Leg Lock Injuries and Preventative Measures

Leglocks, such as the “knee bar”, “heel lock”/”heel hook”, and “inverted heel lock/hook”, are common moves in many combat and martial arts, like Jiu-Jitsu, catch wrestling and so on. As the name suggests, they are joint locks directed at the joints of your leg like the hip, knee, or ankle joint. Although a useful self-defense move in combat sport, many are quite dangerous to the person subjected to them, and can cause serious damage to the joints and supporting muscles,  ligaments and tendons (including dislocations or bone breaks) – the knees in particular are a very vulnerable areas. Indeed some moves like the heel hook are banned in certain sports like judo. In this article, we look at some of the main types of leg lock, how they can damage your knees, and what you can do to strengthen your knees in order to prevent (and recover from) such injuries. If you partake in martial arts or combat sports involving joint locks, this is the article for you.

Main types of joint lock

Knee bar: in this move, the person executing the move locks the leg of their opponent between their own legs and secures it using their arms so that their opponent’s kneecap points in the direction of the body. They next apply pressure using their hips/core, forcing their opponent’s leg to straighten out, effectively hyperextending the knee. In a variation of this move, the fighter will, rather than holding the opponent’s leg with their hands, trap the foot behind their armpit, whilst applying pressure using the upper body as well as the hips.  Much more force is then applied to the knee, and it is much more difficult to escape the lock without suffering ligament or tissue damage.
Heel hook: this is a leg lock in which you places your legs around the leg of the opponent, then hold the latter’s foot in your armpit on the same side. The whole body is then used to generate a twisting force, applying severe torque to the ankle (medial), which is then transferred to the knee.
Inverted heel hook: similar to the heel hook above, you hold the opponent’s foot in your opposite-side armpit, and twist laterally. Both the heel hook and the inverted heel hook are considered to be extremely dangerous moves, with very high rates of injury to the knee. In a lot of combat sports, they are in fact banned. And where allowed, holding these moves for too long is considered a severe infraction.

Knee Injuries caused by leg locks
Which brings us to the types of knee injury that can be caused by these moves. Knee injuries caused by leg locks can be acute, traumatic injuries, or injuries of overuse. Some common ones are:

ACL tear: this is where your knee gets twisted down and inward, such that the anterior cruciate ligament found between your knee joint and whose purpose is to limit the forward (anterior) movement of your tibia bone from the thigh bone, is torn by the train. When you tear your ACL you will likely hear a ‘pop’ and feel your knee ‘give way’. ACL injuries are usually accompanied by injuries to the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) and the medial or lateral meniscus. They are common injuries resulting from the knee bar (hyperextension of the knee), and heel lock (torsion, twisting). Immediate swelling and pain (severe) are common symptoms of a torn ACL.
Torn meniscus: the meniscus is a crescent shaped piece of cartilage sandwiched between your knee, its purpose is to cushion the impact between the lower leg and the thigh bone. It is also vulnerable to being torn when the knee hyperextends, or is twisted to the side. Unlike an ACL tear, in which the knee ‘gives way’, with a torn meniscus the knee feels ‘locked’ and unable to move at all.
Dislocated kneecap: when the knee twists in one direction, whilst the kneecap goes in the other, the kneecap may become dislocated from its proper position. Usually accompanied by injuries to the surrounding ligaments and cartilage. Another common injury where leg locks are performed.

Injuries of overuse: if you’ve been grappling for many years, you will likely have experienced quite a bit of wear and tear to your knee over that time. If you suffer dull and aching pain, as well as stiffness in the knee, you might be suffering from osteoarthritis a degenerative condition in which the cartilage lining your joints begins to wear away exposing the bones underneath. Another source of chronic knee pain which can also result from overuse, is Patellofemoral Syndrome (PFS). This is where the kneecap/patella becomes misaligned, so that as you continually flex and extend your knee, the patella doesn’t track properly and is pulled off to the side, resulting in irritation plus wearing away of the cartilage beneath the kneecap. Again the major symptom is dull aching pain that increases after activity and prolonged INactivity.

Prevention and recovery
Prevention is better than cure, and maintaining strong, stable knees is the main way to avoid suffering these debilitating these injuries in the first place. This in turn is a matter of strengthening and exercising the muscles that support and stabilize the knee joint, namely your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, glutes and more. There are plenty of exercises you can do to achieve this goal.

