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Taboo Techniques: The Heel Hook in BJJ and MMA

by Tom Reynolds on November 16, 2010

Almost every martial art has its taboo techniques.  The techniques that are often banned or often looked down on. Usually these submissions and strikes are frowned down upon because of their high injury rate, difficulty to defend against by higher ranks, or a combination of the two.

Some examples of taboo techniques that are now banned in most competitions:

  • Judo: Shots like the double leg (morote gari) – Banned recently by IJF
  • Boxing: Basic grappling was an important part of boxing history. Now there is only a temporary rough clinch allowed.
  • And of course heel hooks in many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts and even Sambo competitions.

Heel hooks are one of the most misunderstood submissions. In the rare case that a black belt is tapping to a blue belt, it’s probably from a heel hook.  Many BJJ players consider it a dirty technique so they don’t practice it.  Because they don’t practice it, heel hooks aren’t taught in many classes. The first experience many competitors have with it is when they are on the receiving end of some of the few competitions that allow it.

This chain is particularly dangerous because heel hooks are one of the leglocks that either need to be escaped quickly or the person has to tap.  It isn’t like a loose choke where you know you’ve gotta tap soon.  All too often people, experienced and not, think they’re safe so they don’t tap and all of a sudden… snap.

The point to drive home is that you have to understand them if you’re ever going to be a position where they’re allowed. Know how to use them and know how to defend against them.

Enter Anderson Silva and the infamous flying scissor heel hook (mouthful)…

Silva was dominating the fight then all of a sudden was hit with the heel hook.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Blackbelt Jorge Gurgel had a professional 5-0 record until Masakazu Imanari got a hold of him. In less than a minute Imanari caught the black belt in a heel hook.

After this fight, Gurgel had to have extensive reconstructive surgery on his knee.

Imanari is just a fiend with heel hooks.  I don’t necessarily ever want to replicate his fighting style, but I do admire his ability to lock down on his opponents with leglocks and flow into the next technique when there is an opening.

Here is a good highlight of Imanari. (prepare for silly Japanese music)

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  • Lou Dobb

    Nice article as always!

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