art of jiu jitsu

The Art of Jiu Jitsu: Are Leg Locks Allowed?

The art of Jiu Jitsu has an arsenal of movements. These movements allow grapplers to use various strategies to win fights. Among these movements are leg locks. 

Despite their presence in the BJJ toolkit, the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) has banned its use in competition. The prohibition went on for a while until very recently. As of 2021, the IBJJF has allowed leg locks in competition. 

So, yes! Athletes can use leg locks in competition! But before heading to the academy to go full-on Imanari on someone, know that there are conditions.  

Read on to learn more about the safe and legal application of leg locks!

The IBJJF’s Current Rules on Leg Locks

First, it’s essential to define what a leg lock is. A leg lock is any submission hold that places pressure on the ankles, knees, and — sometimes — the groin (like 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu’s electric chair). 

Because of the different points leg locks put pressure on, some types of leg locks will be more acceptable. Others like heel hooks and toe holds will have more restrictions in place. 

The rules on whether a competitor can use leg locks depend on the belt level. Let’s get into what the IBJJF says on leg locks in competition at each level: 

White Belts: Only the Straight Ankle Lock

According to the IBJJF, white belts cannot use leg locks in gi or no-gi competitions, except for straight ankle locks. Also, white belts can only apply straight ankle locks from specific positions. 

One position where white belts can use straight ankle locks is the ashi garami. The ashi garami position occurs when the grappler has the outside foot on the opponent’s hip and the inside foot under the thigh. 

The other position is the 50/50 guard. In the 50/50 guard position, both white belt competitors have one knee trapped. This position results in a leg entanglement where both grapplers have equal access to their opponents’ untrapped legs or feet. 

Under no circumstances can white belts turn towards their opponents’ knees when applying the straight ankle lock. Doing this puts lateral pressure on the knee, potentially blowing the opponent’s knee. 

This movement is called knee reaping. Knee reaping is dangerous at this level and will result in disqualification. 

Blue and Purple Belts: Do as the White Belts Do

The rules for leg locks are just as nuanced and restrictive for blue and purple belts. All the same, blue and purple belts cannot attempt any other leg lock other than the straight ankle lock.

Blue and purple belts should not attempt the straight ankle lock from other positions than ashi garami and 50/50. Knee reaping is also illegal at this level. Doing it will get the blue or purple belt disqualified. 

Brown and Black Belts: Everything Goes — Sort Of

Brown and black belts can use many more leg locks besides the straight ankle lock. Other leg locks at their disposal are heel hooks, calf slicers, toe holds, and kneebars. Also, it’s open season on knee reaping! 

While brown and black belt competitors have more options, there are still rules. 

In gi competitions, competitors can only use the inside heel hook. The inside heel hook places less pressure on the knee. For this reason, they’re still fine for gi competitions. However, the IBJJF allows both inside and outside heel hooks in no-gi matches. 

For matches in the masters’ divisions, the IBJJF still prohibits heel hooks even if masters competitors are brown or black belts. 

The toe hold is legal but within specific parameters. When applying the toe hold, brown or black belt competitors can only twist the foot toward the opponent’s midline. Turning the foot outward will result in disqualification. 

3 Components of a Successful Lower-body Submission in The Art Of Jiu Jitsu

Leg locks can be a vital addition to a BJJ athlete’s arsenal. Adding leg locks to one’s move set requires knowing how to apply them correctly. 

After all, what’s the point of knowing how to initiate the straight foot lock if the opponent can easily slip out of it? This brings us to the first component of an effective lower-body submission. 

1. Trapping of Other Body Parts

Leg locks aren’t like standing guillotine chokes. Athletes need to get a grip on other body parts to prevent the opponent from escaping. 

For example, an athlete attempting the inside heel hook must have both feet hooking the opponent’s free leg. With the opponent’s free leg hooked, the opponent cannot roll to the other side to escape the heel hook. 

2. Turning or Twisting Against a Joint 

Another crucial part of applying leg locks is what the upper body does. Besides squeezing a foot, the upper body must move in a way that applies pressure to the opponent’s knee, foot, or calf. 

The movement of the upper body should be in the opposite direction of a joint’s natural rotational axis. Here are two examples of what this looks like on the mat: 

Imagine a knee bar. When attempting the knee bar, grapplers pull their opponents’ feet towards their bodies. They never tug in the same direction as the knee’s natural movement path. The pull against the knee’s natural axis of movement places pressure on the knee and causes the tap.   

Another example is the straight ankle lock. A grappler must trap the opponent’s foot and pull upwards with their upper bodies. This position forces the feet into extreme plantar flexion — a position the foot naturally never takes. As a result, more pressure builds in the ankle, forcing the opponent to submit. 

3. Legal

In the wise words of Helio Gracie: “The first step to winning a fight is not to lose.”

As every BJJ athlete knows, a quick way to throw a match is to violate the rules and suffer a disqualification. 

Leg locks in Jiu Jitsu are legal now, but athletes of varying belt levels need to apply them within the rules of the IBJJF. By staying within the guidelines of the IBJJF, athletes can perform leg locks safely and effectively. Most importantly, they do so in a way that keeps them on the path to the win! 

Leg Locks: Train Them! 

Everyone would’ve gotten away with putting leg lock training on the backburner before 2021. However, with the IBJJF’s new rules on leg locks, they’re now a must-have in the BJJ arsenal. 

In short, sharpen your leg lock game even if you’re a white, blue, or purple belt. If you’re looking for a place to improve your leg attacks, try a free week of evidence-based BJJ with us!