Recently, the news of heel hooking and reaping in 2021 in the IBJJF has begun to circulate on social media platforms. Of course, this extension of allowed positions and submissions will be in NOGI competitions and only permitted for brown and black belts. This is a huge game changer for the IBJJF and I'm sure we will see new champions emerge. I have always been a huge fan of heel hooks. I understand that there are risks involved, but as there are with any submission if not done carefully. Arm bars yanked too far could rip pectoral muscles and biceps, and hyperextend the elbow. Kimura’s can blow out shoulders. Personally speaking, shoulder surgery and recovery is not for the faint of heart. It took me almost 8 months to be able to use my arm correctly and over a year to gain full rotation.
All submissions pose risk for injury, so why have heel hooks been considered to be the “devil”? I did a little research and discovered that heel hooks can be found in the ancient art of the Greeks and the Romans. So, basically this move has existed for at least two thousand years. However, in more modern times Ivan Gomez has been given credit for using this submission extensively in Brazil during the 1960’s. If you go back a little further, Takeo Yano used this submission in Japan and even spread his knowledge in Brazil where he taught his students the many intricacies of the position. I also discovered that up until the early 2000’s, leg reaping was still allowed in the IBJJF.
When jiu jitsu began to grow outside of its small circuit of academies, the IBJJF added more rigid guidelines. Both the heel-hook and leg-reaping, according to the IBJJF’s legislators, “are high-risk positions for catastrophic injuries” so they were banned. I believe the fear generated behind this submission is the main reason it has continued to be taboo. It is a regular tool in my arsenal, and in my opinion, levels the playing field when I'm rolling with a much larger opponent. I will defend the heel hook like a mother defends their terror of a child.
“He is not bad, just misunderstood!”
According to Jiu Jitsu Times, the three main reasons the heel hook is hated so much is injuries, friction, and fear. As with anything, proper training and understanding helps build confidence and clarity. In reality, it is a very valuable technique and almost always ends in a submission. Competitive platforms that allow them as part of their legal submissions are giving competitors more odds at being victorious and capturing the essence of jiu jitsu, forcing opponents into submission.