John Danaher’s Ashi Garami System Of Leg Locks

Ashi Garami Danaher Leg Lock System

Ever since EBI hit the ground running, the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu underwent a major change. For one, the No-Gi scene started really taking off. Furthermore, a new and, in my opinion, improved ruleset got to see the light of day. However, nothing got more attention the apparent lack of leg lock knowledge among the competing grapplers. Renzo Gracie Academy coach John Danaher showcased his Jiu-Jitsu brilliance with the help of his top students. For me, it was that iconic Gary Tonon vs. Eddie Cummings match at EBI 3. The pair of teammates went respectfully, but aggressively, at each other, relentlessly hunting submissions along the way. It was then and there that I realized that I had absolutely no knowledge of what these people were doing. Hence, my interest in their Ashi Garami leg lock system was born.

My discovery of leg locks closely coincided with a very powerful message I got from a black belt I respect very much. I was a blue belt, nearing purple, at the time. What he told me was to “invest in the legs”. By that, he meant start learning leg locks then and there, not waiting until brown or black belt. It is one of the best pieces of advice I ever got in regards to Jiu-Jitsu. That is when I started digging into the John Danaher leg lock system and discovered the term Ashi Garami. Now, Mr. Danaher guards his secrets really closely, but he does leave the occasional hint or two. Those breadcrumbs were enough to get me going and here I am, almost 4 years later, explaining the Ashi Garami concept myself.

How The Danaher Leg Lock System Influenced Grappling:

Positional Nuances Of The Ashi Garami

The Ashi Garami position originates in Judo. While it is not par to of the modern Judo game, it was included in the early Judo techniques. John Danaher’s Ashi Garami concepts are based on the original Judo position but have since evolved very much. The idea behind the Ashi Garami position is control of every joint of an opponent’s leg with the help of your entire body. Despite using your entire body, your legs play a crucial role in controlling the position. Imagine a single leg X-guard. Now take the standing opponent to the ground and you’re almost in the Ashi Garami.

The 9 Best Leg Lock DVD Instructionals For Grapplers

Control of the hip stems from the foot of one of your legs and the shin pressure across the opponent’s thigh, from your other leg. The knee is under the control of your own hips, while the ankle joint is controlled by your grips.

Before we look at how you can set up the Ashi Garami, we have to clear up nomenclature. Ashi Garami means “leg entanglement” in Japanese. That means that every position that results in an entanglement of your own legs with those of the opponent can be considered as Ashi Garami.

This is where variations come into play. In terms of your own legs, you can control with your feet open (the standard version). You could also have your legs triangle around one of your opponent’s legs. The triangle can be on the Inside or Outside of the leg you’re attacking. In terms of the position of the leg you’re attacking in regards to your body, there are three options. The leg can either be on the Bottom, on the Top, or across your torso (Cross). All of these positions, along with the inside/outside triangle make for different variations of the Ashi Garami.

Entries Into The Position of Ashi Garami

The beautiful thing about the Ashi Garami position is that you can enter it from a multitude of positions. However, since you need to be lying on the ground in order to be effective, this contradicts a common Jiu-Jitsu principle. If you have top position, it is generally considered unwise to give it up a lie down for a leg lock. Despite this common approach, very effective entries from the top do exist.

The primary entry position is the single leg X-guard. It is structurally very similar to the Ashi Garami itself, meaning not much adjustment is needed. When you think about the numerous entry options into the single leg X- guard, you a system emerges. Namely, you can enter the single leg X-Guard from butterfly guard, X-Guard, closed guard. Spider guard etc. This means that virtually every guard position can lead into the Single leg X, and conversely, into the Ashi Garami. The most common way to enter into Ashi from the single leg is via the basic twisting sweep.

From top position, whenever you think “F** it, I’ll go for a leg lock” at least do so technically. What I mean by that is instead of wildly diving into submission attempts, go for a strong position first. The De La Riva guard is a perfect example. When your partner has you in a De La Riva, one of their legs is already exposed – the one on your hip. Just make sure you break the grip on the other leg first, place your foot on their hip (on the side you’reattacking) and trap the ankle. It’s smooth sailing from there, right into a very tight Ashi Grami that you can bail out of straight back to the top very easily if needed.

