Heel hooks are just one technical area in the maze of Jiu Jitsu.
Heel hooks need not be feared even though when properly applied they can do great damage. Many jiu jitsu techniques can cause serious damage.
A problem is a lot of people don’t necessarily understand when to tap if they are not well-versed in heel hooks. Nor may the aggressor know how to apply them correctly. Therein lies a heightened danger.
John Danaher said something interesting about heel hooks. I will not say verbatim what he said but if memory serves correctly it went something like this (again this is just from recollection not a quote):
There are 2 significant ways in which a heel hook injury occur:
- A person doing the heel hook has no control and recklessly gets the finish so fast (or recklessly) the person doesn’t tap on time.
- Or the person is an expert and the opponent tries to fight it but it’s on properly so they get inured by not tapping because they don’t feel the pain yet and do not understand the position.
The first part to me is most worrisome. You get a guy training his first week and some guy who doesn’t have much regard jumps a wild heel hook on the guy and the guy doesn’t know he has to tap and now he’s out a year and can’t work his job. Happens. A school or teacher needs to set a precedent on what can or cannot be done and make the students aware of the dangers.
The second has to do more with the person who understands the danger and wants to risk their leg for an escape. If I heel hook a person I would stop if I knew it was on tight regardless of their tapping or not. But not everybody will do this. Both people assume the inherent risks so it is the responsibility of the person having the heel hook applied on them and hopefully the person doing it will have mercy if it’s just sparring.
So should heel hooks be legal at all belt levels? I can’t say yes because it all depends on the people training. It’s difficult to ensure everyone is on the same page at the school but if you have a good handle on things and feel that heel hooks can be applied then that is up to you.
I know of a No Gi school that has everyone but white belts do heel hooks and they understand the risks associated and there has been no issues.
What do you think? Should heel hooks be allowed at all belt levels while sparring?