Monthly Archives: September 2012

Wonderful World of Leg and Foot locks

In Brazilian jiu-jitsu there are a number of submissions that involve putting pressure on points in the legs to cause a tap out. Completely unsurprisingly there are categorized as leg locks. They can be extremely useful in BJJ because they can be easy to use but also hard to defend against without good technique. In mixed martial arts they are seen less often but can still be extremely useful because its only natural for an opponent to protect his head and arms in a fight while leaving legs out in the open for attack.

It is much more natural for people to work with their arms than their legs. Our hands can hold onto things to help anchor them into position and generally have better fine movement control; both things are good for defending against submission attacks. However an opponent certainly wont be clasping his feet together to prevent a knee bar, unless of course he is half chimp. Also in mixed martial arts just going for any type of leg lock generally takes you out of effective striking range which is a plus.

The last advantage of a leg lock, especially in a MMA arena, is the element of surprise. Its natural to defend against attacks to the upper body more than the lower. If your still not convinced watch the great Anderson Silva get caught hook line and sinker in a leg lock when he could have easily won the fight

Achilles Foot Lock

Basic Achilles lock positioning

There are a few basic leg or foot locks taught in brazilian jiu-jitsu, with each having multiple variations of course. The most basic of which is probably the Achilles foot lock. This basic submission consists essentially of putting the opponent’s foot in a guillotine choke; his Achilles tendon being the neck and the pressure being placed on the tendons/ligaments in the top of the foot. Your whole body is used to push back on the foot causing pain and the risk of tearing needed tendons.  This foot lock is effective because of its simplicity and flexibility.

Heel Hook

Another type of leg lock is called a heel hook. These are quick and deadly submissions that put enormous pressure on the knee and demand a quick tap out when sunk in correctly. In training there is great care to finish this move in because of the possibility of damage to the knee from the applied pressure.

The basic idea behind the submission is to immobilize the opponents foot and lower leg against your body and upper leg with your legs. The two are then rotated independently with the two halves of your body to put pressure on the opponents knee. It doesn’t even sound all that simple but it is still easier said than done. There are also a number of variations to the heel hook which make it a serious threat in the hands of an expert.

UFC fighter Rousimar Palhares is known for his leg locks and more specifically his heel hook. For some of his highlights and technical breakdown of a more complex heel hook setup CLICK HERE.

Less Common Locks

The knee bar really does look similar to an arm bar

The knee bar is another leg lock that is taught in Brazilian jiu jitsu. As the name would imply this is essentially an arm bar for the knee. The pressure put on the knee to bend it in the opposite direction generates excruciating pain and can cause injury if the victim does not tap out. This is a less common submission because of a generally lower success rate than other leg locks.

Lastly there is a calf crank. The calf crank is not a traditional submission that aims to rip apart a joint. Instead it focuses on putting pressure on the opponents calf muscles and lower leg bones. This means that it causes more pain than threat of injury. The calf crank isn’t seen much or a guaranteed submission but there are a ton of variations that make its use very flexible. For an in depth look at the calf crank CLICK HERE.


The Elbow Strike

Elbow strikes are seen most often in Muay Thai fighting but have become a staple of mixed martial arts fighting as well. Elbows can be thrown standing up, on the ground, in combinations, as a set up strike, or as a counter. The elbow can be a devastating weapon in a fight because of its versatility, speed, and power. Elbow strikes are close range strikes that hit quick and hard. Also in an MMA fight there are no pads on the elbows making them especially useful.

In very close range is where elbows are used most often because of the decreased range of the strike, which is its biggest drawback. Upwards elbows, cross or hook elbows, spinning elbows, elbows on the ground, and elbows from the clinch are all seen in mixed martial arts fighting. Another thing to keep in mind is that elbow strikes can be great at cutting opponents above the eye. In mma or in a real life situation blood running into the opponents eye is a great thing for you.

The Basics

Elbow strikes draw power from the same movements as regular punches except that they culminate in the tip of the elbow instead of the end of the fist. Any cross or hook elbow require rotation of the feet,  hips, and torso to drive the elbow into the opponent’s face. Likewise an upwards elbow relies on essentially the same motion as an uppercut. Also The elbow an be an effective strike when very close to the opponent because other strikes are not an option at that range

This video shows a very quick but broad view of some elbow strikes that are available to use

Muay Thai Clinch

If you are going to trust one martial arts for elbow strike techniques its Muay Thai. The Muay Thai clinch provides an ideal position for elbowing the opponent; close range and inside his guard. From the clinch, with the grip on the opponent’s head the power of a quick elbow can be magnified by throwing the opponents head into the strike with the other arm, or simply not letting it give way as much. Also elbows from the clinch allow for the set up of knee strikes and take downs as well.