Learn also how to maintain proper alignment in your legs; this helps you avoid having the knee track off to one side, causing damage to the underlying cartilage. Again this is a matter of strengthening ALL your leg muscles, particularly the quadriceps, so that they engage in a balanced way, and thereby keep your knee in proper alignment with the femur.

A great exercise to strengthen your quadriceps is Isometric quad sets. Start by sitting on the floor (or lying on your back if that is more comfortable for you) with one leg stretched out in front of you. You can keep the other one straight as well or bend it at the knee. Then tighten the quad (thigh) muscles of the leg that is stretched out by pressing the back of your knee against the floor. You can place a rolled up towel under your knee if it is painful to do this exercise without it. Hold your knee pressed down to the floor for about 5 seconds and then release. Repeat it for 20 times and then do the same exercise with the other leg.

If your knee does get injured, on the other hand, and recovery becomes the name of the game, then these are the steps to follow:

Rest: stop what you are doing and take time out. Ice, compress and elevate the affected area until you can get to a doctor

Get it checked out: see a quality sport’s medicine doctor and get a proper diagnosis. They will also prescribe you with non-steroid, anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the pain and swelling, whilst referring you to a physiotherapist. As well as will recommend the type of knee protection you should be wearing to not further aggravate your knee injury. For example, they might recommend you to just stick to wearing a knee sleeve, or they might also tell you to go hard-core and wear something similar to tactical knee pads, which have a lot of padding and will provide heavy-duty protection.

Rehabilitation: your physio will help you devise a training program to rebuild the strength in your knee. In order to avoid complications, be sure not to return to your previous activity levels too soon. Pace yourself, and gradually build up your activity levels. With the right approach and rehab program, you should be able to make a full recovery.

                               - Guest Post By: Mathew Foster -

BJJ MMA Submission Wrestling… It’s Time To Escape!

Learn how to recognize and escape all the major positions in MMA, Submission Wrestling, No-gi Jiu-jitsu, BJJ, etc.

Catch Wrestling’s Flying Mare – And Follow Ups

Many times what you see in our articles and videos is the culmination of years of work, repetition and refinement. But that final product sometimes looks quite different when we first encounter it. And this has to do with many factors. First is how familiar or unfamiliar the technique is to us. Then there is how and where the technique began and then how we use the move, which can be quite different. For instance, techniques developed in arts that include pinning or outlaw leg locks will create energies and common pathways that simply will not exist in our world, and as a result, we will use a given technique in a completely different way than how it was used in it’s original home.

So we thought we’d do something a little different with this article. We wanted to include you in the process, from the beginning. We wanted to show you how we learn a new move, the questions we ask, the process we go through in stumbling through it, fleshing it out, trying to make it fit into what we are doing and the rule structures that we play by. We wanted you to see us make fools of ourselves (even more than usual), ask “stupid” questions and collaborate with friends. And so here it is, our first encounter with Catch As Catch Can’s Flying Mare.

Our story begins a few years back, during one of Coach Billy Robinson’s last seminars. Brandon and I learned the Flying Mare through him and brought it back to our gym. Kiser took to the move a little more than I did and began to teach it to our student body. I had reservations about teaching it since I didn’t understand the entire picture and didn’t have a chance to ask Coach Billy about a failsafe should the move get countered. Years later, our students had developed to a point where the move was popping up in their rolls and competitions. Sometimes working perfectly, and other times getting stuffed hard! And then the question came, “What do we do, when we’ve committed to the Flying Mare, and the opponent stops it?”

And this is where the story picks back up again. A few years after Coach Billy’s passing and with the following Facebook messages between Coach Sam Kressin and I attempting to reverse engineer what we think Coach Billy might say and suggest.




BYamasakiSKressinMessages3And this is what we’ve got up to this point.  A month into the conversation with Catch Wrestler Sam Kressin.  Now before we go out and publish this first draft of the article, I’d like to stray off topic just a little and mention a story I once heard about American Kenpo’s Founder Ed Parker.  Towards the end of his life, Master Parker knew that his days were numbered.  He had also seen what could happen to a family, an organization, once a leader had departed.  He had seen the in fighting and politics that could erupt and decimate a lifetime of work.  And so he set out with a plan.