Ashi Garami Anke lock(s)

The straight ankle lock from the standard Ashi Garami position is a legal option across all competition formats and belt levels. As such, it needs to be the one you know best. Finishing an ankle lock requires both extension of the foot, as well as torsion. This double attack provides the most mechanical pressure on the joint, eventually causing a break in structure. The basic ankle lock from the standard Ashi is the first leg lock you need to learn.

Mechanically speaking, the ankle lock can cause a tap in three distinct ways. You could put two-way pressure on the ankle via the aforementioned extension and torsion movements. You could also pressure the Achilles tendon by digging in with your wrist. Another option is going for a footlock, where you just do a maximal extension with the help of your armpit and upper arm.

Positionally, you can hit the ankle lock from most Ashi Garami variations. Both the bottom, top and cross variations of the standard and outside triangled Ashi offer excellent ankle locking opportunities. The inside triangle only offers a solid ankle lock from the bottom position. In the top (AKA game over) and cross (AKA 4/11) variation, ankle lock attacks are possible, yet not the first choice of submission.

Ashi Garami Toe Hold Attacks

The toe hold submission is also one that is legal in most competition formats, albeit from brown belt onwards. It involves a very pronounced twist of the foot, using torsion as the main pattern. A figure four grip configuration of the arms (think Kimura) is essential for pulling off a toe hold. While there are more proponents of the “take the foot to the butt” concept, I personally like extending the leg slightly when going for the toe hold. When you have a tight Ashi Garami on, extending the leg is only going to make everything tighter and put the submission on much quicker. Caio Terra is a great example of this manner of toe hold execution.

From a positional standpoint, the toe hold generally requires a top side Ashi Garami variation. This is due to the space that is required to crunch up in order for the figure 4 grip. Cross positions like the cross outside Ashi (AKA 50/50) and the Cross Inside Ashi are also appropriate. However, topside standard Ashi and Top Side Inside/Outside Ashi are the preferred positions for attacking with toe holds.

Ashi Garami Kneebars

The kneebar is the analog of the armbar in terms of lower body limb submissions. Mechanically, it puts the knee joint under enormous pressure via hyperextension in the opposite direction of the natural knee bend. The idea is getting your hips on the front of the opponent’s knee and control their foot, pointing the fingers toward your back. From there on it is much like the armbar.

From the Ashi Garami, the kneebar is not readily available, except maybe from the Cross Inside variation. It is, however, right there when you start transitioning between Ashi Garami variations. For example, going from the Bottom Outside Ashi into the Cross Inside Ashi Garami can be done by spinning around the opponent’s leg. Halfway between the two, there is a position we can refer to as the Rear Ashi. This is the sweet spot for the kneebar submission. The best thing about it is that if the kneebar fails, for some reason or another, you can always stay in control and transition further up or down the ladder.

A Study Of The Inverted Heel Hook From The 4/11 Position:

Ashi Garami Heel Hooks

When we talk about submission from the Ashi Garami, Heel hooks reign supreme. They’re illegal in many competition formats, even at black belt level. Deemed one of the most dangerous submission in  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu they are extremely effective, albeit “slightly” vilified.

The heel hook is twisting submission that transfers force via a lever from the foot to the fine structures of the knee. it has an outside and inside (or reverse) variation depending on the side of the foot that’s near your body. The inside heel hook is way more devastating and is the one people usually look for in competition. Finishing the heel hook requires you to trap the fingers of the foot in your armpit while placing the heel on a “shelf” you create with your wrist. Different grips ensure varying degrees of finishing rate and potential damage to the knee and ankle.

The heel hook is available from all Ashi Garami variations. The positional advantage here is due to the type of heel hook available from the position, as opposed to the structure of the positional variation itself. The Cross Inside, Cross Outside and Standard Cross Ashi Garami offer access to the inside heel hook, which is the preferred option. All other variations lead to an outside heel hook, which is also a very viable submission.

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