and pain over some pride. It is easy to get caught up in being able to sustain the pain to get out but it’s a risky choice.

If you are all about that risk then I will give you some tips.

Kick out your opponent's outside leg immediately and as fast as possible. This is done by putting your free foot on the inside of their knee and by pushing out. This will almost instantly make your opponent start from scratch and give you plenty of time to lock up your own leg lock or scramble. Roll your entire body with the pressure being applied in the heel hook. This will not allow the pressure to build up on your foot and ankle.

Use the shin on your free leg to lift up and build leverage as you spin away from the attack. You will need to really use some leg power on this one so you can create some distance. Then pull your own foot away and depending on the scramble you may just end up in a dominant position like side control or half guard.

It is very dangerous to counter with a leg lock if he is near completion mainly because it will be instant pain as soon as he puts the pressure on and by going for your own, it's sort of a quick draw wild, wild west type of situation on whoever shoots first.

And if you are countering, most likely you are already behind in the draw.

Notable Usages

Anderson Silva vs Ryo Chonan


Easily the most famous of any heel hook in MMA. Today’s pound-for-pound king, Anderson Silva, was once a welterweight fighting in Pride. His opponent, Ryo Chonan, was a pesky little "heel-hooker." This is an extreme set-up for a heel hook and ridiculously uncommon and low percentage. However, on this day it was executed masterfully.

Chonan dives into the flying scissor take down and simultaneously grabs the heel and puts it under the arm pit on the way down. He throws his legs over Anderson’s and applies pressure. Immediately Anderson is in pain and tapping.

You can see Chonan arching up his hips towards the sky and pulling back on the heel.

Shinya Aoki vs Eddie Alvarez


You see that Aoki uses the set up to get Alvarez down to the ground. He doesn’t get him to his back but instead to his knees. Shinya doesn’t have the hold quite all the way under the arm pit but has a nice hold with his hands. It shows the diversity in Aoki’s jiu-jitsu game. He uses his legs to keep the distance between himself and Alvarez and rolls with the heel so that way he is on his belly.

Alvarez fights back as best as he is able to but eventually succumbs to the submission.

Satoru Kitaoka vs Eija Mitsuaoka


Kitaoka in the very beginning is seemingly in a scramble but in side-control. He is controlling the leg and the head and he quickly drops back while grabbing the leg and rolls under and secures leg control. He offers little-to-no space for his opponent to counter and also with the position they are in with Mitsuaoka on his knees it makes it nearly impossible to strike Kitaoka or even counter with his own leg lock.

Tito Ortiz vs Mike Van Arsdale in ADCC


For those of you who do not know much of Tito Ortiz let me share something, he was an absolute monster in submission wrestling in his early career. Despite being labeled as a wrestler and "lay and prayer," he was so much more of a threat which was seen by his nearly miraculous finish over Lyoto Machida with a triangle in their bout.

We don’t get to see much of the set-up in this but I chose it because of the pain Van Arsdale shows when Tito starts to torque on the hold. As soon as Tito starts to torque Van Arsdale is almost involuntarily forced to roll away from Tito in hopes of escaping, Tito latches tight on to that heel and increases torque by pushing with his body and pulling back on the arm.

That's the heel hook, in a nutshell. Stay tuned for part two!

Until next time Maniacs...

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