About Leg Locks

I recently watched the Eddie Bravo Invitational 13: The Lightweights, where über talented Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Gary Tonan defended his title.  I enjoy the EBIs more than most of the other non-UFC events on UFC Fight Pass, the Ultimate Fighting Championship subscription streaming service.

Tonan is famous for his leg locks but I noticed most of the competitors were employing these locks to good effect in the tournament.  The competitors would dive and roll for the legs throughout the contest.


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However, I wonder how effective they would be for street self-defense.  I could see it being hard for an attacker to defend against the leg locks particularly when you have pants and shoes to help secure a grip.  What troubles me is the position you have to get into to deliver the lock.

When the competitors were setting up the leg locks, they would dive to the floor and try to entangle their legs with the competitor.  I wouldn’t recommend that practice for street self-defense.  If you find yourself in this position due to surprise, by all means, the leg lock may be your best and only escape.  I wouldn’t dive into that position though.

The other thing you need to be aware of are strikes.  Unlike BJJ and MMA competition, an attacker can kick or stomp your face, when you are on the ground.  Most leg locks require you to have both hands engaged with the leg, so you cannot guard your head from punches.

I’ve seen two competition examples that make me wary of leg locks for self-defense.  In the first UFC, Ken Shamrock took on Patrick Smith in a no holds barred match.  Because kicks on the ground were legal, Patrick Smith connected with two kicks to Shamrock’s face, while Shamrock was applying an ankle lock.  Before Smith could land a third kick, Shamrock injured his ankle and Smith had to tap.  Shamrock had a noticeable contusion over his eye but won the match.

While the Shamrock victory seemed to vindicate leg locks, I saw a match a few years later between Alan Belcher and Rousimar Palhares.  Palhares specializes in leg locks.  However, Belcher was able to defend his submission attempts and knock him out.  Even though kicks on the ground were illegal, Belcher was able to punch Palhares enough times to knock him unconscious.  Palhares had both hands engaged on the leg and was unable to defend the punches.

While I believe any technique can be used in the right circumstances, I would use another technique or strategy, if I can in most self-defense situations.  Leg locks are effective but you should choose them at the right time.


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