Ten years ago you could surprise your opponent with a heel hook, but today they’ve become passe. Everyone is training them – and so they have become harder to hit. However, the calf slicer is still relatively unknown and is a great submission that most people won’t expect. Even better, you can set it up from both top and bottom positions!
We’re going to introduce you to this underused submission and explain some great entries you can use to surprise your training partners!
What Is the Calf Slicer?
The calf slicer, sometimes called the calf crusher or calf cutter, is a leg lock, but not one that targets the joints of the leg. Unlike leg lock attacks like heel hooks and kneebars, the calf slicer targets one of the biggest muscles on the leg – the calf – and produces muscle tearing pressure.
The damage from a calf slicer can range from mild muscle strains to a total tear of the calf which basically renders the leg useless. The nature of the calf slicer (targeting soft tissue) means that it is not easy to perform and there are only a few positions which allow the correct mechanics and leverage to actually accomplish the move.
When done correctly, though, the calf slicer is one of the most painful and potentially debilitating submissions in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Is the Calf Slicer Legal?
Ah, the ever-present legality conundrum. Thank you IBJJF! I decided to tackle this subject right at the beginning of this article for two reasons – first, make it clear who can and can’t do calf slicers (under certain rulesets), and second to clarify why this submission is less popular than joint based leg attacks.
As per IBJJF rules, the calf slicer is legal for brown and black belts in both gi and no-gi tournaments. Most other tournaments, like the UAEJJF, follow the IBJJF’s rules, meaning that unless you’re competing in a submission-only tournament or a special superfight, or are below brown belt, calf slicers are off the table.
This brings us to the unmistakably flawed approach that people encounter with such submissions. People usually only begin training certain moves only when they become legal. In the case of the calf slicer, (and also the toe hold, kneebar, and biceps slicer) this means brown belt.
However, if you only start training calf slicers at brown belt you will need a long time to understand the submission and actually make it work under pressure against high-level opposition. The smart approach is to start learning these moves early in your BJJ journey so that when you level up and get to use them, you are ready to go.
This approach of only training techniques which are legal is also a big reason why people rarely use calf slicers. The submission is one of the big 5 leg lock submissions you can count on (along with toe holds, kneebars, ankle locks, and heel hooks) and has been used by expert leg lockers like Dean Lister and Geo Martinez, yet is rarely seen in competition.
Despite its rarity, It is a reliable move simply because of the dilemma principle – if you don’t get a tap with it, you will most definitely get an improved position, which is why you need to consider adding this move to your Jiu Jitsu arsenal.
Calf Slicer Mechanics
The way a calf slicer works is by forcing your partner’s heel to their butt, while you have your shin wedged in between their hamstring and calf. The pressure is a result of the shin placement, which results in an eventual partial or full tear of the calf muscle (provided they don’t tap!). The damage might also extend to the knee after the muscle snaps.
Setups From Top
We’ll start our exploration of the calf slicer from the top of half guard, because it is one of the easiest ways to understand the technique. Less easily understood, but higher percentage entries are attacking the truck against a turtled-up opponent and going for a calf slicer vs. an opponent playing the De La Riva guard – we’ll get there later!
Calf Slicer from Top Half Guard
When attacking the calf slicer from the top half guard position, you want to have your feet touching each other and then perform a forward roll over the shoulder that is nearer to your opponent. This will land you on your back, with a triangle leg configuration around your opponent’s hamstring near the knee. This is one of the best positions to finish a calf slicer.
Your shin will be in an ideal position to “slice” the calf when you pull down on your opponent’s toes. The leg triangle reinforces the position of your shin and protects your own knee from bending too far (like in a rubber guard situation). This position is referred to as the Truck position.
For the finish, you pull their toes towards their butt while simultaneously raising your hips (like finishing an armbar) while rotating your shin outwards.
Truck vs. Turtle
Getting the truck position against a turtled-up opponent requires only one hook, on the near side leg. It may even work without hooks but this requires some quick transitioning skills.
As long as you can place one hook inside, you can choose which direction to go for a Truck entry. You can sit back while placing both arms around the far side hip of an opponent (the simplest way) or roll over the far side hip if you’re going for a fancy setup.
In both cases, you will end up with your back on the ground and the opponent caught with the same leg triangle around their thigh that we covered above.
A hint for maintaining the position is to prevent your opponent’s hips from touching the mats, instead resting their hips atop your own hips. Against those that are skilled with playing the Truck, allowing them to get their hips on the ground means they can reverse the position and place you in the Truck, threatening you with the same calf slicer!
