Things Gi Players Can Do to Prepare for Learning Heel Hooks

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Some of you do predominantly no-gi, but I suppose many of you do mostly gi OR both gi & no-gi.

This email is mainly for those of you who are in your early stage of learning BJJ (i.e., heel hooks are still banned for you when you roll/compete) but would be interested in working on heel hooks sooner or later.

I’m by no means a heel hook (or even leg lock) specialist, but I’ve been dabbling into heel hooks for a while, and I have some ideas that might be helpful for you, a fellow gi player who also plays no-gi.

There’s no reason not to learn the basic breaking mechanics of outside & inside heel hooks as well as some primary defenses right away, but you may not be allowed to use heel hooks in your sparring sessions, which is understandable.

You could still work on positions that are relevant to heel hooks, though.

My suggestion would be to work on the following positions:​

  1. Butterfly guard
  2. Single leg X guard
  3. Reverse de la riva guard
  4. 50/50
  5. Matrix

People often set up a heel hook by elevating their opponent from the butterfly guard.

And from that elevation, they might get into the single leg X guard beforehand and start setting up a heel hook from there, too.

If you get better at keeping the single leg X guard, that will help you get better at keeping your opponent’s knee line captured as well. So… it’s a pretty good deal, I think.

With reverse de la riva guard, you could work on a very basic inverting back take (i.e., Kiss of the Dragon). Getting used to this movement can help you get used to heel hook setups that involve inverting.

50/50 is also a great position that works well both in gi & no-gi, especially if you actually know how to use it instead of stalling. You could focus on learning how to control the 50/50 situation and pass 50/50.

Matrix may be the most advanced move/position of all the things I mentioned here, but it can help you get better at setting up what’s known as the backside 50/50 heel hook.

The positions mentioned above are mostly guard options, but in addition to them, you could work on forcing, controlling, and passing the reverse half guard from the top. This reverse half guard top position is similar to the saddle position, which is one of the major positions from which you can set up a heel hook.

If you are not familiar with any of these positions mentioned above, I highly recommend you to try searching them on YouTube and learning more about them.