Pros and Cons of Heel-hooks

Heel-hooks are a taboo subject in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and martial arts, mostly because they are considered to be dangerous. Following what I considered to be a somewhat ‘cheap’ tap-out in training recently, I thought I would take a look at some of the pros and cons of this controversial move. I personally have a bad feeling about the use of them in practice, but I respect my instructor’s view that they make people more well rounded fighters when practiced.


  • It works well on most body types, and is an effective way to get a submission.
  • If someone is not defending their ankle properly, attacking it will teach them to improve their defense, eventually making them a better fighter.
  • It is a good way for a smaller guy to tap a larger guy, and also is a way to end a match quickly if the opponent is hard to beat in terms of position.
  • Mastering the attack of heel hooks makes you a more well rounded fighter, as you add options to your arsenal.

The Cons:

  • Very dangerous in terms of blown meniscuses and torn ACL’s, and different than arm-bars in that there is often no pain until torn/popped.
  • Cannot be used in competition at most belt levels, (not til brown belt in most gi tournaments, or not until advanced in no go division).
  • With gi on, grapplers legs can get caught in fabric, blowing on or both men’s knees out due to getting tangled in cloth, despite having otherwise executed the escape properly. This is not a factor in no gi.
  • Focusing on leg locks sometimes is a way to cheat in terms of not improving one’s positioning, and going for a leg-lock instead. This can conversely be seen as a good thing though, from a lessor opponents perspective.

One thing is that rolling leg legs recklessly to the opposite (technically wrong side) is a bad thing in my view since it would mean most people in the sport could all have their knees, hips, and ankles blown all the time, which would hinder the practice of the sport. The heel-hook I was complaining about was kind of an inverted heel hook, which is kind of like a cross between a heel hook and a rolling leg lock, and I think its probably something that should at least be practiced with caution when in sparring, at a speed slow enough to allow a tap before major injury.