BJJ 101: The Foot Lock

If you are a fan of competitive grappling, then you’re probably aware that leg locks are more popular than ever. Traditionally frowned upon by BJJ practitioners, grapplers of all kinds have come to appreciate the benefits of leg attacks due to their effective use by elite grapplers in high-level competition. However, many BJJ students have difficulty figuring out where to begin with leg locks. Most instructors agree that a great place to start is the foot lock (also known as the ankle lock) — a submission that works by hyperextending the foot and compressing the Achilles tendon. The foot lock, which is typically executed from a position called ashi garami, is a safe technique to practice, and it serves as a great introduction to the world of leg locks. Below is an overview of this effective technique.


How does it Work?

One of the things that make the foot lock so powerful is that it attacks two targets at once: the foot and the Achilles tendon. The first pressure felt by an opponent trapped in a foot lock is the hyperextension of the foot. As the submission is applied, the opponent’s toes are moved away from his or her shin, stretching the ligaments and muscles on the top of the foot. This pressure alone is enough to cause most opponents to submit. However, the foot lock doesn’t end there. As noted above, the foot lock also puts stress on the Achilles tendon. As the foot is extended, pressure is placed on the opponent’s Achilles tendon where it attaches to the heel using the bony part of the forearm. As the forearm is driven into the Achilles tendon, the opponent is forced to tap out. Both sources of pressure are more than enough to submit an opponent. When combined, however, even the toughest opponent will be forced to tap.


Where to Start: Ashi Garami  

Before learning the basics of how to apply the foot lock, it is first necessary to understand the position from which the submission is executed. Ashi garami, which is also known as the single leg x-guard, is typically the first leg lock position taught to BJJ students, and it is the starting point in most leg attack systems. The position involves isolating and attacking an opponent’s leg with one’s own legs. When attacking an opponent’s left leg, for example, the right foot is placed on the opponent’s hip, allowing the attacking student to create tension and prevent his or her opponent from closing the distance to defend the leg attack. The left leg of the attacking student is then inserted between the opponent’s legs, enabling him or her to squeeze the knees together and control the opponent’s leg. With the opponent’s leg effectively controlled, the attacking student can then work to apply the foot lock.


How to Execute the Foot Lock

1) Control your opponent’s leg – As noted above, ashi garami is a popular leg locking position, as it gives the attacking student excellent control of his or her opponent’s leg. If the attacking student fails to effectively control the leg, then the opponent will likely escape.

2) Position your forearm against the Achilles tendon – From the ashi garami position, slide your arm down your opponent’s leg towards his or her foot, stopping at the Achilles tendon. Grip either your hand or wrist with your opposite hand.

3) Pinch your elbow against your body – Once the Achilles tendon has been located with the forearm, pinch your elbow against your ribs, trapping the opponent’s foot.

4) Roll to your side Turn towards the knee of the leg you are attacking and roll to your side.

5) Extend and finish To finish the submission, arch your back and extend your chest, forcing the opponent to tap.


Common Errors

  • Staying upright – Many people attempt to finish the foot lock from an upright position. While it is certainly possible to finish the submission this way, it is much more effective to apply the submission with a shoulder on the mat. Placing a shoulder on the mat increases the leverage involved with the submission and allows the attacking student to drastically increase the pressure placed on the Achilles tendon.
  • Hands too low Another error that students make is trying to finish the foot lock with their hands too low. Again, while it is possible to finish the submission this way, it becomes much more powerful when the hands are placed higher on the chest. Placing your hands near your chest allows for additional pressure to be exerted on the Achilles tendon, exponentially increasing the odds of success.
  • Forearm too high on opponent’s leg BJJ beginners and those new to the leg lock game often place their forearms high on the leg when attempting to finish the foot lock. However, the closer the forearm is to the opponent’s calf, the less likely it is that the submission will be successful. In order to avoid this issue, make sure to slide your forearm down the leg until it hits your opponent’s heel. Only then should you pinch your elbow to your side and begin attempting to complete the submission.
  • Legs too far apart As noted above, the failure to successfully control an opponent’s leg before attempting a submission will rarely result in success. However, many students fail to maintain ashi garami or other leg entanglement positions long enough to attempt a foot lock or other leg attack. Remember, it is imperative that the knees remain pinched together when in ashi garami in order to maintain the position. Otherwise, the opponent will almost certainly escape.


The foot lock is just one of many exciting and effective techniques you will learn during your BJJ journey! Even if you have no prior martial arts experience, BJJ is for you!

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