Jocko Willink discussed on an episode of his podcast the issue of whether or not white belts should be taught and allowed to perform heelhooks in training. The BJJ black belt under Dean Lister is an incredibly formidable and experienced grappler with years of experience on the mats and has taught plenty of students of his own. Throughout the years of Willink doing the Jocko Podcast he’s discussed a number of important topics related to BJJ, from the usage of heelhooks to how to deal with losing in the sport.
Having trained under one of the original leglockers in BJJ, it might be surprising to hear that Jocko doesn’t believe in teaching white belts how to perform the heelhook, but his explanation does make good sense. Willink believes that the heelhook can often be applied without experiencing much pain in some cases, and then the ligaments are consequently damaged to a point that will require significant time away from the sport in order to heal.
When considering a white belt’s propensity to go full tilt at every opportunity, and their fellow white belt’s lack of ability to recognize that their in danger, this could be a recipe for disaster. He also explains that people can often see heelhooks as the solution to passing guard, when in reality it’s only one of many solutions and others are more fundamental to the sport. He does go on to say that he believes in the value of showing them that the technique exists and explaining how it works, but not actually teaching them to use them in training.
It’s always a contentious topic and while many instructors will agree with Willink’s explanation, many others will disagree. One thing is for certain, heelhooks are and always have been a staple of grappling so they’re certainly not going anywhere. But for anyone who is in the sport for the long haul, white belt is only the tiniest fraction of the time you’re going to spend training and heelhooks won’t even be legal in competition for years yet, so there really is no rush.
The above video is an excerpt from a much longer podcast with much more advice for BJJ and wider life, the full episode can be found here.