The story goes that Master Parker sought out his highest ranking students and with each, only shared a portion of the advanced material, seeking to create specialists in particular branches of his art.  His hope was that after his passing, his students would have to come together and share with each other to maintain the complete version of his life’s work.  Whether or not this story is true, it made a permanent impact on me.

And so, what I would love to see, is feedback from the rest of our friends from Coach Billy’s school.  To see, if together, we can reverse engineer our failures, and piece together a more complete understanding of how Coach Billy would have dealt with the situations we are finding ourselves in.  And so I invite you personally, Jesse Mares, John Potenza, Jake Shannon and Garry Davis to join Sam, Brandon and I in our efforts to unravel this mystery.  Please add your comments, send us your videos, we will incorporate them all here in this article and will learn from each other and grow closer through the process.

Check back as all new video and insight will be updated to this page as we receive it.  And thank you for supporting DamageControlMMA.com!

MMA Injuries: Time to man up!

Train long enough in the Martial Arts, and you will encounter an injury of one kind or another. Learning how to train wisely during an injury is a key component in getting ahead while others would be crying in a corner, licking their wounds.

Well, this week we bring you our friend and regular here at Damage Control MMA, Ben “The Badger” Jones. It’s no surprise that when he injured his bicep while preparing for a bout in Bellator, he was still at it, working out and training, even with his injury.

The key is to be smart about how you train. To find ways that you can continue to be active while both allowing your injury to heal, but also improving your skills in other, possibly neglected parts of your game. Here Ben shares some of his insights into how to accomplish this… Badger style!

If you find this article interesting, we’ve visited it before. Be sure to check out our previous article MMA – Love Hurts

Rear Naked Choke: Finish Stubborn Defenders

Few things are as frustrating as taking your opponent’s back and sinking in a rear naked choke, but no matter how hard you squeeze, your opponent is able to defend with his hands in pulling just enough to relieve the pressure.

The most recent series in our member section covers the RNC. This technique is perhaps the most effective set up and finishing technique for the RNC. It is so simple it’s nearly impossible to mess up. What’s best is that you actually use the RNC to set up an RNC finish just with the other arm.

For more details on setting up and handling counters to the rear naked choke, our Members have access to our entire RNC series.

Have you tried this technique? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Top 5 uses of Jiu-jitsu in the Movies

If you were thinking Mel Gibson, triangle choke, Lethal Weapon or Gina Carrano and RNC in Haywire, you’re way off! No, I’m talking deep Jiu-jitsu, real Jiu-jitsu, Meta-jitsu, I’m talking Jiu-jitsu that’s so hard core, it transcends Jiu-jitsu itself. Yeah, I’m talking about the good stuff. So let’s get started.

At number 5 we have Lucifer and his play for John Constantine in the movie “Constantine”. You see, old Lou has been waiting desperately to take Constantine’s soul back to Hell with him, but in a final selfless act of sacrifice, Constantine earns his place in the pearly gates. Just as he is about to ascend to Heaven, the Devil reaches inside Constantine’s lungs and removes his terminal cancer then repairs his opened veins thus bringing Constantine back to life, giving Constantine a second chance to screw things up and giving himself another crack at his coveted prize, John Constantine’s soul.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had to give something up, not to win, but to give myself a second chance to have the other guy make a mistake and screw himself up. It’s like being mounted and having a guy go for a V-Lock/Figure 4 Americana Shoulder Lock. Sometimes the only move you’ve got is to turn and give up your back just to stay alive and hopefully allow your opponent to slip up and let you back into the game. It is for this desperate but savvy maneuver that Constantine comes it at number 5 for the best use of Jiu-jitsu in the movies. No Neo, you don’t know Jiu-jitsu but Lucifer surely does.

At number 4 we have “The Hunt for Red October”. WTF you say? Yes, you heard me right, when the captain of the Russian sub hunting fleet fires on Captain Ramius of the Red October, Ramius does the unexpected. Instead of turning away from the oncoming torpedoes, he turns into them and moves to engage them at full speed. By doing so he is able to collide with them before their safeties can disengage and thus arm their explosives. This leads his foe to disable the safeties which eventually leads to his own demise.

