Until recently, Jiu-Jitsu was all about chokes, upper body submissions like the kimura, and the occasional leg lock finish. One of Renzo Gracie’s top students and teachers, John Danaher and his “death squad,” have since changed the that.
Over the last 10 years, no-gi Jiu-Jitsu has seen the rise of heel hook submissions. It is hard to find a Jiu-Jitsu tournament that does not have at least one “leg locker” going in and heel hooking some of the other competitors en route to a finish.
When the leg locking wizard Dean Lister was teaching a seminar on leg locks, he was approached by John Danaher. Danaher stated he did not do leg locks and kept his Jiu- Jitsu in the more traditional way. Dean Lister looked at him and said “Why ignore 50% of the body?” This inspired Danaher to change his approach and implement the leg game into his life.
Gordon Ryan, Garry Tonon, Eddie Cummings, and Craig Jones. These four men are some of the biggest stars in Jiu- Jitsu. These four men are leg lock specialists, primarily heel hook assassins. Ryan, Tonon, and Cummings all train/ have trained and learned heel hooks from John Danaher.
These four men have won countless competitions while using their beloved attack that they learned from their fearsome leader. Australian star Craig Jones has said he studied Danaher and his team and developed his own style with his coach Lachlan Giles.
So what is this popular heel hook submission?
Does it cause terrible pain to the heel? The answer: NO!
The heel hook is a submission involving the heel, knee, and hips. The player controls the opponents hips and knees while a hold is applied to trap the toes exposing the heel. Next, the player twists the opponents heel which will torque and put pressure in their knee forcing the tap. The heel hook, when done right, applies tremendous pressure to the ligaments in the knee sometimes causing damage to the ACL, MCL, LCL, PCL, and or Meniscus.
Is the heel hook a new submission? NO!
The maneuver can be traced 1000’s of years ago. There is a Roman carving in a Vatican Museum of a Centaur heel hooking a man. BJJ Heroes helps define the term:
Once Jiu-Jitsu became a sport, the 1st Federation (early 1970’s), began to outlaw some of the dangerous leg locks including the heel hook. It became frowned upon if a heel hook was used during training. To the old school, it meant you had no understanding of technique- “real” Jiu-Jitsu. In the 90’s, the heel hooks started making a comeback and once John Danaher met Dean Lister, then the new heel hook revolution began.
MMA and the UFC have had a few leg lockers.. As early as the 90’s with Bas Rutten in Pancrase, the scary Rousimar Palhares, and as recent as the wizard Ryan Hall landing a perfect heel hook in the first round against BJ Penn this past December.
Tune in to Submission Grappling 8 on UFC Fight Pass, May 12, where we will see heel hook extraordinaire Craig Jones in his element against UFC vet Dennis Hallman.
Below is a video on how to properly apply the submission.
I am a Personal Trainer and Nutritionist in New Jersey. I have been a martial arts practitioner and fan for along as I can remember. I have a background in Jiu-Jitsu Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Do. I have a passion and love for sharing my knowledge on Jiu-Jitsu and MMA.