Heel Hook: Setups , Attacks, Defenses & Escapes

Heel Hook: Setups , Attacks, Defenses & Escapes

The heel hook is a remarkable submission technique that is helpful in all sorts of grappling sports, including BJJ and MMA. This powerful technique has the potential to end a fight just like the knockout punches in boxing.

The use of heel hooks in BJJ has gone through many changes, the most recent being its re-emergence due to the efforts of the ultimate grappling duo: John Danaher and Eddie Bravo.

Today, the heel hook has become a necessity to succeed in no-gi ADCC competitions and Submission Wrestling. If you also want to take your jiu-jitsu game to the next level with this move, you have come to the right place!

This article breaks down every aspect of Heel Hook, including the best heel hook setup and attacks, the different ways to utilize this leg lock in your game, and methods to defend and escape from this deadly submission.

1. Heel Hook Set Ups

The heel hook is a leg lock submission that attacks the knee, foot, and ankle. It controls and isolates the knee in conjunction with the hips so that your opponent is unable to spin.

To perform a heel hook, first you need to form a leg entanglement in order to control your opponent’s legs and then apply rotational force to the heel to finish him/her off.

The heel hook is an extremely powerful move and it’s important that you learn the different setups in which you can use this move.

1.1. Heel Hook Set up From Half Guard

One of the setup in which you can use a heel hook is the half guard i.e. you’re lying on the top of your opponent with one of your opponent’s legs entangled. In this case, your opponent will be in half guard position while you will be in a half mount position.

If your competitor is going for a knee shield half guard, you have the advantage as his leg will already be bent.

Once in half guard, place your free knee on your opponent’s belly. Then fall back towards their heel and hold his heel by locking your grip.

If your opponent starts to defend by rolling, roll with him and finish the submission by twisting the foot.

1.2. Heel Hook Setup from Half Guard to Ashi Garami

Another setup to perform a heel hook is when you’re in a bottom half guard.

Start with a knee shield, placing the foot of your knee shield leg between your opponent’s legs.

Then reach over with both your arms and grab your opponent from behind his arm and knee (top hand: armpit, bottom hand: knee)

Use this grip to pull yourself underneath your opponent, move your top knee through to the other side and rotate into an Ashi Garami position.

To form the Ashi Garami position , rotate your body towards your opponent and push him away with both your top hand and knees. Pull his bottom leg with your free hand. Place your bottom foot on his hip (Ashi Garami position) and finish off with the heel hook.

1.3. Back Step to Heel Hook

Another great setup for heel hooks is to do a back step by faking a standing guard pass.

Start by taking control of your opponent’s head with one hand and grab his ankle with your other hand.

Then step your lead leg between your opponent’s legs and take a backstep with your back leg, placing your back leg outside of his other leg.

Finally, take your hand off your opponent’s head and grip under his knee. Slide in and hold their heel, finishing the move with a heel hook.

2. The Ultimate Heel Hook Attacks

2.1. Outside Heel Hook/Ashi Garame

One of the deadliest heel hook attacks in BJJ is the outside heel hook/ashi garami, illustrated by John Danaher in his outside heel hook master class.

This move makes use of the straight ashi garami in combination with the outside heel hook. The ashi garami acts as a control mechanism while the heel hook acts as a breaking mechanism.

2.2. Inside Heel Hook/Ashi Garame

Inside heel hook is one of the most formidable grappling attacks since it can destroy your opponent within seconds. The intrinsic nature of this move makes it an effective heel hook lock.

By twisting the heel, the attacker makes use of his strong back muscles against the opponent’s weak knee muscles. Due to its structural advantage, even beginners will be able to learn and implement this technique effectively.

2.3. Standing Heel Hook by Craig Jones

If you ever find yourself in a position where you don’t have enough time to pass, sweep or mount etc., A standing heel hook is the best option to beat your opponent.

This move is not only great for submission grappling tournaments but also for MMA and self-defense. Craig Jones is the master, able to pull off this interesting heel hook from a modified position.

To perform this attack, start by hooking your opponent’s leg above his knee with your legs off the ground. Then take an under hook and scoot toward the leg you’re controlling.

Then reach under your opponent to grab his foot and elevate him. Bring his bottom leg through, knees in, and tower over your opponent.

You will end up in a saddle position where you can finish the match with an inside or outside heel hook.

3. How to Defend & Escape the Heel Hook?

One of the most intimidating tasks in BJJ is to defend and escape heel hooks. Leg locks have gained popularity in recent times due to the “submission only tournaments” and more people have started to use them in No-Gi Competitions as well.

Most practitioners are afraid of heel hooks as they think that if they get caught in them, it will be too late to escape as their ligaments will likely already be damaged.

However, this is not true. There is plenty of time to tap without getting hurt after getting caught in a heel hook. The following are ways you can defend yourself without getting hurt.