There is so much here that merits it’s place on the top 5 list. First is the idea of closing the distance and smothering your opponent to minimize damage to oneself. This is an essential element in Jiu-jitsu. But then there’s the idea of off balancing your opponent, both physically and emotionally and allowing them to kill themselves. It is for demonstrating these key characteristics that The Hunt for Red October gets it’s spot at number 4.

And this leads us to number 3 on our list, the “The Avengers”. Here we see a perfect example of luring, and off balancing used by the Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson (insert an Austin Powers purr here…). Oh and we’re not done yet. The fact that she’s a knock out is an integral part of the reason that “The Avengers” is at number 3. You see, many times, misdirection is utilized in Jiu-jitsu to grab a hold and keep a hold of your opponent’s attention. While they’re looking at the shiny, sparkling, glittery thing over here, the real threat is over there and by the time they realize it. It’s already too late.

And it is for the picture perfect execution of this concept and the Black Widow’s ability to feign weakness and vulnerability, coaxing her opponent to over commit, that “The Avengers” gets number 3 on our Top 5 uses of Jiu-jitsu in the movies.

The runner up on our Top 5 List is “Searching for Bobby Fischer”. In it, our Hero, Josh Waitzkin while competing in a highly anticipated and prestigious Chess Match, corners his opponent and offers him a truce. What happens next is not as important as was Josh’s gesture of compassion, understanding, mastery and true gamesmanship. What does any of this have to do with Jiu-jitsu you ask?

It has everything to do with Jiu-jitsu. Beginners only see the move in front of them. They are checkers players. Great players see two, three and sometimes many more moves ahead. They are Chess players. And then there are the Josh Waitzkins of the world. Players who not only see the moves that inevitably follow based on the positions of the pieces and the eventual end games they will produce, but also have the ability to see what lies off of the board or the mat as it were. These players understand how certain moves like face cranks, or the manner in which you catch a guy will effect how teammates will view him. How the way he rolls will result in the admiration of his peers, and in being the guy who everybody wants to roll with, or how they may make him the guy who people run from like a raging case of mat Herpes or that ring shaped lesion peeking out from underneath a pair of TapOut shorts. They understand the bigger game that’s at stake. Crank your instructor too many times or in a nasty way and how long do you think he will continue giving you the inside lane. I mean, let’s face it, who wants to go out of their way to make their own life more difficult and miserable to lead. Checkers players play the move in front of them. Chess players play two and three moves ahead, but still they are focused on winning a game. Josh Waitzkins are looking at having people to play games with tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that. They are interested in keeping their mentors counsel and in losing battles to win wars.

Josh Waitzkin saw what was at stake off the mat. He could see that losing this match for the boy in front of him would mean earning the disapproval of the boys father. He could see how it would destroy his self esteem and spirit and to Josh it wasn’t worth it. He didn’t need to win the game to have that sense of validation or self worth. He was bigger than the moves he made or the roll he was in with his opponent. And this is why “Searching for Bobby Fischer” is numba two.

This brings us to what you’ve all been waiting for. THE BEST USE of Jiu-jitsu in film… Drum roll please…


Oh yes! Rorschach! My favorite! I’ll just let the movie clip speak for itself.

You see, many of these clips have personal significance to me and my experience with Jiu-jitsu. And being the size of an prepubescent teen, I am always getting dominated and held down in “bad positions.” For years I learned the escapes and on players at my level and below, they worked alright. But on my seniors, my escapes only seemed to lead into deeper, murkier, more sinister waters and eventually they’d drown me… or better yet, they’d watch sadistically as I drown myself.

And then I realized that these positions, Back Mount, Mount, Across Side, Quarter position and the like were like my prisons. Every time I tried to escape, I was shot or got burned by the electric fences or entangled in the razor wire. So I decided to take a step back. I changed the way I looked at things. My prisons would no longer be what caged me in, but rather what kept the bad guys out. They would be my fortified castle, not my source of imprisonment. As Rorschach would say, “you guys just don’t get it. I’m not locked in here with you… YOU’RE LOCKED IN HERE WITH ME!!!”

You see, if they lock you in a cell, they’ve got to open it up and take you out in order to walk you down to the executioner’s chamber. That’s when I’ll make my break. In the meanwhile, I’m going to sit back in the deepest part of my cell and if anyone sticks their hands inside to tug at me… I’ma break em off.