Striking effectively and maintaining the clinch at the same time is much easier said than done. Also just getting off effective elbows from the clinch isn’t easy with jockeying for position and blocking going on. Because the clinch is a whole position in itself CLICK HERE to learn about the clinch before attempting strikes from it.

K.O. Elbow

Many elbow strikes are not knockout blows. This is because most elbow strikes do come from the inside and close range so their power is lacking comparatively. However that is where the fact that the point of the elbow can easily tear the flesh above the eye causing severe bleeding. 

However the spinning back elbow can certainly turn out to be a knockout strike in MMA. Striking with the elbow already makes the point of impact smaller increasing the strikes power. However when the spinning motion is used to throw the elbow the rotational speed of the body makes the strike easily powerful enough to knock out an opponent. Think twice and practice a little before you throw one though because if you miss you could be in a bad position.

Ask this guy how powerful Jon Jones’ elbow is.

Or just look at this guy fall like a sack of bricks (its quick but funny)

Escaping The Mount

This guy is definitely not having fun being mounted…

Nobody wants to be mounted whether it is in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, mixed martial arts, or a real life situation. Of course in a real life situation or mixed martial arts this is an especially bad position to be because more than likely your getting punched and elbowed in the face. Getting out of this situation is crucial if you let yourself get into it and have any hope of winning.

For basic position your opponent will probably try to get as high up on your torso and under your arms as possible to reduce your chances of escaping. Because of this your only option is to not let this happen. The shoulder walk is really the essential technique to quickly gaining some room to have the opportunity to escape from the mount. This is essentially just using your shoulder blades like little legs to scoot yourself back in an upside down army crawl. The lower the opponent’s body is on your torso the more power your hips have over his body and freedom your arms have.

The Buck and Roll

The buck and roll escape is a very good escape to have in your arsenal because it is fast and effective if done correctly. Getting your opponent int the right position is the key for successfully completing this move. You need his hips to be as close to yours as possible and him leaning forward because when you buck you need to get your opponent to come forward and stabilize himself with his arms so you can then take out his base.

Taking out his base is done by quickly grasping one of the opponent’s arms with yours and pulling it into you body. After this you need to implement the roll to finish off the escape. The body position and weight distribution is awkward to explain in text but the video below is very clear. After watching the video it will be more clear, but you can also trap the side of the leg you roll to so that it is easier to turn your opponent over.

This position is also great because it puts you in a top full guard position with one of your opponent’s arms already isolated for a submission attempt.

Knee to Elbow Escape

The Knee to elbow escape is another mount escape but it requires a little more finesse to execute successfully. It starts by getting onto your side while under your opponent. While in this position you first isolate your opponents foot in from of you with your legs, this puts you in a quarter guard position. From here you simply need to rotate your hips and switch your legs to be in half guard with a the lockdown.

This mount escape is especially useful for jiu-jitsu users or grapplers because you can go from an extremely bad situation, full mount, to a half guard which isn’t half bad. Also if the hips are swung through quickly and you have a more powerful approach you can almost go straight through to dogfight position from this escape.

Never too much knowledge

Because you can never know to much about a position, and knowing more about such a bad position as bottom mount is probably better to know even if its just in the back of your mind. This site HERE has more on the basics of half guard bottom positioning as well as some other escapes.

The Deadly Uppercut

Kimbo Slice knows how to land the uppercut do you?

In boxing or mixed martial arts the uppercut is a very strong and quick punch that can be thrown. It is a very short range attack and relies on more upward movement of the body rather than rotational. This is a great punch for shorter stockier fighters who seek to come inside the reach of an opponent and then strike him. It is also a lethal strike if used as a well timed counter when your opponent’s chin is open.

There are two variations to this punch, the rear and lead uppercut. As with most other strikes the rear variation is slower and more powerful while the lead is quicker but sacrifices power. Also unlike a hook or a cross there is really no rotational power but instead the force is generated by the quads, core muscles in the back, and shoulder muscles thrusting the striking hand upwards.

This video demonstrates mostly the lead uppercut but CLICK HERE to see how to better utilize the rear uppercut

Knockout Power

That video is a perfect example of what they tell you not to do when throwing an uppercut, drop your blocking arm and wind up slowly, but he go away with it so I have to give that to him. However this video also points towards the knockout power of the uppercut. It is a strike designed to be a quick decider in a fight.

