Dan Faggella is a BJJ Academy Owner, No Gi Pan Am Champion at 130 pounds, and recognized expert in the area of leg locks. Dan writes or Jiu Jitsu Magazine, Jiu Jitsu Style, MMA Sports Mag, and more – find more of his leg lock articles and resources at www.BJJLegLocks.com
There are few things in this world that make me cringe like seeing someone get hit with a perfectly timed heel hook. I understand why some people hate leg locks of any sort—personally, I love them!—and it doesn’t take a seasoned vet to understand just how dangerous this type of submission attempts can be.
As an instructor and owner of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu & Mixed Martial Arts academy, I make it a point to dedicate time for my students to hone their leg locks skills on a weekly basis. “Footlock Fridays” have become a staple at my gym, and the students look forward to it every week.
With so many fantastic techniques to be taught about leg locks, it’s just as important for them, and my readers out there, to understand the dangers that wait for them.
For every leg lock technique you learn, I find it imperative that you learn a defense or two for every submission. Knowing how to defend these vicious moves can literally save your own knee and personal health! Don’t underestimate the power of the heel hook—and other leg locks—defenses & escapes!
Understanding The Structure of The Knee
In order to truly appreciate the power that a heel hook brings, you must understand the dangers that come with the hold.
If you have never been hit with the move, either in training or a match, it’s easy to misinterpret what the move is all about. Going off of the name is deceiving; this move doesn’t do a thing to your heel! The move is called the heel hook because of the motion in which you are applying this move; by hooking the heel of your opponent with your forearm.
The hooking motion will allow you to add pressure with the slightest turn. The forearm should fit snug right in the crook of the heel, assuming that it is properly exposed.
Once the move is actually applied, there is zero pressure being applied to the heel. The exact target of the hold is focused solely on the knee. As you begin to turn and add pressure to the hold, the knee will experience a sharp, shooting pain.
Unlike many other holds, the heel hook doesn’t not take it’s time to set in. As Marcos Avellan states in the video, unlike the rear naked choke or armbar, the heel hook doesn’t sneak up on you; once it’s locked on, there is no easing into the pain…it’s there right off the bat!
Common Heel Hook Escapes
A very common form of leg locks escapes is when you roll with your opponent as they crank away on the hold. Once you begin to feel the pressure being applied, your mind tells you to roll in the same direction to help alleviate the pain and nullify it.
This is a great temporary approach, as it diverts the pain for a brief second. However, once you finish the roll, you are still in the position to be hit with the leg lock, which should be your main focus; to escape the hold in its entirety.
You will also see many grapplers begin to fend off the hold by waging some war with their hands. You can pry away, yet it remains, they are holding onto something which allows them to exert great force with their grip, meaning that they are less likely to let go even with you trying to pry their hands free from your foot.
Unhooking Your Heel
One thing Marcos harps on in this particular escape is utilizing your body as an overall tool. While this goes without saying in most of BJJ, in this specific setup, it rings even more true.
Avellan adds a minor—yet effective—wrinkle to the rolling heel hook escape. After you’ve tried rolling out of the hold and see that your opponent isn’t about to let go that easily, there is another way to approach this.
- As opposed to rolling again, post with your hands so that the submission side arm is across your body.
- From here, turn your hips and upper body away from the direction in which you were just facing. This will take away the angle that your opponent has on your heel.
- Quickly and effectively pull your foot out of harm’s way, avoiding any possible chance at another submission.
When you go about using this technique, you must be careful not to leave your leg hanging in no-mans land for too long. Sure, you escaped the heel hook which was the main goal of this entire move, yet for a brief moment it is still sitting there begging for a knee bar or another leg lock.
Make sure you eject the leg as quickly as you possibly can in order to stay safe and being able to maintain the ability to pass into a more dominant position.
Saving Your Leg For Another Day
Once you think about it, this could potentially be a career saving technique. In every sport you see a top athlete go down with a terrible knee injury and never return to the glory that they once had, even after long, arduous rehab.
The same rings true for many MMA and BJJ competitors, which is why defending the heel hook should be an absolutely essential tool to have in your arsenal. You aren’t just defending against the submission loss, but you’re defending against some potentially serious knee damage too!
Watch any match where a heel hook is applied, a common trend is that whoever receives the hold tends to stay down for a while after the match ends. Don’t be that guy and make sure you always drill your heel hook escapes!
To learn more about escapes, there is a great article on ScienceofSkill.com.