Don’t like my list? Think you’ve got a better example or question some of my picks? Leave me your thoughts and your picks in the comments boys. The score is 1 to nuthin… come and get me.

How to Hit without Being Hit! Ghost Fighting Systems

This year at Erik Paulson’s annual Combat Submission Wrestling camp, we were introduced to a new presenter, Phil Norman. Recently Mr. Norman has been making a splash in his area of the world with his students and their accomplishments in the realms of MMA, K-1 and other combat sports.

I’ve always been a fan of the finesse approach to fighting. I.e. learning how to hit while minimizing the damage (potential and actual) that you take in the process. And as common sense as this approach may seem, I am still stunned by how many egotistical cave men there are out there who think it’s somehow “cooler” to take punishment and then retaliate.

You hear it all the time when guys say stuff like, “I like getting hit.” or “I can take a better shot than you can.” Whenever I hear this garbage I always think about what Boxing Coach Marvin Cook once said. “Maybe you can and maybe you can’t but I tell you what, I’ma go ahead and just give that to you because I don’t really know exactly how good a shot I can take. I’ve never taken a really good shot and I don’t ever plan to. It’s just not something I’m that interested in finding out.”

Phil Norman’s Ghost Fighting System seems to fit quite well into this philosophy albeit in its own unorthodox way.

What is most interesting to me about what Mr. Norman Presented to us, was how nicely it seemed to complement and supplement the things we’d already been preaching in our own gym, at DamageControlMMA.com and in our own personal approach to fighting.

Reference the Basic Footwork, Basic Punch Defense, and Offensive Angular Footwork series already available in our members section.

In the featured video Mr. Norman described “The Hang” which is significant to us because it fills a niche that lies between two ideas we utilize in our own striking method. Previously, we employed 2 contrasting methods to deal with the energy presented in “The Hang”. One we refer to as the “Half Moon” and can be seen at the 7:04 mark of the Over Commitment (Striking Formula) video, and the other we cover in the Retreating at a 45 video.

When two people draw from the same well source they will often take the same information but then interpret and express it in their own unique ways. And this is a good thing. It’s what fosters creativity and new combinations/iterations of ideas. Something reminiscent of the Muay Thai 4 Count and how it was being expressed with a particular flare on the East Coast as opposed to it’s execution on the West Coast during the beginning of the new Millennium.

In essence the difference is that when presented with aggressive chasing, forward pressure, we would either circle and then cut a latteral/forward 45 degree angle and throw a straight punch on the second beat, or retreat on a 45 and then reset by circling out. Whereas with Ghost System’s Hang, we now have a third option, and that is to retreat on a 45 and throw an arcing punch on the first beat. An excellent supplement to the Striking Formula.

Leave us a comment and let us know what you think of this very intriguing approach to elusive striking.

Billy Robinson: Turn In Stand Up From Defense Position

This is our final farewell to our good friend, mentor and authority on Catch As Catch Can Wrestling, the irreplaceable Coach Billy Robinson.

It ends as it began, without a lot of fan fare. Just a handful of people that are super passionate about learning and growing. Like the very first time I met Coach Billy and asked him about CACC’s unique Shin Locks, this time I ask him about a way to stand up from the High Defense Position.

He has shown us a technique for this in the past but after reviewing his DVD “W.A.R. Catch Wrestling.” I saw a different variation and had the opportunity to ask him about the finer details.

What a privilege and pleasure to learn the subtle details of these mundane and fundamental techniques that seem to gain more and more relevance as I become more seasoned as a Martial Artist. Thank you once more Coach Billy. It’s been an absolute joy to have learned how to learn with you sir.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Escaping Bottom Across Side

We have shown you a strong series of escapes from the Bottom Side Cross Position. This is because of how often you will find yourself in this difficult situation. Most of our escapes thus far have been from traditional hand placement when you’re on the bottom.

This escape is an excellent one to put into your repertoire to give you options when your arms get trapped outside of the traditional hand positioning. I really enjoy Gustavo Rodrigues approach as he has a similar weight and body type to my own and as a result his techniques are based on leverage and the mindset of being smaller and weaker than his opponents. Which is another way of saying, his stuff works, and works well regardless of how big or strong your opponents are.