Thursday, August 22, 2013

Leglock Schmeglock: The Argument Against

One of the weariest tropes in jiu-jitsu is the notion that you need to train "leglocks" in order to have a "complete" jiu-jitsu game.

Set aside for a moment the notion that there is such as thing as a "complete" jiu-jitsu game (does such a game necessitate wrist locks, as well?  Or a minimum amount of "no gi" training?), I can't help but wonder if there's a bit of the forbidden fruit syndrome going on when it comes to notoriously leglock-free jiu-jitsu students.

In other words, like kids at a strict religious school assuming that their peers at the secular college down the road are engaged in 24-7 sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, I wonder sometimes if BJJ students have overestimated the actual amount of leglocking that goes on in grappling, let alone gi jiu-jitsu.

What got me thinking about this was the latest research from Bishop BJJ. Their whole report is worth reading. But the data on submissions is especially interesting.

Consider this. You are a jiu-jitsu student lamenting your lack of leglock acumen. I ask you, how prevalent are leglocks among some of the highest performing practitioners of your art.  How do you respond?

Here's how the data responds:

The above data is culled from the adult black belt divisions of the IBJJF World Championships of 2012. Obviously the data set could be larger. But the work done by Tyler and Jena Bishop here represents the best effort at quantifying jiu-jitsu performance at the highest level I have seen. Until further notice, they are my "Nate Silver" on the subject.

As you can see, combined "leglocks" accounted for about 14% of the submissions. This puts leglocks on par with armbars (trailing slightly when kimuras and americanas are included as "armbars"). It is also comparable with cross collar chokes.

What this data tells me is that, in terms of submission efficiency, nothing beats a choke from the back. It's not even close. In fact, I wonder how many of the armbars in the chart above came as a result of back control (i.e. defending a choke from the back often leads to an opening for an armbar).

Interestingly, when it comes to leglocks, it isn't the large-joint targeting kneebar that has resulted in the most submission victories, but the small-joint targeting techniques of footlocks and ankle locks. My guess is that most when people think "leglocks", they are thinking about kneebars and even heel hooks, much more than they are thinking about footlocks and ankle locks (straight varieties being available, under IBJJF rules, as early as blue belt, I believe).

Am I against leglocks? A little. I am a position first, second, and third type of jiu-jitsu player, and the idea of giving up a superior position to attack an ankle seems like a bad trade in most instances. Maybe I've watched too many Caio Terra matches. 

That said, I don't think the data argues against leglocks. If anything, they are ranked about where armbars are, which makes sense anatomically, at least. But the data does suggest that the idea that your jiu-jitsu will have some sort of "hole in its soul" if you don't get thee to a sambo seminar is probably overstating the case. Becoming the best at the jiu-jitsu you love (and finding a favorite finish from the back!) is achievement enough.