Ultimate Submissions: Leg Locks part two -- the kneebar


It’s that time again.

Ultimate Submissions is back with its second installment focusing on leg locks. Last time we focused on the heel hook and today we'll switch gears a bit and focus in on another, perhaps more important, part of the leg ... the knee.

Kneebars, like so many other leg lock submissions, are rarely seen in mixed martial arts for a multitude of reasons, one of the more important being that they require both hands to lock in the submission. By doing that, it leaves your face and body completely vulnerable to strikes.

In competition, leg locks are often banned due to their dangerous nature when applied for too long or tugged on with too much torque.

Leg locks are very effective if you are able to find success grabbing onto one; the pain comes quickly and it is severe. Trying to hold your breathe to escape a choke is possible over several seconds, however, trying to hold off a leg lock will often leave you gimping your way home.

Sound fun? Let's jump into some kneebar technique, examples and discussion:

Performing the knee bar requires quick execution to avoid counters or escape along with very tight technique to gain the submission victory.

The kneebar, which is also referred to as a straight legbar, focuses on overextending the knee. It is very similar to performing an armbar in its execution by placing the leg in between the legs and arms so the opponent's kneecap (like the elbow in the armbar) are turned towards your body. By pushing your hips forward, towards the knee, the leg is straightened, and in doing so, overextends the knee.

There is also a common kneebar which varies in its finishing technique. Instead of controlling the leg with your hands, you will put the trapped legs foot in your armpit. Then, when you push your shoulder backwards and hips forwards, you start putting even more force on the knee to overextend. It also makes the leg lock more difficult to escape.

A few simple things to always recognize in the technique of a knee bar, are that you will most likely be attacking the knee/leg from your side. It will almost always be more effective to attack from the side and it doesn't matter which leg you choose to go after. Picking the top or bottom, of course, has its pros and cons, but in my personal experience, I find the top leg to be much more difficult to counter and the bottom leg much easier to secure.

Here's a technique and set-up that I like to use, starting from the closed guard and sweeping to the leg lock. This has to be done fast in MMA because you'll be eating a knuckle sandwich if you're too slow.

We start in my closed guard and with my opponent postured up. This is a situation only set-up but it is one of my favorites. Immediately, establish wrist control and if your opponent steps in and up to break your guard, open up and slide your hips away from the leg he just put up. You want your knee to be flat on the mat and with that leg your foot/instep should be sitting on the top of the postured leg on his thigh. I keep wrist control on the wrist furthest from the postured knee and with the other hand I grab under the leg around the ankle.

From there I will take the furthest leg and throw it over my opponents torso and will use that leg to push into his body and use the ankle control to pull it from under him simultaneously. This will throw your opponent onto his stomach when using the right leverage and power. The knee needs to be between the legs and it is very good to squeeze down as well so not to let the leg escape out. I am going to put my forearm across the heel of the foot, which should be pointing towards me, the toes right into your chest. With my forearm hugging his heel I use my free hand on top of it to have more security and force.

You pull back with the hands and forwards with the hips and the ensuing pressure on the knee will force the proverbial tap out.

"Okay friend, I was using some of your grappling advice and went for a sick submission… but I was countered and here I am sitting in a knee bar. What do I do?"

First, as I always suggest, if the pain is there -- tap. There is no point in risking potential long-term damage in an attempt to be superman to get out of a submission. Live to fight another day. Leg locks are something you do NOT want to mess with.

But you need to escape anyways. Since the whole process of a knee bar depends on the hyper-extension of your knee, you need to loosen that lock from being successful. Before your opponent is able to fully extend your leg, post your hands on his hips, leg or butt.. actually whatever is easiest and fastest for you. Shrimp out explosively using your hips and all the lower torso power you can muster. Generate enough space in that "shrimp out" to get your free leg to use and push off your opponent, quickly securing your leg out of danger.

This example was best shown when Nate Marquardt faced Rousamir Palhares.

You can also make a triangle with your legs, which will buy you some time. Basically you wrap the leg not trapped over the trapped leg and in doing so, put your weight on the leg that is being knee barred. Staying on your back or your stomach is the worst thing possible. Turning away from the knee bar can also buy you time.

