Skip to main content

How to Do a Toe Hold Leglock for BJJ: An Advanced Look

Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.

Using a toe hold leglock.

Using a toe hold leglock.


What makes the toe hold such a surprise submission? Perhaps it's because it's typically legal in the gi (for brown and black belts), or maybe because there is a general lack of awareness of lower body submissions among many BJJ practitioners. Maybe it has something to do with the toe hold being such an accessible "catch" that you can grab it from virtually any position. Most likely, it's a combination of all of these factors. Here are three quick "surprise" or "ninja" attacks for the toe hold, with some emphasis on how to finish the technique once you get the catch.

Catching the Hidden Leg

This first attack starts when your partner is (predictably) hiding the leg you want to attack for the kneebar or basic toe hold attack. Instead of diving for the far foot as previously prescribed, sometimes this can be hard to accomplish due to leg length and predictability. So we're going to attack the "hidden" triangled leg. Not only does this take your partner by surprise (you can't really get that, can you?), but they're also (ironically) super stuck. The trick here is to make sure to reach beyond the knee that's attempting to hide their foot with both your hand (as you initially grab the toes) and your forearm as you hook behind their Achilles tendon. As always, the finish relies primarily on curling outward against the ankle.

Rolling Toe Hold Attack

De La Riva is the position demonstrated in the video, but it's just as easy to hit from a variety of other positions, including the knee cut pass. Start by grabbing the foot you're going to attack by the toes, and then, in order to hook behind the Achilles to make your figure four grip, you need to roll through over your right shoulder (the shoulder of the arm that reaches back to complete the grip). This is essentially just a rolling breakfall, although it looks way cooler and fancier. Once you roll through, it's important that you focus on two things.

First, be sure to isolate their far leg. This is one of the keys to their ability to escape your toe hold attack. Second, and at least equally important, be sure to hide your own foot! In the video, I show one method of doing this, but there are other (equally viable) methods. Just be sure your partner can't attack your leg, and their far leg is isolated.

Holy Wow

This last one is incredibly sneaky, and while it's not recommended that you allow someone to armbar you in a tournament in order for you to get a submission finish, this can be a real surprise move that you can actually hit on good grapplers. This move works when your partner tries for a belly-down armbar.

Their leg needs to be across your body, but not all the way under your armpit (their ideal position would be either under your armpit or hooking your hip, but most people will end up with their foot out in the transition). It's important that you have a proper stack: not too far forward, or else you'll be swept into a much more solid armbar finish position. Once you have the position under control, and you find that your arm isn't presently being extended (super important), you can attack for the toe hold, which you have more or less already found yourself entangled in.

Wild Stuff

In many ways, toe holds are still kind of like the "wild west" of BJJ. If you understand them fairly well, you will have a significant edge over your training partners. As such, the onus is on you to make sure that your partners understand the dangers involved with the leg attacks, and to be sure to apply the pressure slowly, even when your partner is trying to roll fast.

It's much, much better to let a submission go than to "teach a lesson" to someone. Practice with extreme caution at first, make sure your partners are educated, and be sure your instructor wants you playing with toe holds! As always, let me know how these work out for you. Feel free to supplement this tutorial with some other leglock tutorials, like kneebars from half guard bottom, heel hooks from combat base, heel hooks from the bottom, or any of the other tutorials I've put together for your use.

© 2015 Andrew Smith


ProSportandSpine from Gig Harbor, WA on September 26, 2015:

Who grabs a toe