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 -

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.

Our MMA Students in Action – Nasty Knockouts and Omoplata Arm Break

This was a project we’ve been working on for a long time. Time to develop the fighters, time to collect the footage and get permission for use, and then the biggest delay was in finding a rockin sound track and then getting permission to use it. Which never happened… 3 or 4 years went by and then we finally decided to just publish it without the sound track.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s as good as it would have been with the music in the background, but what is one to do? At any rate we thought it would be fun to publish it anyway, to give at least some credence to what we’ve been showing you guys in the Damage Control Vids throughout the years. There have been a fair number of detractors and critics out there, and I don’t blame them. Many have pulled the “In a real MMA fight” card, having never given any proof of their own experience in such a field.

We didn’t want you guys to have any doubts of your own so here you go. More examples of our own students using what they’ve learned from us in the ring, on the mat and in the cage. And if you would like more, be sure to check out.

Let us know what you think in the comments? Still think we’re a bunch of frauds?

Guard Pass Quick Kills

In the past, we’ve seen a number of “Quick Kills” from Sensei Erik Paulson. But these were in the context of a takedown sequence.

Now he applies the same concept to passing the guard and he shares his expertise with us at the 2013 Combat Submission Wrestling Camp.

Escape Bottom Across the Side by Using Your Head

Gustavo Rodrigues is back, and this time he is showing a very ingenious way to escape from bottom Side Cross when your arm is trapped between your opponent’s arms and endangered. There is a lot to learn here if know what to look at.

Notice the precision and attention to details when Gustavo explains the finer points of how to position your legs to prevent the mount while also accounting for your opponent’s potential to turn your hips away and take your back.

He says it’s a basic move for beginners but I think it’s the experts who will really appreciate the beauty of this technique he’s shared.

Arm Pin Attack From 50 States of BJJ

Recently, Charles Haymon from www.50StatesOfBJJ.com visited our home gym, Mushin Self Defense in North Salt Lake, Utah. Traveling from his home town of New Orleans, Louisiana, Charles has set out to train Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in every state of the US. An ambitious, nobel and courageous goal indeed.

It takes a lot of courage to step into a new gym. Even more so sometimes when you have previous experience in the arts. It’s intimidating to walk into a place, being a beginner and not knowing what to expect. It can be even worse when you know exactly what to expect. You see, in the combative arts, there’s almost always a feeling out process.

Think of it like a pack of wolves. When a pup joins the pack, the elders and warriors of the clan see it as little threat. But when a grown wolf seeks acceptance, there’s always have one eye and ear turned up to see what the new guy’s intentions are. They’re always sniffing for anything that smells fishy. Is this guy a friend? Is he a foe? Is he here to test his mettle and the strength of this new pack? Where will he fit into the hierarchy?

I have experienced both sides of the coin. I’ve had to roll over and show my belly, and I’ve had to defend home turf. So I really appreciate Charles sense of adventure in trusting that everything will turn out and that in the end, he will be the beneficiary of a great wealth of knowledge and experience after all is said and done.

We got to train together, and it was like a scene from an old Kung-Fu Classic. He started working on a few techniques that I immediately recognized from another friend of the Damage Control MMA project, Reilly Bodycomb. In fact, the techniques were practically identical to those shown, Reilly three years ago in our article Sambo and MMA Tie the Knot: A Marriage of Skill. I wanted to say “Huh, the White Lotus Kick?… You must be a student of Master Bodycomb, from the Southern Province.”

Turns out that Charlie actually does work out with Reilly at his home gym, NolaBJJ. Rolling with him was a very interesting experience. Charlie is a big, and deceptively strong man. That coupled with his technical expertise and the validity of the Sambo Leg Knot resulted in me getting caught in the very move I recognized and then spending the next few nights lying awake in bed, contemplating the meaning of what happened.

I was frustrated that I saw the move coming and was unable to stop it from progressing. I was standing up and attempting to pass Charles’ guard. As he threw his leg under mine to initiate the knee reap, I took ahold of his foot to remove it from my hip and even with both hands was physically unable to lift the heft of his leg and thus preemptively stop the knot from being tied in the first place. I simply could not lift it. He was too strong.