Focus on escaping when your opponent makes common leg lock mistakes. For example, if your opponent stretches his body out in a straight line instead of a 90-degree angle, he will lose plenty of power and will be vulnerable to a counter. If he doesn’t pinch down on your knees take that opportunity to pinch down on his, weakening his grip and muscles as you attempt to escape. If he attacks while on his back or stomach, this will give you a chance to rotate your hips and roll out, at least making the hold less severe.

The other escape is playing the leg lock game, which isn't something I suggest since its basically a "quick draw" type of situation. Who ever catches first wins and often times, if you start late and are attacking while he has been attacking, you won't succeed. However, it may work. Usually when you drop back for a leg lock your opponent will leave their leg vulnerable to attack.

Similar to that of Jim Miller when he submitted Charles Oliveira



Notable Usages


Chris Lytle rolls into a kneebar vs. Brian Foster


In this .gif we see that Brian Foster has back control of Lytle standing, he has a body lock wrapped around Lytle’s waist and it looks to be pretty strong. Lytle is immediately using the traditional escape with a whizzer which has limitless opportunities if used properly. Lytle has a leg between Foster’s leg, which is essential to the roll. Lytle releases his whizzer and ducks under placing, his left arm between the legs and grabbing Foster’s right leg. As he rolls he uses his momentum and weight to pull Foster into the danger zone.

Lytle uses his legs to trap Foster, his top leg on the torso and the bottom leg hooked through his free leg. He immediately hooks his arm, elbow deep, underneath Foster’s knee and begins to fight for the leg. He has both hands fighting with the leg when Foster raises up to explode out. His leg slides right to the heel where Lytle catches grip with both hands/arms and secures the foot. Notice very subtly that Lytle goes for the foot, prior to which, in my opinion, allowed Foster the comfort to feel as if Lytle wasn’t close to finishing and he chose to explode out.

When Foster steps up he is already tangled in Lytle’s web. Lytle uses his legs to throw Foster off balance and to the canvas. From there it is all textbook, as he has the foot pointed properly and begins to extend his hips forward. Watch Lytle’s body as it is slowly torquing forward. That's all she wrote, ladies and gentlemen. 

Frank Mir vs. Brock Lesnar


I know we already went through it in the Frank Mir edition of Ultimate Submissions, but I thought it deserved a more technical breakdown.

As soon as Mir attacks the leg (grabs the lower leg and puts Lesnar down on the mat), he secures that hold on the achilles with both his wrists. He brings that foot very close to his body and he secures a figure four lock with his legs, which secures Lesnar’s trapped leg. This also prevents from an easy kick off by Lesnar with his powerful free leg.

The figure four/triangle lock that Mir has over the knee is very important as that is where the hyper extension comes from. He pushed in on that with his hips and pulled back with his upper body. Lesnar, still green as goose shit in his jiu-jitsu game, tries to escape by pushing off Mir’s buttocks, and when that doesn’t work, he concedes defeat, tapping out and catapulting Mir into an interim title fight.

Shogun Rua kneebars Kevin Randleman in PRIDE



Kevin Randleman rushed in with the fastest double-leg takedown I can ever remember watching. The bell rang and "The Monster" sprinted at Rua to earn the takedown. But "Shogun" used his clever guard to sweep. To start the clip Rua already had the leg trapped between his legs and begins to find his grip for the hold. He reaches up and over to secure the ankle between his arm pits closest to the mat.

By doing so, he can put a lot more torque on the knee by basically using all of his upper body to pull back on the leg as he pushes away with his hips. Randleman isn't escaping this hold, and painfully taps.

Rousamir Palhares claims another leg


In what is one of the more impressive transitions I have seen recently, leg lock juggernaut Rousimar Palhares, is dueling a fellow Brazilian jiu-jitsu player in Dave Branch. As you see, Palhares has pressed Branch up on the cage with a double leg takedown attempt. He drops to his knees and grabs lower on the legs until he just falls back with the targeted leg of Branch already between his legs.

Branch falls down off balance and ends up on his hands. Palhares quickly snatches up the heel, pulls it tight and extends his strong hips to secure the tap out. With such an enormous upper body and a massive amount of power, it should come as no surprise that he has so many leg lock victories inside the Octagon.

Until next time, Maniacs.

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