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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

25 August 2011

25/08/2011 - Teaching (Attacking Half Guard)

Teaching #017
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 25/08/2011

Two good options from half guard are taking the back and sweeps. From the positions I showed earlier, during the maintaining half guard lesson, the main way to get to the back relies on the underhook. The basic principle is to bump them forwards with your knee as you also straighten your arm, so that you're bashing their armpit with your bicep. As they are knocked forwards, turn and base on your elbow, then bring your knee into play for further support, swivelling to their back.

Building on the way Indrek Reiland teaches the half guard (again from that awesome free video I mentioned before), you start as before by blocking the cross face with the 'paw', before working to take the back off your underhook. There are of course other options. One of the positions Caio Terra demonstrates doesn't block the cross face with a hand, instead getting deep on the underhook (so your shoulder is right underneath), bring back the elbow of your other arm for base.

This needs to be far enough that they can't just grab it and knock you down. That means that your shoulder is pointing towards the mat, your elbow behind: your arm is not at a right angle. Terra also suggests feeding their gi lapel to your underhook hand, though he notes that you need to be careful: if at any point you drop towards the mat, they will flatten you out.

There is also a straightforward sweep, which has various names: Reiland calls it the 'toe grab sweep', which is similar to what's known as the 'old school' (although there are a number of differences). The hand you were using to block the cross-face dives under, to grab their same side toes. You could also grab their ankle, if you prefer, though that may give them a better chance to escape. Either way, you'll need to be careful not to get caught by a cross face in the process, of course. Bring your underhooking arm past their bum, then switch the foot you're holding to that underhook hand.

Next, unlock your half guard, then pull their leg back with your outside foot. From there, come up on your elbow like you're going to the back, then drive through to sweep them over. Keep hold of the foot, pressing down with your shoulders, so that you can move around to side control. As Reiland notes, you can still go for that even if they establish a whizzer while in half guard.

I mentioned before that you don't want to get squashed on your back in half guard. However, thanks to the never-ending intricacy of BJJ, there are still a whole series of attacks even from an inferior position like that (for example, Vince Quitugua, the guy who founded Shoyoroll, has a DVD on half guard sweeps when flattened out called Lost Techniques of the Half Guard). Still, I wouldn't recommended staying on your back out of choice: first, try using the lockdown sequence from the earlier lesson to get back onto your side.

An alternative is a great sweep Nick Brooks taught me, when I visited Mill Hill BJJ a while back. Start by opening up their lapel with your free hand, on the opposite side to the leg you've trapped. Bring that gi material over their back and feed it to your other hand: this grip needs to be tight, so you want to work your hand as close to the armpit as you can.

Shrimp out towards the trapped side (you'll have to release your locking leg to do this, so keep the inside leg heavy on their calf to stop them passing). You may need to do this a couple of times, until you can insert your outside foot under their inner thigh. This means you are now in what's called half-butterfly guard.

With your free hand, pin the arm they have under your head to your skull, like you would in a mount escape when someone is cross-facing you. Note that you want to avoid them bringing their knee up into your armpit, as that gives them better control. You can now lift with your butterfly hook. From here, you could try to go straight to mount, but they may well snatch half guard. A safer option is to move through to side control or scarf hold instead.

A number of people were having some trouble generating enough leverage with the butterfly hook. Fortunately, I had an answer for that, as the same thing can happen with the standard sweep from full butterfly guard. This is where your supporting leg comes into play. As you lift with the butterfly hook, push off with your other leg. If that still isn't enough leverage, hop on your supporting leg, so that you are bouncing towards them sideways. That should help to bring them over, even if they have managed to base out with a leg.

For sparring, I decided that given who and how many had come to class, the best option was to stick with pairs. Over the twenty minutes, I split it into four rounds of five minutes, meaning each person had a go on top and bottom, then I switched people around, in order for everybody to experience different body types. For the first two rounds, the person on the bottom was starting from a good position, with their underhook already in place, their other arm blocking the cross-face.

In the last two rounds, I changed it so that the bottom person was in a terrible position, having been squashed to the mat with a cross-face as well as losing their underhook. That was both because I wanted to try them out Nick Brooks' half butterfly sweep, but also so that they could get used to being in bad positions. I'm not sure how helpful it was, but I kept saying during sparring that they should relax, stay calm and be patient, working out how the person on top was moving. May or may not have been useful. ;)


  1. Yep...I now know where my confusion is. The arms. I get caught up trying to figure out what my options are based on arm placement and everything's dead from there. I'll definitely have to try some of this out. Thanks!

  2. Cool - glad to be of help!

    From what I gather, arm placement is relatively straightforward. Your first goal is to stop them getting an arm under your head, so put your hands in the way to prevent that cross-face.

    Once the cross-face is blocked, you can sit up, disengage one of your hands and get an underhook around their back.

    Oli Geddes did a lesson on it recently. :)