Leg locks usually don’t come into the picture for BJJ practitioners until a few years into their journey. They have been stigmatized culturally in Brazil and are more dangerous than many other submissions, and people with less experience are not trusted with their execution. But there is one exception, which is taught to fresh white belts and is allowed in competitions: the straight ankle lock.
The straight ankle lock, or Achilles lock, is a leg lock that attacks the Achilles tendon and the bones in the foot. Depending on the execution and grip, strong pain in one or both areas can force a tap or cause serious damage to the bones or tendon.
While the ankle lock is the first leg lock taught in jiu-jitsu, it remains effective at all levels, and its versatility makes it a move every practitioner should be proficient with. There are a few variables like position and grips, but we will look at the most efficient ways of doing a straight ankle lock and methods to defend against it.
How To Do An Ankle Lock
The key to leg locks is understanding the different positions called leg entanglements. The straight ankle lock can be approached from several positions and executed with many grips. There aren’t “wrong” ways if it’s working, but some grips have proven more effective than others.
Let’s start with the positions. A common way to approach the straight ankle lock is to trap a leg when the opponent is in an open guard.
Regardless of whether you fall back from open guard or enter a leg entanglement in another way, you will need strong control over the opponent’s hips and knee to generate enough pressure on the foot and prevent them from defending.
Ankle Lock From Ashi Garami
The first option to finish the straight ankle lock is from the ashi garami position, which means leg entanglement in Japanese. In this position, you place your outside leg on the opponent’s hip to prevent them from coming forward.
In the regular ashi garami, the way most people teach the ankle lock is with your inside foot placed like a butterfly hook under the opponent’s trapped leg, but according to Dean Lister, this is a mistake, and your foot should be under the far leg.
Then, we move on to the grip. As I said, there are many ways to grip the foot, and all of them can work, but the guillotine grip is the most effective.
The Achilles of the attacked foot should be on the bony part of your forearm and the foot under your armpit. With a simple movement squeeze and backward, you will create enough pressure on the foot to elicit a tap in most people.
Ankle Lock From 50/50
The 50/50 is a leg entanglement position where you and the opponent are on equal ground and can attack each other’s legs. This means you are now also in danger of getting ankle-locked, but aside from that, the finishing mechanics are almost the same as in the Ashi Garami position. The only difference is you need to bridge your hips toward your inside hip.
A more traditional way of finishing the straight ankle lock is by going to your side first and then belly down for maximum foot extension. This is still efficient, but if you have a proper grip and get your forearm as high to the chest as possible, doing the extra work will not be necessary.
If you need the full extension to finish a stubborn opponent, here are some neat details from Brandon McCaghren on making your straight ankle lock even more powerful and dangerous.
What Is A Straight Ankle Lock in BJJ
The straight ankle lock, also called the Achilles lock, is a straightforward submission hold that elicits a tap by hyperextending the foot and compressing the Achilles tendon. The pain and pressure can be intense at either points or just one, depending on the grip and position.
The ankle lock is the first one everybody learns because it doesn’t include twisting motions to the knee or foot and is much safer to use than the rest of the leg locks.
Traditionally, the move is known as the Achilles lock and comes from catch wrestling. The name implies that the submission is targeting mainly the tendon.
For most of BJJ’s history, leg locks were considered low-class moves and were not given much attention, but there are records showing the Gracie family were using ankle locks, at least to a degree.
The straight ankle lock entered the mainstream competition scene in the gi thanks to Rodrigo Cavaca, who devised an updated version of the submission attacking the top of the foot rather than the Achilles tendon and used it extensively from the 50/50 position.
Leg locks have been a much more critical part of the game in no-gi, mainly through the ADCC, where BJJ fighters were exposed to grapplers from other styles like sambo and catch wrestling.
Dean Lister was one of the pioneers of modern leg attacks and remains a leading authority on ankle locks.
How To Escape Ankle Lock
The first and most important thing to address when you are in danger of getting ankle-locked is the opponent’s legs. They need to control your hips with the legs, and if you prevent the foot from locking your hips down, you can start to escape.
If they don’t control you, you must either move away and relieve the pressure or stand up and come on top. If your foot is on the mat, there is no way for the opponent to hyperextend it.
A common defense that can work even if the opponent is in a good position is to put on the boot. This means simply flexing your foot in the opposite direction of the ankle lock.
This is an effective defense method, but it requires a certain level of strength in the foot and ankle, which only some have. Furthermore, if the opponent is too strong, putting on the boot may not be enough to counter the tension.
Straight ankle locks are allowed at all belt levels, including white, by all rulesets.
Many leg locks, especially heel hooks, are banned for lower-level competitors and even for black belts in the gi because they are deemed too dangerous.
The heel hook is painless until, in one moment, it rips the ligaments in the knee, which can be a career-ending injury. There are additional factors in the ban on leg locks, but safety remains the main one.
Since there is no twisting motion in the ankle lock, its danger is not bigger than other popular submissions like armlocks, which is why it’s allowed even for white belts. Because of the relative safety of the move and its legality, it’s often the first leg lock submission taught to all students.
There are some details in the straight ankle lock rules for white belts, though. For the submissions to be legal, the attacker must turn away from the knee, not towards it, which is considered knee reaping and leads to an immediate disqualification.
The straight ankle lock is much safer than most other leg locks, but it’s also a lot simpler to do. While some people seem immune to it, you could tap people at all skill levels if done correctly. Regardless of anyone’s opinion about leg locks, they represent attacks on 50% of the body and are here to stay, so it’s up to you to keep up with the times.