Tapping a black belt when you yourself are not a black belt is the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu equivalent of catching a unicorn with a fishing net. But if you do find yourself submitting an upper belt, odds are it was probably due to a heel hook, or some other leg lock. Leg attacks are some of the most misunderstood techniques in the grappling world and many academies don’t teach them or allow them during live rolling.
But why? Why only train half of your body? The TOP half. To me that’s like being a boxer who only throws his left hand, never his right. 50% of your potential is never realized! Heel hooks, knee bars, toe holds, texas clover leaf, Sambo entries and knee knot’s are a huge part of my game personally, but for now let’s talk about the ‘dirty thief’, the heel hook.
The heel hook is particularly dangerous because it’s one of those submissions that you either need to escape very quickly or just tap out. You cannot wait, there’s no ‘almost’ heel hooks. You either tap or your knee is permanently damaged. But that does not mean that leg locks or heel hooks or more dangerous than other submissions. The research shows that the most common injury at BJJ tournaments comes to the elbow. So what the heck is everyone’s issue with leg locks and heel hooks? well..lets explore some possibilities
Possibility 1: Threat of injury
In Japanese Judo, Heel hooks fall into the categories of Kansetsu Waza [To break bones] and Hishigi [To dislocate]. Heel hooks are applied in a way similar to a toehold, but with the knee and hip immobilized via a Knee reap, which transfers torque from the foot to the knee. They can be applied either medially or laterally (inverted) and threaten serious damage to the knee if not respected. Heel hooks threaten the collateral ligaments of the knee and can very quickly reach the Cruciate ligaments as well.
Heel hooks and other leg locks are different from many submissions in the sense that there is very little pain before serious damage occurs. For the experienced grappler, one can use their own pain threshold to gauge when a armlock or choke is a little uncomfortable up until the point that something pops or they go to sleep. But even to the most experienced grapplers- heel hooks go zero to 100 real quick [Tell Aubrey Graham not to sue me].
This tiny gap between pain and injury is one of the things that makes heel hooks and leg attacks particularly dangerous, and is perhaps one of the reasons that many schools don’t teach them and many tournaments don’t allow them. Having a bunch of testosterone laden white belts heel hooking eachother poses a huge liability to academy owners and it’s probably not worth the headache. Especially since they are seldom allowed in competition anyway.