Ultimate Guide to Leg Locks for Self Defence

This is one of my largest posts to date packed with videos from various resources across the web. It is a subject I am passionate about contrary to the vast majority of self defence experts out there. The subject is of course Leg Locks and their use in self defence situations. By the end of this article you will understand why I feel they are so important and also have various resources to look at on how to leg lock with real skill.

The first subject I should cover is the why? OK now many people know what a leg lock is however as many of my readers have never been to a MMA class I will explain the basics. A leg lock is when a person applies a joint lock against a lower limb such as a hip, knee, ankle of foot. These locks can be pain inducing like a calf muscle slicer or destructive to bone and ligaments like the dreaded heel hook. Either way leg locks are very damaging holds.

Now that this is covered why do I believe in them so much for self defence. Well most experts will say that you shouldn’t spend any time on the ground in a real violent incident simply because the attacker may not be alone and if you are on the floor you are very vulnerable to a head kick and stamp to the head. This could result in serious injury even death. This is very true and I agree with this advice. However not all situations are the same and there has to be a realisation of a number of factors that make leg locks essential training.

However not all situations are the same and there has to be a realisation of a number of factors that make leg locks essential training.

1. If attacked the opponents are likely to be physically stronger than you.

This is true because most attackers will not go after the 6ft 5 inch tall person as it will be a difficult fight, therefore the attacker will pick on someone physically weaker than them. Yes there may be others around and with the attacker  however there is no guarantees they will get involved. A lot depends on circumstances. Most attackers like an audience to ‘observe/ witness’ their work. This observation will lead to people taking about them and grow their reputation.Having others involved in the attack is not always the desire of the attacker as such you can never base all your decisions on what might happen next. Sometimes we have to take a risk.

2. If you are on the ground you may end up being back there again.

Consider this, you have been grabbed by a  stronger person or punched and knocked to the floor. What makes you think that getting up again will lead to a different conclusion. Getting up can be just as dangerous as staying on the floor, as when you get up you can be extremely vulnerable to attack. Although moves like ‘climbing’ up the opponent reduce the risk, the risk is still present.  So if you manage to get up the stronger person may be able to force you to the floor yet again. Ground hog day indeed

3. The attackers goal may be to take you to the floor

The attacker may in certain incidents want you to go to the floor such as in a sexual assault. The attacker regardless of if they are male or female may want to force you to the ground. So you are there anyway and likely to stay there. Perhaps the only option you have is to fight from the ground.

In summary to the reasons why leg locks are so useful it is that you can end up on the floor faced with a larger stronger attacker. Often who could be a better striker/puncher and simply getting back up will only repeat the events that lead to you being on the floor. This I realise isn’t always the case but it is a logical deduction. As a result learning how to leg lock is a great idea.

The Effectiveness of Leg Locks

Leg locks are a great tool for anyone as they are not based on muscle. It really is a case that your whole body is working to destroy a limb which has very little protection to it. The knee for example is a small joint and not very strong. It is known as a hinge joint and has a series of ligaments that allow it to function. The ankle is also a very fragile joint, both have little muscle around them to protect them and neither flex very well. Applying the whole body against such joints is very easy and the pain is almost instantly effective. My experience of leg locks is that they become painful in about a second and then destructive after only 2 seconds(or less depending on the person). When I say destructive they break joints and tear ligaments. If you dont believe me or have never seen it lets take a look, however be warned this is graphic footage.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3X4ErO6mWs?rel=0&w=420&h=315] [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdo7xuGYP-Y?rel=0]

The second video seen here is the famous First ever UFC Event where the world saw just how effective leg and in particular ankle locks really are. Ken Shamrock (yes the same one who was a wrestler) defeated a very fearsome kick boxer named Pat Smith. In both the above examples look at the speed of the technique and how much pain was caused. Then also consider that these are highly trained people. Not some idiot trying to cave your face in because he just had a row with his girlfriend over something he put on Facebook (yes this does happen).

