The heel hook is the most devastating leg lock in submission grappling. It has very little breaking point and before you know it, your legs and ligaments will be fucked up pretty badly.
The video below is an example of what might happen to your leg if you do not tap out fast enough. During a submission grappling tournament in Surabaya, east Java, a grappler breaks his opponent’s leg via a heel hook. I want to warn you that the video below is not pretty and if you hate to see someone’s leg broken, do not click play:
Okay, let’s analyze what went wrong. First, let’s identify the winner as Grappler A and the one whose leg got broken is Grappler B.
The biggest mistake of Grappler B was that he did not immediately address the heel hook by trying to reach for his opponent’s arm or perhaps push off so that he could free his knee out of his opponent’s hip. Instead, Grappler B tried to win a leg lock submission race against Grappler A with a toe-hold.
A toe-hold needs more time to break and therefore, there was no way for Grappler B to win the submission race. In addition, Grappler B also did not have enough leverage to execute the toe hold quickly enough. He then tried to pass Grappler A’s foot to the other side in order to win the race with a heel hook of his own but by the time Grappler B was trying to do so, Grappler A already secured a firm hook on the heel and leverage his hip and his whole upper body to eventually break the leg.
Surviving Heel Hooks
The best way to survive a heel hook is just tapping out, man. Seriously, if your opponent already secures your knee and your heel inside a very solid ashi garami (regardless of the variation) just tap out. Heel hooks only take milimeters to fuck up your knee ligaments and centimeters to completely shatter your leg like in the video above.
There are, however, some escapes that you can do and you need to drill these escapes rigorously during classes and sparring sessions to really be able to use them in live situations.
One of the most difficult heel hook variations to escape from is the one coming from the inside ashi garami. In the inside ashi garami, your opponent practically controls your leg and hip while at the same time has his feet safely hidden from your reach. A good escape method is shown by Eddie Cummings at the Digitsu Online Youtube Channel below:
Then there is also a great video from Stephan Kesting on heel hook escape methods from various different positions below:
Training Heel Hooks Safely
Heel hooks can be very dangerous but like it or not, they are part of training in any submission grappling gym. Some gyms do not allow beginners or white belts to train heel hooks, whether to attack or to defend against, because the instructors might see it too dangerous for newbies to try out. In my gym, however, the instructor allows beginner to get familiar with the submission as long as we practice it safely and under supervision from higher ranking belts.
I personally have been caught a lot in heel hooks and thankfully, my legs are pretty fine until now because I would rather tap early than having them broken into pieces. On the offensive side, I will never attempt a heel hook on someone who is completely new to grappling and if I do get a hold on someone’s heel, I choose to apply the pressure really slowly to prevent my training partner from being injured.
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