Flavour of the Month: Footlocks or Defense?

There’s no denying that currently there is a strong interest in the BJJ community at large in the remaining 50% of the human body, namely, leg locks.

Of late, there are many online, DVD tutorials and in-person seminars on how to set-up, apply and escape heel hooks, toe holds, ankle locks, knee bars and such and empirical applications in competitive environments of smaller (?) and lighter fighters who are well versed in leg attacks are able to quickly and safely (i.e. sustaining minimal damage to themselves) submitting their larger, heavier or conventionally skilled opponents with relative ease.

While I am all for adopting and learning the leg-lock game, nonetheless it is only 50% of the entirety of the possibilities found in a submission grappling game, and I believe it’s current effectiveness relies mostly on the opponents unfamiliarity of the position, defenses and counters. Fast forward 5 to 10 years into the future, as attitudes change and evolve, there will come a day when all BJJ white belts and beginners will be required to learn leg locks then leg locks will be as ubiquitous as your arm-bar applications and defenses found in any BJJ academy today.

various leg entanglement guards, involving framing, pulling, hooking, pushing and posting requiring a mind so focused and clear like a pHD civil engineer with Himalaya sage-like brain to understand and apply.


Back in the day, to qualify for a blue belt you had to show proficiency with a handful of techniques: such as the closed guard arm bar, scissors sweep, triangle, mount escape and shoulder locks. Nowadays, blue belt qualifier require 20-plus or more techniques! The “holy-trinity” of submissions back then were cross lapel choke, arm bars and triangles. A few years ago it was the berimbolo, inverted game and before that still were the plethora of various leg entanglement guards, involving framing, pulling, hooking, pushing and posting requiring a mind so focused and clear like a pHD civil engineer with Himalaya sage-like brain to understand and apply.

My concern about learning foot locks too early on is echoed from a class as a white belt when during a roll between two beginners, one caught in the other’s closed guard, instead of posturing, opening or attempting to pass the guard, he sat back and applied a foot lock. The person who applied the foot lock was immediately reprimanded for not trying to pass the guard, the reason/concern given at the time was that they would default to a leg lock game without developing the needed fundamental skills of guard passing. Not that there is anything wrong with that but the supposition is if/when the person being foot-locked is proficient in defending and countering these submissions they (the foot-locker) will not have any guard passing skills to rely on, therefore allowing a gap in their overall jiu jitsu game.

In reflecting on my current skill set and those of my clients, I determined that developing a strong defensive skill set, similarly like the concept of the Crazy Monkey Defense boxing program will allow my clients to be able to more effectively survive, delay or prevent common attacks. There will be a defensive structure and concepts based on distance, angles of attack and height levels but applied in jiu jitsu. So instead of trying to remember a library of techniques, such as when this attack happens, identify, match and apply this defense, which often doesn’t work and takes a long time to learn, why not provide a “pit-stop” on the way to allow the beginner more time to determine which is the better defense after they move into a defensive guard first before attempting a full defense and escape technique?

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In a sense the jiu jitsu defensive “guard” is not like your conventional guard but a series of defensive postures that effectively deal with common, high-percentage type posture controls and pins. By adopting certain postures, in effect you are able to survive and remain free from pins and holds more effectively than the usual jiu jitsu scramble for position and unintentionally, or ignorantly giving up prime controlling positions.

Much like building defensive bunker for your defensive/survival game this posture/guard structure allows you to survive and move a lot easier than relying on strength and movement. Instead it relies more on timing, when to move, when you recognize certain grappling conditions have been met.

An effective bunker allows you to defensively counter attack but mostly permits you to survive, counter, and escape when mobility and space are limited (i.e. when you are somewhat pinned or being smashed). It allows for micro-movements and importantly allows you to breathe while carrying less of your partner’s weight. You also expose less of your vulnerabilities and gives you time to plan your next move strategically rather than being forced into a predictable outcome.

In summary, ideally you are proficient in both submission techniques (leg-locks included) and have an impenetrable defensive “bunker-like” game from which you deploy counter scrambles to winning pins, take-downs or submissions. There should be no exclusivity to your jiu jitsu game and whether from a top pin or bottom guard position you should be equally mobile and dangerous. When you have a solid defensive foundation, it gives you the confidence in knowing how to successfully defend while creating the opportunities to counter attack. That is my hope to develop my clients’ skills to this level.

More on this later as I go back to the lab to add pieces of this together. Note that none of what I am practicing on my own now is original nor “invented” by me but influenced by other instructors. I am learning and pressure testing these concepts as I go along to determine their efficacy before sharing it with you.

As I am limited in my resources to work with this material, it will be a work-in-progress and it will no doubt evolve to meet with the changes as the jiu jitsu game itself evolves. Stay tuned to find out more or contact me if you’re interested in my findings.

In servitude,
Vince Choo