Now also consider that the leg locks used don’t just cause pain they actually destroy the function of a limb, it was the Russians who specialised in leg locks in their system of Sambo/ Sombo and they used to say (kill a man and his body remains on the battle field, break his leg and two men have to carry him off the field) well I believe it went something like that. The idea is that you totally destroy a persons ability to fight you and this is what happens when you break a lower limb. I hope this clears up just how affective leg locks are.

The Types of Leg Locks you should use

In MMA all the leg locks have a use however in self defence this is very different. The main reason is that you will enter into the leg locks from a defensive position. You will not pull guard or look to get the leg lock to end the fight, this would defeat the object. The idea of leg locks for self defence is that you can use them if you end up on the floor, we never go to the floor for free or by design. We should never go to the floor unless we absolutely have to. It’s really dangerous to do this because as stated there could be other attackers nearby and the floor is a dangerous place. Its usually made of concrete and there can be all sorts of jagged edges and other things like broken glass etc. For those of you wondering what I mean when I say pulling guard and how not to enter for leg locks in the street there are two videos below. Both show succesful leg lock entries but why would you want to do this in the street? My main rule I will say is that we should never go to the ground unless we have no choice. It puts you into a vulnerable position however the two videos are very entertaining so I know you will enjoy them any way.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSWQklYg0iM?rel=0] [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAFIAeiGzX0?rel=0]

The second video shows the Gracie Brothers breaking down a recent UFC match where a heel hook was used but you can see that pulling guard isn’t the right thing to do in self defence situations.

Ok so for self defence techniques I will look at the best entries for leglocks last however the above entries are no no’s.For now we need to look at technique and which techniques to focus on. The best leg locks for self defence are as follows. The heel hook, the inverted heel hook and the knee bar. So here are a few videos showcasing some great instruction of leg locks.

The Heel Hook

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cu5x-D792GI?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

Although I actually teach the heel hook slightly differently this video is very good and breaks down the move well.

Inverted Heel Hook

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8VSugvlJAc?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

This video shows the Gracie brothers once again. They are very very good instructors and break down this technique very well.

Knee bar

The last leg lock I suggest for self defence is the straight kneebar, this move destroys the knee joint and is very dangerous. Again there are a lot of entruies into the knee bar but you need to understand how to apply the lock.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnSQxE4GfmE?rel=0&w=420&h=315]


Unlike normal ggrappling matches aleg lock used in self defence will not come from any flashy rolling or flying entries. Instead it will come as a result of a scramble on the ground. This usually ends up in either a leg lock applied when the opponent is on top or even standing. The idea being that you can simply grab the leg and wrap it up and then crack the leg is destroyed. Here is a great vidoe of once again Pat Smith being leg locked in Brazil. This time fighting legend Marco Ruas does it to him however you see how he scrambles to get the leg lock. I never suggest you falling back from a squat position as seen in grappling matches but instead simply taking the leg and pulling yourself into the position.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqHWvV3QmeA?rel=0] [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBH_sJddAQ4?rel=0]

The second knee bar is a great drill for getting into position if you are on the ground.

In conclusion

The above really is just a guide to leg locks and there are a ton of resources to train and study such techniques but always take care when using them. I have a few golden rules you should remember when discussing leg locks for self defence.

  • If you fall to the ground try and get up before your opponent
  • If you fall into a position where a leg lock opportunity is present take it. A leg lock could destroy the opponent ability to fight, stand or get up and chase you
  • Leg locks need to be trained under expert guidance as they are that dangerous
  • Never go looking for the leg lock
  • If you apply the leg lock make sure you carry on squeezing until your feel and hear a break. They will scream in agony but you need to make sure you have destroyed the leg. Remember in the streets there are no judges, referees or points decisions. They could get up and seriously hurt you.

I believe leg locks are just as important to train for self defence as is striking, soft skills and grappling. As self defence students we shouldnt dismiss them as just tools for grappling. Remmebr to visit the website the self defence expert.com and sign up for my newsletter. The site is being re developed as we speak and some amazing features are coming soon. To not miss out sign up today. And to finish this lesson off Im leaving you with the fight that shows leg locks can beat anyone. Anderson Silva the best fighter on the planet has been beaten by a person using a leg lock. Here is is. Take care and keep safe.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=267i7rKeECA?rel=0]

Andrew Holland


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