Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or BJJ for short, is a South American martial art that is closely related to Judo.
Much like judo, this combat sport focuses primarily on ground fighting through grappling moves and chokeholds.
In a competitive setting, the aim of BJJ is to get your opponent on the ground and force them to submit.
Often submission will come in the form of a tap out, once your opponent is certain they cannot escape your hold.
Competitive BJJ is similar yet very different from competitive judo, in that it includes kicks and strikes that its predecessor often avoided.
In this article, we will be looking at some of the rules for competitive BJJ, and whether you are allowed to use ankle locks in this sport.
The Rules Of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
BJJ can be used as a means of self-defense, but it is primarily practiced as a competitive combat sport.
The most popular set of rules for this sport are those set out by the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF).
Over the years, this organization introduced rules to differentiate the sport from judo and make it more interesting to watch.
Some of these changes included the introduction of regular kicks and strikes to make the martial art less focused on groundwork.
In Judo, your main objective is to get your opponent onto the ground, often through a throw.
As such, throws are one of the highest scoring moves you can pull off in this sport.
Conversely, in BJJ, the highest scoring moves involve locks or submissions.
Your aim is not just to throw your opponent on the ground, but to fully subdue them once you have done so.
One of the more hotly debated areas of the rules surrounding BJJ is the use of joint locks.
Locks involving the ankles, knees and spine are normally restricted or outright banned in certain competitions.
Are Ankle Locks Legal In BJJ?
Ankle locks aren’t completely illegal in BJJ, and there are different rules about them depending on the skill level of the combatants.
The reason these moves are so highly restricted is that they are exceptionally dangerous and likely to cause permanent injury.
The movements required to properly execute an ankle lock, and cause your opponent enough pain that they tap out, are very difficult to control.
These movements can easily lead to a broken ankle, which is an injury that isn’t always guaranteed to fully heal.
While some martial artists criticize the restrictions on these locks, the IBJJF upholds them to prevent athletes being permanently disabled.
That said, you are still allowed to use an ankle lock during competitive BJJ although depending on your rank you will have to observe certain precautions.
Rules On Ankle Locks For White Belts
White belts are the lowest rank of BJJ competitors, and as such they are heavily restricted when it comes to ankle locks.
An ankle lock is allowed to take place provided it is a straight ankle lock.
This lock can be performed from numerous positions including straight ashi garami, the 50/50 guard and outside ashi garami.
When performing the ankle lock, the student has to turn away from the leg they are locking. Turning towards the leg is strictly prohibited.
These rules don’t just apply to white belts, but they also apply to blue and purple belts as well.
Less restrictive leg locks are only allowed once you have progressed to your brown or black belt.
Rules On Ankle Locks For Brown And Black Belts
As well as ankle locks, brown and black belts are allowed to use toe holds and calf slicers when trying to subdue their opponent.
When executing a toe hold, it is vital to never push the toe inwards towards the foot.
Similarly, black and brown belts are still forbidden from turning towards the foot when performing straight ankle locks.
Since 2021, the IBJJF has actually updated its rules so that brown and black belts are now allowed to use heel hooks and knee reapers.
These rules only apply to competitions where contestants have to wear a gi and these rules are still strictly forbidden at non-gi events.
Both inside and outside heel hooks are now permitted, along with a variety of reaping techniques that were previously banned across all ranks.
This rule change took place to draw new people towards the sport.
Previously there were a lot of criticisms about the IBJJF’s rules about these techniques, and the pressure from these complaints eventually led to the restrictions being removed.
Due to the increasing popularity of leg attacks, these changes have been met with a very positive reception by martial artists who practice BJJ.
Other Restricted Moves
Ankle locks are not the only moves with restrictions placed on them.
There are similar rules in place about elbow locks, as these are another move that could cause permanent injury or damage.
Before the 2021 rules update, heel hooks and knee reapers were banned for every rank.
They are now permitted in some events, but only those with combatants that have a brown belt or higher.
The reason that joint locks have so many rules surrounding them, is because they are very dangerous.
In order to manipulate the joint in a way that causes enough pain to force a tap out, it can also easily lead to permanent injury and potential surgery.
It is for this reason that lock and manipulations focused around the spine are also strictly prohibited.
These moves carry an even greater risk of permanent injury and even paralysis if taken too far.
There aren’t many rules governing what you can and can’t do in BJJ.
Those that are in place, are there for a good reason, to protect athletes from serious injuries and save them some expensive medical bills.
The rules surrounding even ankle locks can vary between events, so always check with the person running your competition if they are allowed or not.
While these techniques can be done harmlessly by a master, they are a little too dangerous for amateurs to attempt.