The fact that the uppercut delivers the explosive power of your legs and back is why it carries the knockout power that it does. Also the angle of the strike is a factor in this. The upwards angle is perfect for striking the jaw which is the money zone for knockouts. Also if the opponent is guarding his face a lot because he cant handle your punches you could sneak an uppercut through his guard and catch his jaw.

When Can You Strike

Throwing errant uppercuts is not a very good idea. You need to be in pretty close proximity to the opponent to hit him with one. On the flip side this means your well within his striking range as well, and that is why timing is very important.

Having your opponent up against the cage in a mixed martial arts fight or the ropes in a boxing fight are good times to throw an uppercut. In this position your opponent cannot back away to dodge so you can work a very close quarters striking game and utilize the uppercut. Also as previously mentioned you can, if your lucky, sneak an uppercut through someones guard when they’re unprepared.

Also the uppercut can be used as a counter strike. The link earlier in the post goes into using the rear hook as a counter strike and combo strike. When the opponent strikes he naturally moves closer to you. Or if the opponent tries to duck underneath your strikes he puts his face in an ideal spot to be tagged with an uppercut. The rear uppercut is especially useful in this situation because if executed properly the counter gives you the time you need for the slower more powerful strike; hopefully knocking out your opponent in the process.

MMA Backmount

A backmount position in Brazilian jiu Jiitsu

In just about any fighting situation, being behind an opponent, or the enemy, is probably a good position to be in. Your opponent cannot see you and also cannot strike you effectively, which is very nice in mixed martial arts. Except maybe with a donkey kick but you probably won’t ever be in that situation in a mixed martial arts fight so we won’t get into that here. Backmount position also is a base position from which a variety of different submissions can be performed as well. It is harder that it looks to use these moves effectively though because no position offers complete dominance.

Basic Backmount

Once you can successfully “take an opponent’s back” keeping it is another story. The opponent is not simply going to keel over and give up one you get onto his back. There are ways for him to counter your advances and possibly slip out of your clutches if you give him the chance. It may be especially hard to keep him in your grasp because he is in escape mode and will be doing everything he can to escape the backmount.

The best way to keep in position during the backmount is to keep your body as tight as you can to the opponent’s, a chest to back position. The use of your legs to secure position is essential as well. By wrapping your legs around the opponent’s waste and underhooking his legs with your feet you gain security on the opponent’s back as well as a level of control over him. Also the arms Can be used like a seat belt to secure the opponent as well.

For finer points of basic control from back mount Click Here 

Backmount Submissions

Of course the backmount offers a variety of submission options being a rather dominant grappling position. The downside of this is that some of our most favorite, the rear naked choke, are very carefully defended against. However with some technically sound maneuvering there are some common and not so common techniques to be mastered.

The rear naked choke is an extremely effective submission move that is used across all levels of mixed martial arts competition. This move’s simplicity of design is what makes it so effective in grappling competition. This takes some finer tuning of hand movements and controlling the opponent while positioning for the submission so that they do not slip out of it easily

There are of course other submissions as well. One of which is the armbar variation from the backmount which is shown in the video below. This can sometimes be useful when the opponent is focused on something else like defending against the rear naked choke. Also from the back mount a body triangle can be used to constrict the opponents breathing, but most often will not end in a submission. There are also more less often seen submissions that can be mastered.


A common defense when caught in a backmount is to push back and push the attacker into the ground with the hips to loosen the leg lock and then twist out to face you. This is why it is crucial to keep the chest to back position so you roll with an opponent not independently from him. Also the leg locks are very key to stopping your opponent from rolling where he wants to.

The Balancing Act

I used to be able to balance on my head like this…

Short of perhaps Curling at the Winter Olympics, every sport requires a good sense of balance. This is especially crucial in contact sports where you need to stay balanced even when engaged with an opponent to succeed. Balance is essentially the foundation that any aspect of a skill or technique is based upon. Without balance you would not be able to effectively strike, counter, or defend against attacks and take downs, essentially rendering you useless.

Keys To Balance

Balance stems from having strong core muscles. However a major factor in having good balance is having a good stance. Different martial arts focus on different stances that provide different benefits to the fighter. There are some concepts that are pretty general to stay balanced though. Bent knees, wide stance, and a centered straight torso are starting points for having a balanced stance.