Getting caught was not what troubled me. It wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last (I hope). Being caught is a learning opportunity. A chance to grow and discover. No, I was troubled with the fact that I saw it coming and could not prevent it with a method that had worked many times before with partners smaller than Charlie. I don’t like relying on stuff that I can’t pull off on opponents of all shapes and sizes. Especially since I am almost always the smaller man.

My conclusion was, and it remains in the initial testing phase, that rather than removing the pieces of a progressively tightening knot, preventing the knot from starting in the first place, was my best bet, in terms of defending against larger, stronger opponents. No duh! right? But here’s where my personal revelation came in. Most of my partners don’t attack the legs aggressively as did Charlie. And thus, using a standing Guard pass is a pretty solid choice as it keeps my neck and upper limbs safer from harms way. But what I hadn’t realized is that these same standing passes, expose your legs (Hell, they’re already extended and isolated from the body, just from the nature of standing) to those with a strong leg locking game.

So how do you prevent the leg lock from starting? Again, my theory is in its infancy and it remains to be further tested, but my approach is 2 fold. I can either go for a leg lock myself instead of attempting a pass. I can use a kneeling, or sitting pass as opposed to a standing one, or I can combine the two, attempting a kneeling pass that may set up a leg lock or vise versa.

Either way, the experience was awesome and as you can see has given me plenty of food for thought. I’d like to hear what you think about the situation. And I’d love to hear about your learning experiences. Tell me about how getting caught has upped your experience points and changed your game for the better in the comments below.

Sweep Counter to Guard Pass

This year at the Damage Control MMA World Conference we brought in 4 Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belts. Even going outside our foundations in Pedro Sauer Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and taking a look at BJJ through the Rolls Gracie Lineage with an instructor we’ve never worked with before, Gustavo Rodrigues.

Kiser and I have crossed paths with Gustavo many times while cornering fighters, in the back rooms, waiting, wrapping hands, warming up, etc. And what immediately stuck out about Gustavo was that he was the only man who would smile back at us and say hello, rather than mad dogging which is so commonplace in situations like that.

It made a huge impression on me. It was an indicator of his confidence, of his professionalism and his mutual respect which is exactly how Kiser and I felt towards him and everyone else back there. When we got an opportunity to work with him first hand, I was very excited.

Gustavo has a very soft, and technical style. One I can very much relate to as we are similar in size and stature. Which is to say, nothing he teaches is forced or relies on strength. Everything works, but works with subtle set ups and cunning use of leverage and redirection of force.

This technique stuck out in my mind because it looked so similar to one I learned from Ajarn Greg Nelson as a counter to a Triangle Choke Counter/Guard Pass. This is an excellent way to defend a non-technical Guard Pass. One, commonly encountered by ballistic and powerful opponents. It has basic elements that players such as myself can grasp and use, but contains follow ups for more advanced fighters.

Check back often as I will be updating this page with additional videos from Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Black Belt, Gustavo Rodrigues.

Taekwondo In MMA

Some time ago, we shared a few set ups for the Turn Back Kick when we did a shoot with Sensei Erik Paulson. But long before that Coach Kiser was using them in the Taekwondo Junior Olympics and as a result developed his own favorite set ups which eventually made their way into a few of his MMA fights.

The Back Kick has a few different uses as it can be used to counter an opponent to circles to your left flank and attempts to create an angle (this variation can be seen in the clip with Sensei Paulson). And as you can see it can also be used as a follow up to a missed or evaded Thai Round Kick.

But in both of these situations, the Turn Back Kick has a secondary effect. It acts as a deterrent, keeping your opponent from rushing in to take advantage of a flanking situation. Even when your opponent backs away or evades your Turn Back Kick, they give up the ability to bridge the gap and thus trade safety for an opportunity to counter. This gives you time to repost and reset.

Share your favorite set ups and uses for the Turn Back kick. Leave a comment and let us know what other TKD techniques you like to incorporate into your MMA game.