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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

02 February 2015

02/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Maintaining & Simple Back Take

Teaching #271
Artemis BJJ (MyGym/Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 02/02/2015

In half guard, 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, 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. It's harder for them to flatten you out if you can resist with that kickstand structure.

Another key detail is to block the arm with which they are trying to cross-face you. Almost a decade 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: reach your hand all the way around, so that your wrist is on their bicep. 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 other hand through to replace your first paw with a second paw: this is what Reiland calls the 'double-paw' (as he says in the video, it's an approach he learned from SBG black belt John Frankl).

Similarly, if they manage to get their arm under your underhook, bring your arm over for a double-paw (this is also applicable from the start, if you're framing against their neck), 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. Get the elbow of your top double-pawing arm to their nearest armpit, as that makes it easier to circle your arm around to their back.

From there, you have two primary options. First, try to take the back, by whacking your underhook into their armpit (flinging your arm straight up) and simultaneously scooting down their body. Pull your paw arm back towards you, so that you can base on that elbow, then base on the hand. That should give you the balance to reach around to their lat with what was your underhooking arm, as well as swinging your leg over their back too. Establishing a hook by digging the heel of that leg you just swung over inside their knee. Finally, get a seatbelt grip (one arm under their armpit, the other over their shoulder, locking your hands together) and roll towards your non-hooking foot.

If their base is too solid to go for the back, you can recover full guard instead, which we'll look at on Wednesday.

Teaching Notes: I think I forgot to mention, but last week marked the year anniversary of Artemis BJJ, so that's pretty cool. Fittingly, one of the stalwarts I wasn't expecting to see again reappeared, as Rafal has moved back to Bristol. Very cool, he's both a good student and a decent training partner. :)

I've been playing with the structure of the maintaining half guard lesson for a while. When I first started teaching it a few years ago, I would show the maintaining, back take and guard recovery all in one lesson. I think that's too much for an hour, but fitting in two of those three works. Maintaining on its own isn't enough as that lacks context, but combined with a back take or guard recovery it works. If a lot of people from Monday also show up on Wednesday, it will be easy enough to switch to the guard recovery. If not, then I'll need to work out how to recap the previous lesson. Then again, the guard recovery is a different leg positioning, so that could work well (as it won't entirely repeat the maintaining from the last lesson).

I mentioned Braulio's alternative to the paw, as this month I'm reviewing his EstimaInAction site. On there, he puts his hand on his forehead rather than the Reiland 'paw'. That's kind of like a facepalm, which is a memorable way of describing it and gets a laugh (always really handy in a lesson, as atmosphere is important). I'm not sure people were using it though, but I'll be playing with it myself over this month.

That should be easier now, as from this Monday onwards, I've booked in an extra 30 minutes at the end of class, functioning as open mat time. That's good for the students that want more sparring, plus it's also good for me, in terms of both drilling and sparring. At the moment the main training time that's "for me" is during the Saturday open mat, though I tend to also help people out too.

Of course, I definitely learn from teaching too. So, I don't mind people asking me stuff at open mat - that's what I'm there for - as long as I get a chance to do some drilling and sparring. The more open mat time there is, the more opportunity I've got to do that. Even better will be when there are other instructors at the club, so I could potentially attend their lessons and be a student (e.g., like when Donal was still teaching for us).

In this inaugural Monday open mat, my drilling time was doing some opposite side passing with Rafal. That's one of the two half guard passes I use most often and I'll be teaching it later in the month too, possibly next week or the week after. The key details are cross facing and basing strongly with your foot. The cross-face for this pass needs to be especially firm: I hate 'dirty tactics' in jiu jitsu (like choking the face, elbows into thighs etc), so the cross-face is about as close as I come to that. I don't think it's unnecessarily 'mean' unless you're also driving your shoulder into their throat, but I don't do that as I don't find it as efficient for preventing their turn (though admittedly you can submit people with a shoulder into the throat, it's just not a very 'clean' submission).

The bit I'll add in for Wednesday is:

To recover the guard, you still want an underhook: if you need to make space, keep bumping until you can at least get your elbow by their armpit. You can then use that to pry up some space, circling your arm around for the underhook. Switch your leg positioning so that your 'kickstand' steps over their leg, hooking underneath their lower leg with your instep. Keep your legs tight, or they will pull their leg free.

You can effectively hold half guard with just the one leg that way, providing you with the opportunity to pull the other leg free for full guard. Curl towards their same side knee on your paw-arm side, until you can push it out with your elbow. Get the knee of your inside leg up past that knee, which will enable you to shove their knee back and free your leg. From there, swing both legs around their back and lock your ankles for closed guard. I like to also shift from a paw to an underhook around their arm, trapping it to my chest, but that isn't essential.

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