Leglocks: The Controversy


When I went to start writing this morning I had what I felt to be three very solid ideas for posts. The first was the difference between Game and Flow, but as I wrote out a post it ended up just being a proclamation of my short-comings and how I do not have any semblance of a well developed game regardless of the number of matches I win as I roll on instinct with little to no planning. The second was writing up how competition is the dog’s bollocks, but writing about the most effective means of training and telling a group of active competitors how great a competitive environment is for fostering growth felt like a dead horse to avoid beating. The third is this post about a conversation I had after practice with Mosquito last night.

When you roll no-gi there’s no way to tell a white belt from a brown belt. Everyone’s wearing their own rashguards and shorts. I’d say next to nobody wears their assigned IBJJF uniform. To be honest, I like that because it lets me blend in. I’m not the out-of-practice blue belt who’s an easy target for a skilled white belt who needs to reaffirm his belief that he’s ready to be ranked. I have to start playing with people to determine their skill level and the result of how they respond allows me to properly gauge how hard I should go and what I should focus on – I don’t get to see a white belt with no stripes and assume this guy has no experience. I have to ask or just roll, and I choose to just roll and see what they do.

Mosquito asks how it’s going and my response was “I’m loving toe holds today.” He told me to be careful. Being careful isn’t foreign to me. Being more careful with a knee bar than I would be with a keylock is. So after class I asked Mosquito what should be allowed in no-gi since the IBJJF has one set of rules, but we don’t all play IBJJF. A rule set is determined by the interests of the governing body and the IBJJF disallows a lot of things that local tournaments allow (kani basami, reaping the knee, heel hooks, spine locks, etc.). The response was more eloquent, but I’m going to paraphrase: Do to people what you would want them to do in return. There are no techniques we don’t allow. The general “don’t be a dick” rules apply, but there’s no ban on reaping the knee and taking the easy toe hold or the reverse toe holds that I kept finding myself with last night. It’s definitely a slide backwards for me – using leg locks means I’m not focusing on the fundamentals. I’m taking the easy way out and finishing things I know people don’t know how to defend.

That was the crux of the rest of the conversation – when and how do you do leg locks in an environment where people don’t know the correct way to defend? I talked with Mosquito about how I don’t feel leg locks are more dangerous fundamentally. He noted that there weren’t a lot of guys in Brazil doing and defending leg locks. When I asked about reaping the knee he said it was dangerous, and I disagreed citing Metamoris allowing the reap and ADCC allowing the heel hook without us seeing the instantaneous injuries we’ve come to expect from these techniques that were banned for safety reasons. Sambo also allows both, but we see more injuries from a certain rolling arm lock that we actually practice in class. It’s a hard thing to provide concrete evidence for – the sports that still allow all the techniques are generally considered more brutal.

So here’s the controversy – we’d need concrete data to support which techniques to allow and which ones to ban. Since the banning of techniques have come over a long history we theoretically have this built in, but rules are fundamentally geared toward the interest of those in power. Saying “we saw a lot of injuries from this so we’re taking it out.” is a lot harder to swallow than “with p < 0.05 we noted that this had an injury rate 36% higher than the baseline technique of juji gatame (cross arm lock).” My proposition is simple – someone should provide a large scale tournament which allows everything we would consider reasonable, and document the injury rates and success rates of all submissions. I’d expect the percentage of injuries will not vary with the techniques which are allowed so long as competitors are made aware beforehand that the rules are “everything goes”.

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One thought on “Leglocks: The Controversy

  1. I stumbled upon your blog recently. I enjoy your writing. I agree with you 100%. I don’t think leg locks are any more dangerous than any other type of submission. I think the stigma surrounding them comes from people not being educated about them. I also think it is possible to train leg locks and still have really good fundamentals. You just have to find a healthy balance. If I know a guys knows nothing (9/10 a less experienced guy), then I usually won’t go for them, because like you said I’d rather not take the easy way out. If I know the guy knows how to defend I will play the game.

    I wrote three different articles this week about leg locks on my blog:
    iloveleglocks.blogspot.com (ironic isn’t it?)

    I look forward to reading more.

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