Complete Guide to Imanari Roll For Leglocks in MMA & Grappling

The Imanari roll is one of the most dynamic leg lock entries in submission grappling and MMA. This move has been popularized by Japanese MMA fighter Masakazu Imanari.

After proving its effectiveness in Japan, The Imanari roll propagated quickly in the United States, fighters in the UFC started using that roll to get easy leglocks, Ryan Hall used a modified version of it to submit B.J. Penn.

In this article you will learn how to do a correct Imanari roll and submit your opponent with it.

The Imanari roll is used to enter into your opponent’s grappling range in a dynamic fashion. The Imanari roll is used when the distance between you and your opponent is significant and you want to close that distance with an abrupt and explosive move.

It has the same functionality of an explosive double leg takedown except that it sets your opponent up for a leg lock submission.

Good situations to use the Imanari roll

  • In an MMA fight where you are striking with your opponent at a distance
  • If you are fighting an opponent with a good explosive jab where they are keeping you at distance (GSP and Tristar Gym’s fighters were famous for that type of jab)
  • In a submission grappling match or No-Gi BJJ match

The Imanari roll for sweeps as a takedown

The Imanari roll is not only a setup for leg lock submissions but also a takedown.

For example, if you analyze the mechanics of a single leg takedown you will realize that it’s all about controlling one leg, using it to put the opponent out of balance and then take them down.

This is exactly the same principle of the Imanari roll, once you perform the roll your opponent’s leg gets stuck between both your legs and arms, so it’s you and your whole body strength against one leg.

This puts them automatically out of balance and takes them down, and since you are the one who’s having control, you can release your legs anytime you want and control your opponent from the top.

The Imanari roll in BJJ with the Gi

The Imanari roll is not a move made for the Gi, it’s an explosive move that relies on sliding under the opponent’s leg without giving them any chance to counter by grabbing the pants or the gi. Explosive rolls are easily countered in Gi BJJ.

This does not mean that the Imanari roll won’t be effective in a Gi match at all, by doing it you still have a chance, the only problem is the chances are slim and the effectiveness has low percentage success.

Don’t telegraph the roll

Make sure not to telegraph your attack. The Imanari roll is a takedown by nature, all takedowns have to be stealth, fast and non-telegraphed. If you are in an MMA fight just use the same principles wrestlers use in MMA to distract the opponent from the upcoming takedown.

GSP used the jab as his main weapon to blind his opponents or trigger a reaction from them. Once your opponent reacts with punches of their own, you can launch your roll without being worried about getting countered.

The opponent’s mind is focused on inflicting damage while they are forgetting that their legs are exposed for takedowns and attacks, make your roll and take them from underneath.

Look out for knee counters

When diving for an Imanari roll don’t leave your head up in the air. Keep your head down and tucked between your shoulders to avoid any knee strikes.

Attack the lead leg

When you want to do your roll, it’s preferable to target the lead leg of your opponent, avoid targeting their rear leg if your roll is not fast enough or if you don’t master it perfectly yet.

How to do the Imanari roll

Now that we have spoken about all the rules surrounding the Imanari roll, let’s get to the meaty part of how to do it, step-by-step.

The best way to learn using this step-by-step guide is to drill each step alone then take a look at the next step and execute it until you finish all the steps.

imanari roll 2

We will breakdown the Imanari roll into two phases:

1st phase: The start of the roll until you make contact with your opponent’s leg
2nd phase: The takedown roll once you have made contact with your opponent’s leg

1st phase: The start of the roll

Let’s assume that you want to attack your opponent’s left leg. Follow these steps:

  • Make a step with your right leg towards your opponent’s right leg: this will position you at the centerline of your opponent
  • Lower your level as if you want to shoot a double leg takedown
  • Reach with your right hand for your opponent’s left leg
  • Don’t wait until you grab their leg to make the roll, if you grab their leg then the roll is going to be easier if their leg is out of reach, start your roll
  • You should grab your opponent from the inside of their calf
  • Direct your roll towards the outside of your opponent’s left leg. Your head must be outside of your opponent’s legs, not inside
  • Now all you have to do is to roll backward. The roll is not difficult itself, it’s easy once you figure out its mechanics. Don’t get frustrated and keep drilling it.
  • Your legs should be in the air, the right leg inside your opponent’s legs and the left leg outside their legs
  • Now your position is as follows: you are upside down on your shoulder blades, you are grabbing your opponent from the inside of the calf, your legs are in the air, one inside your opponent’s legs and the other outside their legs.

Now let’s get to the second phase of the Imanari roll

2nd phase: The takedown

  • Until now, your roll has been linear towards your opponent, your butt is in the air at the same line as your opponent left leg (the leg you want to attack)
  • Our goal now is to turn towards the opponent and finish in a leg lock.
  • Use the grip you have on your opponent’s calf to make a shoulder roll from the outside of the left leg of your opponent. This is the tricky part where most students get confused. Don’t! Pull yourself towards your opponent’s leg and make a roll on the blades of your shoulders. The intent behind the roll is to end up facing your opponent. Once you have the same intent behind the roll you will do it correctly.
  • Where to position your legs when you are making the shoulder blades roll? Remember the leg you had outside your opponent’s legs which is your left leg? Now, while making your shoulder roll, place your left leg behind your opponent’s left knee, it will serve as a tripwire to trip your opponent on their backside
  • Where to position your right leg? While you are placing your left leg behind your opponent’s knee, your right leg will serve you as a control and pushing mechanism to push your opponent to trip on your left leg.
  • If you have followed the 1st phase to the letter, your right leg must now be between your opponent’s legs. All you have to do now is to hook it around your opponent’s left thigh like a snake. Once you wrap it around their thigh like an anaconda you will feel its power, it’s going to be easy to use it for pushing against your tripwire (Your other leg that you placed behind their knee).
  • Note that no opponent can resist this takedown no matter how strong they are. This is physics 101! Now you have your whole body strength against one leg of your opponent. So even if your opponent is heavier than you and much stronger than you, one leg of theirs will never be stronger than your whole body.
  • Once you have taken your opponent down, you are at full freedom to do whatever you want with the takedown, you can finish them with a heel hook, ankle lock or just sweep them using the leg you have under control to get on top for ground and pound or other transitions.

Modified version of the Imanari roll for wrestlers

There is a great modified version of the Imanari roll used in wrestling. This modified version has been created by a high school wrestler by the name of Caden Walker.

Imanari roll to upkick

This tip is purely for MMA fighters. Sometimes an opponent can see the Imanari roll coming, so they counter by getting down on their knees to prevent you from using their legs to roll underneath.

By doing this counter, your opponent exposes their face, so you can easily upkick them as Masakazu Imanari does in the gif above.

Note that upkicks are not allowed for downed opponents -With two knees on the ground-  in the United States, meanwhile they are allowed in most MMA organizations in the World, especially in Asia.

The Imanari roll is a high percentage entry that gets the job done most of the time if performed correctly with good timing.

It might look complicated to you, but if you drill it enough you will realize that the move is simple. Once it’s in your arsenal, you are going to have a significant advantage over your opponents, especially at the amateur level.