Calf Slicer Setup vs. De La Riva
One of my favorite ways to go for a calf slicer submission is to use it against someone with a good De La Riva guard. Instead of trying to pass directly, threatening with the dilemma of submission or pass gets the job done.
From the top against a De La Riva guard, what you want to do is go to a half-kneeling position, allowing the opponent to get a deep hook in. It is preferable that you break their ankle grip, but it is not mandatory. If they don’t have a deep hook, you can step back with your free leg in order to set up the calf slicer configuration without the opponent being any wiser.
To enter into the finishing position you once again can go in two directions. The first is to roll over towards the far opponent’s far leg, which will give you a tight calf slicer and the potential for an immediate back take if that fails. To finish, you want to pull the opponent’s hip towards you, thus forcing their butt and their heel close.
Another option is to simply sit back once you’re in position, looking to place both arms around the far side hip of the opponent and lie down towards the far leg. Don’t worry, they won’t be able to sweep you because you have their leg in a calf slicer. Even if it doesn’t work you can still pass using the back door.
The Vaporizer is a 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu move by Eddie Bravo. It is also the nastiest version of a calf slicer you can do, but there’s a catch – getting to it is a bit tricky. The setup requires you to be in an Electric Chair, which means you’ve already swept an opponent from the lockdown position.
From the top position of the Electric Chair you need to clear their leg, bringing it across your body, and then roll over your far side shoulder. This video will put things into perspective as writing about this move won’t help much unless you’re already very familiar with the Lockdown, Electric Chair, and the hysterically named Crotch Ripper.
Setups From Bottom
Bottom position calf slicers are generally not as reliable as those you set up from the top, but they do open up a lot more options in terms of dilemma (and even trilemma) attacks. A few reliable setups are attacking directly from the Lockdown half guard, as a follow up to many Ashi Garami leg lock attacks, and from open guards like the X guard
From the Lockdown half guard, the calf slicer is a great surprise move to catch opponents that are actively trying to extend their leg and sprawl to deal with the position. This works because their upper body is not as heavy when they’re focused on their legs.
You’ll first pull your knees to your chest and at the same time push your opponent’s torso to the side. The key is not letting go of the lockdown configuration as you do this.
The moment you can sit up beside them, use one arm to control their waste and prevent them from regaining posture. Now you can freely reach for their toes, triangle your legs, and wrap up a clean calf slicer submission right there.
The BJJ calf slicer is available as a follow-up to most Ashi Garami based attacks. One of the basic premises of defending against the Ashi Garami positions is clearing the knee line. This usually means that whoever is defending will try to rotate, turning their back in order to completely clear the leg entanglement. This is when calf slicers are yours for the taking.
Whenever someone clears the knee line, you still have an entanglement available with at least one leg. Use this free leg to place your shin across the back of their knee. From there, all you need to do is hug both their hips in order to get the pressure for a quick tap. Be particularly careful with this one, as it comes on quickly and may easily injure a training partner.
From the X guard, a calf slicer setup is available when the top person drops their weight on top of your chest, using their knee to pressure you. This makes their other leg lighter, and since both your legs are controlling that one, getting a calf slicer is easy.
All you need to do is lift the opponent’s hip further up in the air, so that you have enough space to transfer the leg that was hooked on their hip down and scoop their shin with the top of the thigh, thus closing a triangle. You can finish by pulling with your arms, holding both hips, or just the hip adjacent to the leg you’re attacking.
How To Defend The Calf Slicer
Defending the calf slicer is just like defending any other submission: you can either prevent it (early defense) or try to defend it very, very late.
Since most calf slicers come from the Truck position, knowing how to beat the Truck will help you prevent the submission.
The concept is easy – don’t allow your opponent to grab your toes. The moment they do so, you have lost your chances of early defense. If you can extend your leg, you will take your toes out of their reach, and will subsequently be able to clear the Truck position by pushing on their hips or flipping the Truck to get a calf slicer of your own.
Late defense is trickier but works by getting you towards the early stage defense so that you don’t have to remember a bunch of different ways to defend calf slicers. Basically, what you want to do is use your other leg to break the grip on your toes.
Something that will buy you time is relaxing the muscles of the leg that is under attack – but don’t bet on this preventing the submission completely. Rather, this will allow you to sneak the other leg in, break their grip and extend the leg, moving into the same defense done at the early stages of the attack.
The calf slicer is a submission hold most people don’t expect. Apart from having the element of surprise on your side when using it, there is also the fact that you can set it up from both top and bottom positions building a versatile attacking game around this underrated submission.
The only drawback is that you’ll have to wait until you’re a brown belt to start legally using it in competitions… but if your gym allows it you should start practicing it earlier than that!
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.