There is a common misconception by people who are not well versed in leg locks that leg locks eschew the concept of position before submission. Famously, John Danaher (who is considered by many to be the mastermind behind the current movement of leglockery) talked about this in his now-beloved Joe Rogan Experience appearance — something to the effect of, “Well, I can’t pass the guard, so f*ck it — try a leg lock.”
The truth about leg locks is that they rely on a completely different positional hierarchy. Simply “dropping back” and grabbing someone’s ankle will not suffice if that person has any competency because they will use your unintelligent positional change to gain superior position, and you’ll be left with nothing be sadness and broken dreams
When approaching leg locks, it’s helpful to know what positions allow you to pin the other person’s leg so that you can then break it. It’s helpful to know where your pressure needs to be to keep that leg in place. Because the legs are so much stronger than the upper body, leg lock positioning has more to do with weight distribution than anything else. Simply put, grabbing a leg is not going to have the same effect as grabbing an arm. If I’m competing against someone of close to similar physical strength and weight and I get a two on one grip on their arm, there’s a good chance I can keep their arm in place for a bit. If I grab someone’s leg with both of my arms, there’s a good chance they can retract their leg simply with brute force, never mind technique.
Learning the positional hierarchy of leg locks and how to transition between upper body attacks and entanglements to lower body attacks and entanglements is the direction the game is going right now. There’s very little true “innovation” but rather organization of existing information.
Think of attacking a leg lock by simply diving on it as akin to going for a baseball bat choke by inviting the guard pass. Maybe it works, but if the opponent or training partner sees the technique early enough and defends it, you’ve given up a lot of positional ground. Of course this is an option, and some people have done exceptionally well with this, but it’s doesn’t have to be that way all the time.
So do leg locks defy the notion of position before submission? Eh, not really. Leg locks require you to acknowledge a different set of critical positions. Once you start to learn those critical positions and find ways to get to those positions, then and only then can you say you’ve started learning leg locks.