BJJ INSIDER'S CLUB BLOG: AARON BENZRIHEM/HALF BUTTERFLY GUARD
Aaron Benzrihem is the first BJJ black belt of 5X World Champion Bernardo Faria. He is an avid competitor and has previously been an instructor at the Bernardo Faria Academy outside Boston.
As a smaller, featherweight competitor Aaron developed a flexible and distance-based guard game. However, he would often find himself under the pressure of larger, stronger opponents who would force half guard and use their size and strength to pass to more dominant positions.
Faced with this challenge, Aaron began blending elements of Butterfly Guard and Half Guard to create an antidote to this pressure and control. Now Aaron has developed his Half Butterfly Guard system into a crossroads to other positions such as Single Leg X, X Guard, Leg Locks and Back Takes. He also threatens a number of submission attacks from the position, notably the Guillotine and Inverted Arm Lock.
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM HALF BUTTERFLY GUARD?
Aaron is a featherweight BJJ competitor. For most of his career he has competed at 137 lbs. In the training room, he is usually the lightest person in the room. The Half Butterfly Guard is a position that benefits the lighter, smaller competitor who may have a strength disadvantage against other competitors or training partners.
In addition, the position does not require any special level of flexibility or explosive power. Practitioners of any age and size can benefit from learning the position.
The Half Butterfly Guard position and techniques translate well between Gi and No Gi grappling, so no matter what your preference, the Half Butterfly Guard can be of value to you.
HALF BUTTERFLY GUARD: THE LEGS
Let’s begin the breakdown of Half Butterfly Guard by looking at how the legs should be positioned. The position is a blend of Half Guard and Butterfly Guard, combining the most important elements of both.
As Aaron sets up the Half Butterfly Guard, he begins by positioning his body on his side. He uses his bottom leg to wrap around his uke Tye’s thigh to initiate the Half Guard aspect of Half Butterfly Guard. Because he is not locking his top leg with this bottom hook, Aaron makes the Half Guard Hook stronger by turning his toes down towards the mat. This makes it very difficult for Tye to simply sprawl out of the hook and pass Aaron’s guard.
Using his top leg, Aaron will bring his instep in front of Tye’s trapped thigh and step on the side of his own calf with the knee on the outside of Tye’s ribs. This is a key distinction from Knee Shield Half Guard which uses the knee and shin across the opponent’s body to prevent pressure.
HALF BUTTERFLY GUARD: THE ARMS
Once the leg positioning has been established, it’s important to look at the role of the arms in the Half Butterfly Guard.
Again it is important to note that in Half Guard in general and Half Butterfly specifically, one must maintain a body position lying on one’s side on the ribs. The top arm becomes a frame running between the shoulders with the sharp part of the wrist on the pinky side facing into the opponent’s throat to dissuade them from pressuring forward.
The bottom arm closest to the mat is used by Aaron to maintain control of Tye’s closest arm which poses a very likely cross face threat. If the opponent is able to connect or control one’s upper body or secure a cross face, they are more likely to be able to flatten the guard player and begin to dismantle the Half Butterfly Guard.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE EXTEND/RETRACT MOTION
One of the most fundamental movements that must be mastered when one is building their Half Butterfly Guard game is the extension of the butterfly hook which serves to begin off balancing the opponent and allows the guard player to retract their half guard hook to make it available for the Butterfly Sweep.
In the example GIF, Aaron Benzrihem is extending his butterfly hook elevating Tye. Simultaneously Aaron releases his bottom half guard hook and retracts the heel of this hook to his butt putting it in position to drive off the mat and complete
Using a grip on the opponent, Aaron is able to pull him onto the butterfly hook and extend the hook which begins the off-balancing process.
In order to eventually sweep the opponent, the Half Guard Hook must be released. In conjunction with this unlocking of the Half Guard Hook, the foot must be retracted back towards the butt. This positions the foot in a way that allows the maximum drive off that foot when it comes time to elevate the hips and follow through with the sweep.
BUTTERFLY SWEEP SOLO DRILL
One of the most important results of a strong Half Butterfly Guard is that it will put you in an excellent position to begin Butterfly Sweeping your opponents. In the gif above, Aaron is shown demonstrating a simple Butterfly Sweep drill that will build strong sweeping mechanics if the following key points are followed.
