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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a purple belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©2004-2016 Can Sönmez

27 December 2012

27/12/2012 - Teaching (Maintaining Half Guard)

Teaching #084
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 27/12/2012

In case anyone is wondering, I haven't forgotten about Operation Tattered Belt, just been a little pressed for time in terms of preparation with xmas etc. But should be getting back to it over the next fortnight of classes, which I'm guessing will be passing. :)

Often in attempting to prevent a pass, you may find you can snatch half guard. The reason it's called half guard is because instead of having your legs wrapped around their hips, you've only managed to trap one leg. Generally, you'll have your inside leg over their back of their knee, locking that in place by bringing the back of your outside knee over your inside shin. If you can get your outside knee to their hip while still having your feet locked, even better, but that can be difficult if you have short legs like me.

There are plenty of options from half guard (some top competitors base their entire game around it, like Oli Geddes), though personally I try to avoid going there intentionally. The reason for that is because in half guard, you're pretty much even with your opponent. You can go for submissions and sweeps, but they can go for submissions too, as well as pass.

However, if you do end up there, your first concern is to stop them flattening you out and starting their pass. They are generally going to want to establish an underhook on their trapped leg side, using the other arm to control under your head. In many ways, it is a similar position to standard side control. That will enable them to crush you to the mat, then exert lots of shoulder pressure to kill your mobility. Many of the same attacks from side control can also be viable from here, like an americana.

Naturally, you don't want them to reach that dominant position. Your goal is to get up on your side, with your own underhook around their back, on your trapped leg side. That is one of the main fights you'll have in half guard, so it is essential that you get used to working for that underhook.

If you can get the underhook, that accomplishes two things. First, it prevents them crushing their chest into yours, which would help them flatten you out. Second, it means you can press into their armpit to help disrupt their base, as well as help you get up onto your side. You can use your knee knocking into their bum at the same time to help with this too, as that should bump them forward.

For your leg positioning, there are also several options. The standard half guard is to have the inside leg wrapped around with your foot on the outside. Your other leg triangles over your ankle. This provides you with what SBG refer to as a 'kickstand': that outside leg is useful for bridging and general leverage. Geeza showed me an alternative a while ago, which is to rely mainly on your outside leg for control. To do that, bring your outside leg across, then hook your foot under. This provides you with some of the advantages of a lockdown but without immobilising your hips. It is a good option if you're looking to recover closed guard, as you can then work to bring your inside leg out between theirs.

After you've controlled a leg, got the underhook and onto your side, you want to block their arms. Six years ago, Indrek Reiland put together an awesome video (made even more awesome by being free) about the fundamentals of half guard. The main principle I use from Reiland is what he calls the 'paw'.

By that, he means hooking your hand around their bicep, just above the elbow. You aren't gripping with your thumb: this is just a block, to prevent them getting a cross-face. Reiland emphasises that preventing that cross-face is the main principle. Therefore, if you can feel they are about to remove your paw by swimming their arm around, bring your underhooking hand through to replace your first paw with a second: this is what Reiland calls the 'double-paw' (rewatching the video, its an approach he learned from SBG black belt John Frankl).

Similarly, if they manage to underhook your underhook, bring that arm over for a double-paw, then work to recover your underhook. Keep in mind with the double-paw that you need to make sure you don't leave space under your elbow. Otherwise, as Reiland demonstrates, they can they go for a brabo choke.

Saulo does something similar in Jiu Jitsu Revolution 1, as he also uses the 'paw'. However, the posture of his other arm is different, and very simple. He just puts it by his side, with the hand reaching over to his opposite hip. He then uses the shoulder and elbow to wriggle towards the underhook, where he notes to grip by the belt rather than high on the back.

An alternative option is to put your hand on your head (which I'd forgotten I taught last time until Nick mentioned the technique during drilling), then curl in tight to their leg. Again, that stops them getting the underhook. If you can get to their leg, it becomes difficult for them to dig your head free. Should the opportunity present itself from any of those positions, you can momentarily move your paw to their knee. Push on their knee and slide your knee through. From there, you can work to recover full guard.

I'd forgotten until I rewatched it, but Reiland's video is also handy for me as instructor, because he includes some drills. The first one is simply working from that starting position, just trying to block their arm and maintain the underhook. The top person is looking to flatten them out, the bottom person is looking to keep them away. When I taught this lesson before, I didn't follow that pattern, but this class was not my usual assortment of white and early blues. Instead, I had Nick, probably the best blue belt in the club, and a visiting four-stripe blue from Finland.

I therefore didn't spend as long as I normally would on technique. Instead, I stuck mainly to resistance drills to give them a chance to work, with lots of sparring at the end (but still specific: first, try to pin their shoulders to the mat. Second, half guard sparring but only sweeps and passing. Then finally, half guard sparring with sweeps, submissions and passes). We started off with maintaining the single paw. Next, the double paw. I followed that up by noting details like avoiding the brabo, before adding in a brief discussion of the knee shield.

The knee shield is also known as z-guard: I think Geeza calls it shin guard, though that may be slightly different. It is generally used in a slightly different situation regarding leg and arm positioning (as per the screencap from Caio Terra's DVD), but it can be applied to other half guards due to the usefulness of blocking their hip with your knee. That means they have more difficulty moving forwards, which at the same time is handy for creating distance, as well as nullifying the whizzer. If you use the leverage from your knee to square up your upper body by leaning back, that should help avoid the control they can generate with a whizzer.

For knee positioning, one option is to put it right on their hip, which means you can keep your feet locked. However, that also means you knee is quite low, so there is the disadvantage that they may be able to shove your knee to the mat and pass, particularly if you have the knee right across to the opposite hip (on the same side hip, there should be less danger). To stop that, you could put your knee up high into their chest, like Caio Terra. As ever, there are pros and cons, as putting your knee up high may open up a gap between your feet.

If you leave a gap between your feet, it is possible your partner may then be able to simply circle their lower leg around and free themselves. So, if you can't cross your feet, then clamp them together, to create a barrier to that leg-circling. Alternatively, clamp them onto your partner's leg, again to make sure there isn't a gap.


Teaching Notes: I hadn't expected to have higher level students today, which means my usual class structure had to be modified on the fly to much more sparring. It is particularly weird teaching somebody like Nick. He's a very good blue belt, so I'm not sure I can teach him all that much, hence why I went with lots of sparring to make the class worthwhile for him and the four-stripe blue that was also there.

Nick frequently interjected comments during drilling and sparring about modifications he likes to use. That turned it from a class into more of a discussion, which personally I quite like. I rarely feel confident about...well, anything at all in any context, BJJ or not. Moving the class to more of a discussion rather than a "do it like this" type of thing is therefore a nice change (though I like to think I always have some element of discussion in my classes, or at least try: e.g., I normally give people a few options, rather than just "this is how I do it and any other way is wrong").

I like being able to do a lot of drills to gradually build up technique. The only concern would be that it is perhaps a bit too cardio intensive. I'm keen to get in lots of technique, but I guess it is possible to do that via something like a cardio intensive drill. Something to experiment with in future.

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