There are also martial arts that very specifically go into teaching about different stances. Different stances change your center of gravity and your ability to move and react effectively. Muay Thai teaches different stances but has a focus on keeping weight forward to facilitate muay thai’s devastating offensive striking. While at the same time Karate stances tend to have their weight back more with a wider stance. This is because karate stances provide a more defensive approach which requires a steady base from which to counter from.

The Physics of Balance

Balance is really a matter of physics. An object with a lower center of gravity is generally more stable than one with a higher center of gravity. This is where the concept of keeping your knees bent comes from; that and you can’t really move around stiff legged. Anyone that has played football should have also heard the phrase, “Low man wins.” When it comes to takedowns, by coming in low you can your opponent off balance, because his center of gravity is higher than yours. Then since his legs aren’t under his center of gravity they can be easily kicked out or thrown out of the way to complete the takedown.

Being able to manipulate your center of gravity is key to keeping your balance in any situation. To manipulate your center of gravity you need strong core muscles to shift your upper body and keep your base firm. By keeping your center of gravity between your base (your torso in between your legs) you can maintain a pretty good center of balance. Also a strong core prevents outside forces from knocking either your torso outside your base or your legs from under your torso, but strong legs help with that too.

Whats The Secret

You could sit in a squatting position with a very low center of gravity and sold base and almost never get knocked over; but i also challenge you to win a fight from that position. Being light of your feet and moving around and punching and kicking while keeping your balance is the key to being effective. Whats difficult about developing balance is that there are so many tiny muscles that need to be strengthened in order to become great at balancing. It is easy to talk and read about how to keep your balance more effectively but to really learn to do it. Practice makes Perfect.

For some simple exercises  to build balance click hereI don’t think anyone has more time to practice and train than a monk. Therefor, the secrets of balancing can best be seen in a personal favorite of mine, the shaolin martial art of Drunken Fist.

Kicking Ass in Mixed Martial Arts

Barboza knocks out Etim with a hell of a kick

The legs are the most powerful striking tool on your body. In terms of power striking with the feet, shins, and knees trump fists, forearms and elbows pretty much every time. However using your legs takes a little more finesse because more balance and flexibility is needed to kick effectively. This is especially the case in mixed martial arts where someone can easily take you to the ground if your off balance, such as when you have one leg on the ground when kicking.

Kicking in Traditional Martial Arts

Many traditional martial arts involve kicking techniques. Each brings a separate aspect of using the legs as weapons to the table

Taekwondo Teaches many types of kicks. The focusing point of taekwondo striking is based around the balanced stances so if mastered this provides a solid base from which to attack the opponent with the legs. Also taekwondo incorporates spinning kicks and kicking combos into the technique which are more unpredictable and more powerful in a fight.

Muay Thai teaches very straightforward and powerful kicking techniques. It also works well with using the fists because it is a kickboxing martial art. This makes it very popular with many mixed martial artists. The roundhouse kick, front kick, and the knee strikes are probably muay thai’s most commonly seen techniques. A roundhouse kick is a powerful body, or even leg, strike that uses the rotational power of the whole body. A front kick is a more deffensive kick to the opponent’s core. Muay thai knee striking is known to be a deadly weapon in a fighters arsenal. There are no pads worn on he knees can quickly decide a mixed martial arts fight.

For some basics on muay thai kicking techniques click here

Karate is also a martial art that puts strong focus on kicking technique. The karate technique focuses on a quick moving stance with fluid movements. This allows for very quick kicking opportunities which are unpredictable and can be powerful with the right technique. Like taekwondo, karate also puts a lot of emphasis on balance but also flexibility. This flexibility allows for all parts of the opponents body as well as all parts of the foot/leg to be used as weapons.

This is a video of Bill “Superfoot” Wallace who was the Professional Karate Association’s middleweight belt holder.

Kicking in Mixed Martial Arts

Something that holds true in any venue of fighting competition is to not kick with the top of the foot. There are many little bones in the foot that can easily break. However striking with the shin provides a solid striking tool that is much less likely to break. A karate technique is to strike with the heel which can give a very tough surface to strike with.

Leg kicks can be a very useful weapon in a mixed martial arts fight. Its a tactical move to wear down the enemy’s base. Kicks to the body can also wear down an opponent by attacking his ribs, or with a well placed front kick, or teap kick, the solar plexus to stun the opponent.

Flexibility is really the key to kicking effectively. With more flexibility you can achieve more power from roundhouse type kicks by getting more rotation. However flexibility also gives your kicking knockout ability as well. If you can easily kick at the level of an opponent’s head/face then that gives you a powerful knockout strike to add to your arsenal.