How The Half Guard Can Negate Size and Weight Advantages
When one looks at the majority of high level jiujiteiros, often and surprisingly the half guard is the guard of choice. The half guard may not appear to be a dominant guard to a layman or a beginner, but as a guard it has inherent and innate advantages that are often overlooked.
For starters, the half guard allows the guard player to use all 4 limbs against a single limb. Closed guard involves two limbs against all four limbs, spider 2 on one, etc. Half guard is one of the very few positions that allows the jiujiteiro to attack a single limb with both the arms and the legs, and is a very tight position that is difficult to navigate out of even on a higher level.
The half guard is also a structurally sound guard. Because the guard player is keeping the opponent’s leg closed to their body, and is coiling their arms and legs up to maintain control, the leverage in half guard is second to no other guard. Consistently, half guard provides a medium for jiujiteiros to control the opponent, but what transitions are available?
Because the half guard offers the guard player an opportunity to extend and control an opponent’s leg, it presents unique opportunities as far as sweeping. In other guards escape without passing is possible, but in order to intelligently escape the half guard one must pass it, and if even a minor grip remains, the half guard can be recovered.
Half guard has some inherent disadvantages in comparison to other guards. Because of the lack of control over an opponent’s posture, in a jiu jitsu match there are submissions that are available from inside the half guard including various chokes, arm locks and even leg lock entries. In MMA the half guard presents an extremely dangerous environment because of the way it can potentially keep the guard player’s hips static while an opponent rains down blows.
For the guard player, the key to half guard is establishing hip mobility and momentum as needed. This can translate to scooting one’s hips under the opponent, or working the hips around the opponent’s leg to maintain the needed control to execute a sweep. The best half guard players don’t need much to work with; they can start with a grip on the ankle and work to the point where they have full control over their opponent’s body.
Another key element to half guard is the availability of leg locks. Because of the effective isolation and control that the guard player has over one of their opponent’s legs, the decision can be made at any time to begin to attack that leg, or to begin to attack the other leg. In no gi some of the most devastating heel hook entries are from half guard. For higher belts or in scenarios that allow them, knee bars and toe holds are readily available from the half guard.
One factor that makes half guard a favorite of practitioners of all sizes is that it is one of the few guards that can be used effectively regardless of leg length. Closed guard, spider guard and other guards suffer from inherent disadvantages when the opponent is too thick to control. Similarly if the guard player is long and lanky the half guard works great because the longer/lankier practitioner can use their length to extend the opponent and create the necessary conditions to execute sweeps and submission entries.
When jiu jitsu competitors utilize the half guard, it seems to give them the ability to swim under their opponent. One aspect of the half guard that makes it so powerful is the way it pairs with a technique called the lockdown. The lockdown consists of using a hook under the leg trapped in the half guard to manipulate the opponent’s leg. Here’s an instructional video about how to use the lockdown to enter one of the many submissions available from it:
The lockdown is a technique that will make any practitioner’s half guard more powerful because it provides a powerful grip on the opponent’s leg and allow the guard player to control two vectors of motion, both a twisting/rotating motion as well as the opponent’s vertical movements (shifting up towards the head or down towards the legs.)
Like many positions and techniques in the half guard, the lockdown relies upon the guard player’s ability to decisively move their hips under the opponent’s. This factor is another that makes the half guard so powerful: the guard player should be less concerned with moving the opponent (unlike in other guards) and more concerned with working their way around or under the opponent. This subtle distinction makes the position powerful. Moving another person can be difficult, moving oneself is much easier.
The most powerful aspect of a good half guard is its ability to negate weight and strength disparities. The strongest opponent can’t move their leg in a way that their leg doesn’t move, and a well executed and placed half guard force the leg into a position where it cannot move. Using this notion, the guard player’s proficiency with the guard is the only potential barrier to success. Most other guards can be effectively stymied by an opponent’s overwhelming size or strength, but not the half guard.
One of the most technically skilled and talented half guard players is Lucas Leite. With a laundry list of wins over opponents of all sizes, Leite’s world class game has propelled him to the top of the sport. Leite’s half guard that has been nicknamed the “Coyote Half Guard” forces opponents into positions and scrambles (learn more about it with the help of The Funk Encyclopedia by Max & Ben Askren; for more techniques: The Quad Pod system by Max & Ben Askren). that they don't want to be in. Constantly pushing the boundaries of what his half guard can do, Leite’s effectiveness has allowed him to beat many bigger and stronger opponents.
Lucas Leite’s half guard is so effective that he believes it even works BETTER against bigger and heavier opponents, an aspect that is highly desirable in any guard. Check out his DVD set covering his preferred half guard methods - Just Click Here