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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

05 February 2015

05/02/2015 - Teaching | Half Guard | Maintaining, Back Take & Guard Recovery

Teaching #274
Artemis BJJ (PHNX Fitness), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 05/02/2015

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.

After you've controlled a leg, got the underhook and onto your side, you want to block their arms. 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: 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' (as he says in the video, it's 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 (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 and simultaneously scooting down their body. Pull your paw arm back, 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. You still want the 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.

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.

Teaching & Sparring Notes: It's a slightly longer class on Thursdays, meaning it functioned as a recap of the week's techniques. I like being able to do that at PHNX, where it also makes sense as the people who come to this class often don't make it to many (or any) of the MyGym classes in St Paul's. I went through the usual selection, then had a good bit of time left over for some specific sparring and free sparring. My groin injury is getting to a stage now where I can roll relatively normally, though I still have to hold off on certain sweeps and transitions.

Still, it meant I could finally get in some proper rolling with Nacho, which was cool, as I've been looking forward to experiencing his game. It's an interesting challenge trying to both pass and control somebody who is adept at inverted guard, especially when they're constantly looking to take your back with a berimbolo. My counter at the moment is rather clunky, so I need to refine that more, though it did seem to just about work (although I imagine Nacho was going easy as he knows I'm injured). I focused on controlling the legs and feet, as well as establishing some kind of grip by those control points (so, head, shoulders and hips).

That repeatedly involved me getting a firm grasp of the gi lapel, digging my head and/or shoulder underneath a leg, then gradually crawling into place for side control. I wasn't able to hold if for long when I did get to side control (or more commonly, north-south, given the nature of inverted guard). That gives me some fun stuff to work on: maintaining on top is somewhere I generally feel fairly comfortable. It's good to be knocked out of your comfort zone, as I'm forced to think harder. I'm also gripping harder, which is bad, as that's not a long-term solution (i.e., my grips are already sore after training, so in ten, twenty, thirty etc years, it won't be viable).

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