Kneebar tips

This topic came up on another forum and I thought that there might be some interest here as well. Below are some tips for for guys trying to improve their kneebars:

1 - when you're applying it don't have your body stretched out into a straight line - maintain a 90 degree bend in the hips and a 90 degree bend in the knees and you will have MUCH more power and more range of motion

2 - pinch your knees together as hard as you can - this limits his ability to move his leg, weakens his muscles and makes the lock come on much sooner

3 - there are a variety of hand and arm positions, but try not to have your arms straight: weld his foot to your chest (or put it under your armpit) and you will be using the power of your legs and back, not your arm

4 - if you are on your side, keep his foot between your head and the mat, regardless if you are attacking his top or bottom leg. This limits his escape options.

Good Luck
Stephan Kesting


What do you do with your feet? I've seen F. Shamrock advising to stack the feet on top of one another. I have seen people triangle and I've seen simply digging the heels on his buttocks. How important are the feet in applying pressure for the lock?

Also, do you advise twisting the leg as you apply to hold? Going straight back doesn't seem to do the trick for me. Requires too much energy.

There are many different ways to position the feet - the two most basic ways are:

1 - crossing your ankles on his butt

2 - triangling your legs (but make sure that the triangle is on the outside, not the inside, of the leg you are attacking).

Both methods are effective - I feel that for most people the first method is a little bit more powerful while the second method offers a little bit more control over his leg. It's a trade-off, so take your pick.

Twisting the leg is a bonus: it can add a little bit of extra pressure and is especially useful to prevent him from moving his foot into a better position to escape. If you are having difficulty getting it straight back then you are probably doing one of the following: not keeping the 90 degree bend in hips and knees, not welding his foot to your chest, not squeezing your legs together hard enough, and possibly being too low on his leg (ie not having his kneecap above your pubic bone).

Stephan, I can see that fatherhood has not subtracted from your time lurking on these forums.

So when are you going to unveil your latest collection of techniques for the rest of the world?

Tarado - my son enjoys surfing the web with me. Well he's on my lap and not complaining too much, anyhow.

With any luck I should be sending the master DVD off to the duplicators next Monday, and then it will be a 10 to 12 day wait. It was putting the final finishing touches onto the Dynamic Kneebars video that got me thinking about posting these tips in the first place.

When is it customary to allow people to use kneebars in sparring? I'm pretty sure they aren't allowed for raw beginners.

I've trained at many clubs where kneebars are allowed for raw beginners (in fact, I've never trained at one where they weren't). Heelhooks are another matter.

One of the reasons some clubs don't allow ANY leg locks, I think, is because beginners might start to rely too much on leg locks from the top of the guard instead of guard passing. When you're a beginner, you can only so many moves. Armbars, triangles, sweeps, guillotines, kimuras, escapes, hold downs... these are more than enough for beginners to learn without adding leg locks into the equation. But I might be wrong on this.

Jonpall - while I agree that there is a danger of relying too on leglocks (especially ankle locks) instead of learning to pass the guard, I think that it is a big mistake to disallow leglocks. It's a little bit like saying that working on the armbar from mount means that beginners don't get good at holding mount...

Without the threat of leglocks how will you ever learn to defend them properly?

Without the threat of leglocks many beginners develop unrealistic guardwork, leaving their legs WAY too exposed.

After a certain point leglocks and guard passing actually complement each other: e.g. you fake an ankle lock and then go for the guard pass.

Also leglocks are becoming much more popular in competition (thanks to a variety of factors, not the least of which is the ADCC competition). To learn the offensive and defensive aspects of a technique you NEED to include it in your sparring - if the knowledge stays theoretical (i.e. you are shown the counters but never get to use them on the mat) then you might as well be doing Kung Fu.

Now I agree that heel hooks probably have no place in the beginner's menu. The risk-to-reward ratio is pretty high for that lock. Additionally I find it totally bafffling that many tournaments allow toeholds (which are quite dangerous) while banning kneebars (which are actually quite safe). I hope this will become change as the grappling community becomes more educated about leglocks.

Sincerely (and respectfully)

Stephan Kesting

Good stuff. Stephan, why do you always triangle your legs on the outside rather than the inside? I have always done it that way but I don't really have a reason, it just feels more comfortable.

Triangling your legs to the outside of his knee seems to make the lock a lot tighter. Try both on a willing partner and I'm sure he'll tell you that outside feels much tighter. It also may cut down on his desperation counters (ie trying to toehold the foot that would be on the inside if you did it wrong).

This foot-on-the-outside principle applies whether you are attacking his top leg or bottom leg. Say you are lying on your left side: from here you can have a kneebar on either his left (bottom) or right (top) leg. If attacking the left (bottom) leg then your right instep is triangled behind your left kinee. If attacking his right (bottom) leg then your left instep is behind his right knee.

You know, I may turn this into a magazine article. Thanks for your questions!

Your help and answers are most appreciated, Stephan. Thanks!

Looking forward to your Kneebar DVD Stephan.


i've trained leg locks with possibly some of the best in the world and this is one of the most informative posts i've ever seen anywhere in 10 yrs on leglocks.

thanks for the sweet post

Brad Souders

If you do write an article, make sure to include your thoughts on head inside/outside on rlling kneebar. This is an issue that comes up periodically around here.

Note: on an earlier thread, Stephan said that you should put your head on the inside when you do the rolling kneebar from standing, and on the outside when you do it from the turtle.

I like to roll inside on my turtle roll just incase the opponent switches on me that way i can still bail and grambi to guard. Just the way i do mine though.

Brad Souders

Re the whole head in - head out debate: there are, of course, always exceptions and variations, but here is why I do it my way:

One of the (very overlooked) keys to the rolling kneebar from turtle is to kick your opponent as hard as you can in the armpit with the hamstring of your outside leg. This drives him over you and into a much better position to finish the kneebar. This is impossible to do if you you keep your head to the inside.

Also if you keep your head in for a rolling kneebar from turtle I think it is too easy to cross-faced and countered, although Brad's granby back to guard may solve that problem.

The bread and butter standing rolling kneebar, the one you always see working, is head in. You need to do this because you can't kick him in the armpit efficiently when he is standing. By weaving your leg in and keeping your head in you maintain control over one leg and his hips which allows you to unbalance him.

Again - I don't mean to say that anybody else's approach is wrong, but this approach works great for me and anyone I have taught.

Stephan Kesting

I think one of the main reasons i do mine head in is because when i go for a scissor sweep from guard and they counter by sprawling out i'll come onto my shoulder and tuck under for a knee bar. LOL my brain can't function by doing something different.

Brad Souders