Dan Faggella is a BJJ Academy Owner, No Gi Pan Am Champion at 130-pounds, and recognized expert in the area of leg locks. Dan writes for On The Mat, Jiu-Jitsu Magazine, Jiu Jitsu Style, MMA Sports Mag, and more - find more of his leg lock articles and resources at www.BJJLegLocks.com 
3 Keys to the Heel Hook - Lessons from Toquinho
A number of months ago, I was lucky enough to hang out with one of the best leg lockers in the MMA world at a seminar at my instructor’s Academy in Long Island. One of the benefits of training under ADCC champion Alexandre Soca is that he knows oodles of the sharpest guys in the Jiu Jitsu and MMA world, and when I heard Murilllio Bustamante and Rousimar “Toquinho” Palhares were coming over - I blocked off my calendar... FAST.
After Bustamante went over a number of gi techniques, Toquinho showed a bunch of his best leg lock setups - particularly heel hooks. Since Soca knows I’m a leg lock junkie, I was lucky enough to be the “uki” for most of Toquinho’s leg locks - and here I’ve outlined three key lessons of he heel hook from one of the dangerous leg lockers alive today:
1) Control of the Hips, Not Just the Knees
Attacking the heel is usually truly about attacking the knee (as some of us learn the hard way), but few people put enough emphasis on controlling the opponent’s hip motion as well.
When Toquinho attacks a heel hook, not only does he aim to have his hips high on the opponent’s thigh to control the hip, he also clamps his knees like a vice and digs his heels and feet into the hip or under the thigh to anchor his positioning.
Someone who was hit my Mike Tyson said it felt like someone held a phonebook to your head and then swung a bat into it. Well, when Toquinho puts you in a leg lock it feels a lot like your entire leg is in a tourniquet - basically it feels like he held on for an extra few seconds your toes would go numb from a lack of blood flow. It’s important to understand that this kind of intense pressure starts at the hip, not just on the foot itself.
2) Details of the Heel Hook Death Grip
Though in the UFC it’s sometimes required that the biceps be used for a grip, in no-gi it’s much more common to use the crook of the wrist near the joint of the thumb. Locking you heel hook so that your attacking hand’s palm (the hand under his heel) is facing the opponent, the hands are locked palm to palm for maximum tightness.
Getting to feel Toquinho demonstrate on my own legs, I was able to notice some pretty cool details about how he gets (and stays) super-snug on the grip. As he secures it, he not only pulls the heel as tight to his chest as he can, he also curls up so that his chest becomes closer to the heel, as well. This kind of “cannon ball” motion makes him as tight as a cast, and then when he extends with his body there’s nowhere for the pressure to escape.
3) The Importance of Being Dynamic
Because of the language barrier, learning Toquinho was very much an experiment visual learning. One point that Toquinho emphasized time and time again was not the importance of constantly evolving setups (he is forced to do this because everyone fears his leg locks), but in understanding how to chain leg locks together.
Toquinho himself worked this brilliantly from almost every setup he showed. If the opponent tilts one way, defends with his other leg, or begins to roll - Toquinho had an immediate and aggressive response to transition to another lock or position. Because leg locks involve positions where neither player is on “top” (as both of their legs are entangled), the resulting scrambles are often harder to navigate than rigid positions like side control, and so understanding this scramble (what I call “leg lock jazz”), is super important. For any leg lock you’re working on - do you have the counters to your opponent’s counters immediately available in your mind? ... how about the counters to THOSE counters?
The rabbit hole goes deep, but it’s a necessity in the complex world of leg locks. If you’re a grappler - use Toquinho’s details carefully - and if you’re an MMA fan - look forward to seeing more of these attacks in the cage!
For more great articles, please keep coming back to this blog right here! To learn more specifically about leg locks on larger opponent, you can find Dan Faggella’s other instructional resources online at www.BJJLegLocks.com .