3.1. Develop a Good Base and Posture

A good base and posture are useful in defending against heel hooks. In theory, it is not possible to finish the heel hook if you are standing with your foot still flat on the mat.

Having a good base and posture helps you to stop your competitor from sweeping you. Not getting swept is the first thing to do when dealing with troublesome heel hookers.

If you can develop a good posture and manage to keep an aggressive game, you will be able to defend against the heel hook effectively.

3.2. Do Hand Fighting

Another key element in defending against the heel hook is hand-to-hand fighting. Your opponent cannot finish the heel hook with only one hand and you can use this to your advantage.

Suppose that your opponent sweeps you even if you have a good base and posture, the first thing you should do is engage in hand-to-hand fight to achieve a 2 on 1 grip on your competitor’s wrist.

Taking hold of your opponent’s wrist is the key to survival when you’re already about to get heel hooked.

3.3. Clear the Knee Line

Once you have fallen and your opponent has started to attack with the heel hook, clearing your knee line can help you escape the attack quickly.

You must be able to clear the knee line, i.e. get your knee cap out from in between your opponent’s leg, for this tactic to work. If you’re about to get swept off your feet, try to fall in a controlled position where you can clear the knee line easily.

4. How to Escape Primary Heel Hook Positions?

There are three primary heel hook positions in which you will mostly find yourself entrapped during a match. Therefore, it is important to learn how to escape from these positions if you’re ever caught in such a situation.

The three primary heel hook positions are,

  • 1. Ashi Garami 

The position where your opponent extends your leg to perform the submission.

  • 2. Honey Hole, 4/11 or Leg Triangle

The position where your front leg is laced over your opponent’s leg and your back leg is placed behind his thigh

  • 3. 50/50

The position where your inside legs are interlaced with your opponent’s inside leg.

4.1. Escaping Ashi Garami Outside Heel Hook

To escape this heel hook position, you first need to identify the problem. You will notice that your body is tightly gripped by your opponent and need to escape his hold if you want to defend yourself.

To loosen your opponent’s grip, pull over his hands and hide your heel by turning it away simultaneously. You can also use your other foot to assist in the process if you’re facing any difficulties. Then, to prevent yourself from being controlled again, quickly step over your opponent’s hip.

Once you have escaped the heel hook, instead of running away, convert your defense into counter attack to win the match.

4.2. Escaping Honey Hole Heel Hook

To escape the mother of leg entanglements, i.e. the Honey Hole, you must have a lot of control. You need to hide your heel and get to your opposite hip to safely escape from this heel hook.

First, you need to separate your secondary leg by rotating your opponent’s arm inward. This will create enough space to allow you to free your leg. Make sure to keep this leg out of your opponent’s reach once it’s free so that he cannot regain control.

Then, to free your primary leg, you need to ensure that your knee is outside of the imaginary line connecting your hip and ankle.

Start by gripping at your opponent’s ankle. Then create a base and put weight on your primary leg. Place your foot on the mat such that your heel is facing upwards, free your knee line, and escape your opponent’s hold.

4.3. Escaping 50/50 Heel Hook

In the 50/50 position, you and your opponent are equally vulnerable to the hell hook. Whoever can hide his feet while effectively attacking the opponent’s feet will win in the end.

To escape from a 50/50 heel hook, you need to attack your competitor’s knee pinch and open his legs. This will allow you to shift your weight and pull your leg out of his grip.

5. Tips for Defending Heel Hook

  • Understand the Technique:

Don’t be afraid of the heel hook and pay attention to the technique being used (inside or outside). Understanding the technique will help you learn what you need to do and enable you to plan your defense accordingly.

  • Prevent leg clamp:

The key to defend from the heel hook is to prevent your leg from being pinned in the first place. No leg lock can be performed without having knee control. As soon as your knee clears the line of your competitor’s hip, you can relax and lean back.

  • Go for Damage Control:

If you end up being caught in a heel hook, instead of accepting the submission, take steps for damage control while keeping in mind the safety of your foot. Depending on the heel hook position, cross your feet, hide your foot under your opponent, or curl your leg, etc. The goal here is to make your opponent work hard for a grip, giving you enough time to defend against the heel hook

  • Do Not Fidget Uncontrollably:

Once you’re in the grip and your opponent is going to put pressure on your leg, do not fidget to try and escape the entanglement. Instead, go hand-to-hand and get a 2 on 1 grip. The goal is to keep your opponent’s arm as far away from the foot as possible. Don’t forget to hide your feet while doing so.

  • Tap:

If you feel that the pressure is becoming too painful for your leg, tap quickly without waiting for the opponent to finish the heel hook. While most martial artists think tapping out is bad, this is not the case. In fact, tapping out is a legitimate heel hook defense and is much better than walking around on crutches for months.

Photo Credit: @graciemag

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