With the rising popularity of leglocks, especially following the Danaher Death Squad’s sharp rise in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu circuits, more and more academies have brought leglocks closer to the fore of their curriculums. But at which stage of a Jiujiteiro’s development should leglocks be added to their arsenal? Some schools adamantly advocate introducing students to leglocks from day one, while others adhere to the much more traditional way of only providing a strong overview of the submission system by a much higher belt level: brown and black.
Joe Rogan and Jean Jacques Machado recently covered the topic on the Joe Rogan Experience. Machado emphasized his own approach of only introducing his students to the plethora of leg attacks starting at blue belt. The reason for this, however, does not have much to do with tradition. He postulates that due to the high success rate and rewarding nature of the submission it is easy for newer practitioners to forgo obtaining a more complete understanding of guard mechanics in lieu of leglocks. As this attack can often be performed without or instead of passing guard, thus he states that he introduces leglocks later in order to ensure his students get as complete a picture of BJJ as possible: “to let you develop guard…without concern for [leglocks], just learn how to move your hips in sweeps ”.
Another reason he puts forward in the interview is safety. Leg locks, especially the more hazardous ones, such as heel hooks, can easily lead to serious knee injuries when applied to an opponent without a solid understanding of heel hook defenses and escapes: “…And if you don’t tap, you’re going to get your knee ripped apart for sure”. This understanding of the subtleties of the leg game is easier to introduce with a pre-existing BJJ base a blue belt will have already acquired.
Jean Jacques Machado also talks about the fervor which competitors tend to exhibit in competition, with a refusal to tap until absolutely necessary, which in the context of lacking experience with leglocks built on a solid foundation of BJJ can also spell disaster for the knees.
There is some good news though, Machado and Rogan talk a little about the improvement in surgery since the 80s, which means a knee injury doesn’t as definitively mean the end of a grappler’s career, however, it is still a very real and present threat.