Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
I've been grappling for over 20 years now, starting with my high school days of wrestling. A few years after graduating, I quickly fell in love with both judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. However, I was always drawn to the somewhat more unorthodox approaches to BJJ training, particularly with regard to lower body submissions. Right from the beginning, I was messing around with some pretty unorthodox leg attacks, including heel hooks and toe holds back in the late 1990s—way, way sooner than I probably should have been, in retrospect.
As a result, my "orthodox" BJJ game has evolved alongside my unorthodox leglock game, borrowing from catch wrestling and sambo, among other sources, and genuine inspiration on very rare occasions. What follows are some of the more unorthodox leg attacks I've been using for more than a decade now. I'm going to start with the most familiar one and gradually work in the direction of less and less familiar territory with these techniques.
- The Rolling Toe Hold
- The Cloverleaf
- The Goathook Escape
- The Goathook
Practice Under Supervision and Use Extreme Caution
As always, please practice only under the supervision of a qualified instructor, and use extreme caution any time you're working on any sort of leglock, particularly when trying it for the first time (or when having it done to you!). Enjoy!
1. The Rolling Toe Hold: It's Everywhere!
Although the toe hold (or the "figure four footlock") was a staple of submission grappling for a long time, it wasn't until the finals of the 1999 Mundial (World Jiu-Jitsu Championships) when Rodrigo "Comprido" Medieros finished the legendary "Roleta" with a very fast toe hold from the open guard that the BJJ community really seemed to take notice. Up until that point, Brazilian fans would often boo any time someone went for a leg attack of any sort in competition.
However, after this attack quickly and decisively won the biggest match in the world of BJJ in 1999, the practitioners took notice and slowly began to integrate this attack into their games. One of my favorite ways to hit this attack is rolling from the open guard.
For a more fundamental look at the toe hold, check out How to Set Up a Toe Hold.
2. The Cloverleaf: Homage to Pro Wrestling
This particular leglock is one that Seph Smith and I have been using since the early 2000s, and very early on, I quickly appreciated the devastating nature of the submission. I worked out that, based on my favorite kneebar set up, my opponent was extremely likely to cross their legs to prevent the initial (very familiar) submission attempt, thus setting up the toe hold and the straight ankle lock. However, when they crossed their ankles instead of triangling their legs, as shown in this video, the cloverleaf submission is a perfect set up.
The cloverleaf is a combination of three nasty submissions rolled up in one. It has the potential to be a kneebar on the leg that's trapped underneath, and there's definitely an "Achilles crush" element as well thrown in there, not to mention a kind of crushing straight ankle lock for the top foot. Use extreme caution when practicing this one, because your opponent may not even understand that he or she is caught in a submission until it's too late!
3. The Goathook Escape
The "Goathook escape" here is presented before the Goathook itself, mainly because it's actually slightly more "orthodox" than the latter technique. This is essentially the type of ridiculous escape a child would get away with when mounted (and I watch children use very similar escapes all the time when rolling). However, there's quite a bit more to this particular escape (and, ultimately, heel hook set up and finish) than might appear to the untrained eye.
If you read through the YouTube comments (and hey, why wouldn't you take the opportunity to check out the Jerry Springer Show of words and sentences?), you'll note that several people suggest that the top person would simply armbar you, duh. Having used this escape myself on literally dozens of black belts over the years, and having had it used on me, I can say for certain that this escape is still an extremely high percentage move if you're flexible enough to get the initial hip placement correct.
Placing the hands in the armpits also seriously reduces any opportunity for the armbar counter, and being ready for the transition to S-mount by preparing to switch to an up-the-middle escape is really all you need to deal with those threats. But hey, what do I know, right?
4. The Goathook (TM): The Grandaddy of All Carney Moves
Here it is: the Goathook. Ever since I first started using this move around 2003, everyone kept asking to see me do it. Even though I've been a BJJ black belt for six years now, and although I've focused extensively on creating a game that does not rely on flexibility, people to this day really want to see me do the Goathook. Why? Because it looks absurd, and it actually works.
It's a heel hook from inside your opponent's closed guard. Essentially, you can either force them to open their legs, once your foot is across, or you can wait for them to move to try to get on top. Either way, you're going to have a nice setup for that over/under heel hook, which is the absolute best finishing position for a heel hook.
You do need flexibility for this one; I'm not going to lie.
Which Is Your Favorite?
"Legbars" can be a great deal of fun if you have the right training environment. If you'd like to check out some more orthodox leg attacks, check out some setups for kneebars from the bottom of half guard. If unorthodox upper body attacks are your game (or if you just love the Kimura), you might enjoy How to Pass the Guard Using the Kimura Grip.
As always, I welcome feedback, and if you find any of these moves useful, please do let me know! Also, let me know what you'd like to see next.
© 2014 Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith (author) from Richmond, VA on April 30, 2015:
Hey Scott! I'll use the escape in the gi, but any time you finish the leglock, you'd definitely get called for reaping (even if you finished a straight footlock). Hope this helps!
Scott Oates on April 30, 2015:
Hey Andrew, do you ever do the Goat hook in the gi, and if so, would you get called for reeping? I think you did this on me once in the gi.