The bottom foot is key to generating the power to raise the hips. It is also important to note that it was most likely formerly a Half Guard Hook and cannot remain there because the Butterfly Sweep will not work if that bottom hook is holding the opponent down.
A very common misconception is that when you load your opponent’s weight onto the butterfly hook that you must fall onto your back flat to elevate them. By focusing on falling towards your opponent with your head, you will ensure that you fall onto your shoulder and generate the proper force.
Again to reiterate, once the opponent is loaded up and the fall to the shoulder is initiated, the bottom hook will drive off of the mats driving the hips upward, continuing to off-base the person being swept.
The final motion is an extension of the Butterfly hook to complete the sweep. The sweep is finished most effectively by keeping a “sticky hook” which maintains a connection to the opponent to better control any possible scrambles by them.
HALF BUTTERFLY GUARD SWEEP
Now that you’ve seen the specific elements, it’s time to take a look at Aaron’s Half Butterfly Guard Sweep. Let’s put all of the pieces together for you to remember below.
The important elements of the Half Butterfly Guard position are to be on one’s side with the bottom half guard hook (ideally with toes pointed to mats), the top leg Butterfly hook positioned on your own calf with a wide knee position to prevent easy flattening by the opponent. The top arm forms a frame across the collarbone area between both shoulders while the bottom arm maintains control of the opponent’s crossface arm.
There are a number of effective grips to secure that will allow you to load the opponent’s weight on the Butterfly Hook, but in this example, Aaron shoots for the underhook and grabs for the opponent’s belt in the center of their back.
By bringing them forward and loading them up, you separate them from their heels where they are heaviest and makes it easier to sweep them.
The half guard hook that previously kept them in position, must be removed and retracted to prepare it to become the launching pad for the force off the mats that elevates the hips and subsequently the opponent.
To prevent the opponent from stalling the sweep by basing out, the opponent’s arm must be controlled. There are a number of ways to accomplish this with the most basic being to take an overhook on the arm and bring one’s elbow to their ribs and collapse onto it as the sweep is initiated.
Again, it must be noted that an effective Butterfly Sweep is not initiated with a flat back. By focusing on falling forward towards the opponent, it ensures that the sweep mechanics are perfect.
As the opponent begins to be off-based, the bottom hook drives off the mats and elevates the hips ensuring that the sweep is completed.
By staying controlled and maintaining a sticky hook, the opponent is more likely to end up in an inferior position and be less likely to regain guard or scramble to a positive position.
HALF BUTTERFLY GUARD ASHI GARAMI ENTRY
Aaron Benzrihem describes Half Butterfly Guard as being a crossroads guard that can lead to a lot of other positions such as Single Leg X, X Guard, Back Takes and even submissions. In the example above, he uses the position to enter into Single Leg X or Ashi Garami, a powerful sweeping position that can also put you in position to set up leg attacks. Let’s break down how he does this.
The Half Butterfly Guard position described above will be the same starting position for this entrance.
Using the bottom hand you will connect to the bunched up material on the outside of the knee of the opponent. This will allow you to pull forward towards you and direct them to the side.
At the same time as the pants grip is secured, Aaron digs under the far armpit to begin to divert the opponent’s weight towards his butterfly hook.
As their weight is loaded and guided towards the hook, Aaron will also scoot his hips towards his opponent’s hips bringing him further underneath the opponent.
Now that the opponent’s weight has been diverted the bottom leg will easily be able to be extracted and wrapped around the outside of the opponent’s hip. The foot will be placed in the hip bone to keep distance and keep the opponent from turning back into us.
Aaron Benzrihem is an accomplished competitor and instructor competing at featherweight who out of necessity developed his Half Butterfly Guard to deal with the stronger, heavier opponent who looked to force half guard and use pressure to pass. This crossroads guard has allowed him to sweep and submit opponents of all sizes, while allowing him to seamlessly transition to some of his other favorite positions like X Guard and Single Leg X.
Regardless of your size and experience, Half Butterfly Guard is something that can unlock new doors in your guard retention, sweeping and submission games if you invest the time.