Jiu-jitsu is Real, Leg Locks are Cool, and Pulling Guard Works
Table of Contents
- Jiu-jitsu is Real, Leg Locks are Cool, and Pulling Guard Works
- Table of Contents
- Was Jiu-jitsu Ever Real?
- Getting to the Bottom of the Argument
- Garry Tonon vs Yoshiki Nakahara
- Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida vs Kirill Grishenko
- When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong: Leg Locks
- Correct Techniques, Inappropriate Strategy
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Was Jiu-jitsu Ever Real?
Jiu-jitsu has gotten a bad rap in MMA. After Royce Gracie’s display at UFC 1, the jiu-jitsu black belt was MMA’s gamebreaker, “This man can choke me unconscious and snap my limbs? And all he has to do is sit down and pull me on top of him?!”
Today the need for jiu-jitsu is starting to get brushed aside, “Yes you need to be aware of submission grappling, but really you need to focus on prevention”. The idea is that if you get good at stopping takedowns and standing-up, you won’t ever need to worry about submissions. Also, you don’t need to worry about someone pulling you on top of them - ground and pound and submission defense will thwart guard pullers’ efforts.
Noted martial arts scholars like Derrick Lewis have elucidated jiu-jitsu perceived ineffectiveness.
Does he have a point? Yes.
Is he over-simplifying a complicated topic? Duh.
Is jiu-jitsu real and do leg locks work? I think you’d be surprised.
Getting to the Bottom of the Argument
In jiu-jitsu certain submissions are seen as more effective than others. This submission hierarchy is more pronounced in MMA where the consequences for ineffective techniques are much more severe. Rear naked chokes are seen as more valuable than wrist locks because getting behind someone and strangling them is more likely to end the fight than breaking their wrist is.
Leg locking has been demonized in mixed martial arts. The argument goes something like, “The submissions put you on bottom so you’ll get finished by ground and pound”.
While that argument has merits, it ignores the value of being beneath someone with your legs controlling their base. Truth be told, I remember hearing this same argument refuted more than 10 years ago when I was a white belt.
I started training MMA with Gil Castillo & George Tsutsui at a small gym called Combat Fitness. Gil is a wrestler turned MMA fighter. Gil is famous for having been a part of Cesar Gracie’s original fight team alongside Dave Terrell, fighting Matt Hughes and Dave Menne for the UFC’s welterweight and middleweight titles, and for this beautiful rolling omoplata finish here.
Gil’s background was in wrestling. Gil favored being on top, but when asked about half guard and deep half guard his opinion was, “Everyone does it wrong. You have to keep moving to keep them moving so they can’t hit you.” This same logic applies to leg locking and pulling guard in MMA.
While being beneath someone in MMA is inherently risky, it affords you the distinct ability to disrupt their base. Without a stable base you can not effectively strike, let alone ground and pound. Couple that with an ability to end the fight and you have a legitimate strategy to win a fight:
- Shoot in and grab a single leg
- Try to finish your shot and get on top
- If wrestling does not work, drop into a leg entanglement
- Use said leg entanglement to
- Finish the fight
- Sweep and get on top
We’ve actually seen this strategy work twice in ONE FC recently:
Garry Tonon vs Yoshiki Nakahara
- Garry changes levels for a single leg.
- Garry can’t regain his posture to finish the shot so he sits into Single Leg X.
- Nakahara tries to stand and run which extends his leg
- Garry locks in outside ashi to set up the outside heel hook and finish the fight.
Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida vs Kirill Grishenko
- Buchecha shoots a double leg and isn’t able to knock his opponent over
- Buchecha sits back and pulls his opponent into Single Leg X
- Grishenko tries to stand and maintain his base
- Buchecha reaps the leg to get an outside heel hook
- Grishenko tries to explode out of the leg entanglement but is forced to submit
This isn’t to say this strategy is fool proof. If it was there wouldn’t be an argument and I wouldn’t be writing this shit.
When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong: Leg Locks
In the gifs above, Buchecha and Tonon both kept moving until they had a legitimate submission threat that forced their opponent to concede position and tap. This strategy falls apart when your movement does not off balance your opponent, or you stay underneath someone hunting submissions. Ironically we saw exactly that from Tonon in his title fight against Than Le.
- Tonon elevates Le from Single Leg X
- Le puts his hands on the mat
- Garry rolls through to enter another leg entanglement
- Le regains his base and punches Tonon
- Tonon tries to disrupt Le’s base
- With the initial strikes interrupting Tonon’s sequence Le is able to finish the fight with ground and pound
What went wrong? Tonon did not appropriately use his Single Leg X elevation to come on top. Watch Lachlan Giles demonstrate a different option from the same position.
- Lachlan has elevated his partner in Single Leg X
- Lachlan’s partner puts his hands on the mat to avoid falling over
- Lachlan uses his legs to push his partner further away
- Lachlan uses this space to scoot toward’s his opponent’s back
- Lachlan stands up, sweeping his partner
Correct Techniques, Inappropriate Strategy
The game of jiu-jitsu is about control. You want to control your opponent until they quit, sweep them so you can get on top and have a better chance of making them quit, or stand-up so you can wrestle for a new position and a better chance at controlling them. When Tonon fought Le, he did not have a clean look at a submission, he ignored his sweep and stand-up opportunities, and he paid for it. Tonon seemed to be committed to staying beneath Le. That is a strategic error, not a technical one. If you want an overview on the difference check out this article.
Let’s think about another sport, boxing. In boxing, common practice is to keep your hands high by your face to prevent getting hit cleanly. Does that mean that is the only way to hold your hands and create a guard? Of course not.
George Foreman is one of the most famous heavyweight boxers ever. If you listened to conventional wisdom, you would think he didn’t know how to hold his hands. Foreman would extend his arms to smother his opponents’ punches and push them out of position.
Did that leave his face open? Yes.
Did it make him harder to hit cleanly? Yes.
Did this strategy make Foreman successful?
Only if you consider Olympic gold medals and heavyweight world titles success.
The point is, leg locking, guard pulling, and jiu-jitsu on bottom is misused. No one is saying it’s easy to play guard or leg lock someone in MMA, but it is simpler than it is made out to be. If you can’t submit your opponent, sweep them. If you can’t sweep them, stand-up. The best time to score a submission, sweep, or stand-up is in transition between positions - Tonon and Buchecha showed that by locking on a leg lock in the transition between feet and floor. The worst time to score a submission, sweep, or stand-up is when you’re spending too much time in any one position. That’s one of the reasons why guard work has been demonized in MMA. The longer you stay in one position, the less likely you are to find a submission to end the fight.
Unorthodox techniques will come in and out of fashion. The next time you see odd techniques fail in MMA ask yourself, was the technique incorrect? Or, were the tactics behind using the technique incorrectly implemented?