It's Time To Spring Clean Your Half Guard with Tom DeBlass
There's an old tradition called Spring Cleaning that you may have heard of where one spends time at the first sign of warm weather cleaning and organizing their home and lives. It's a great opportunity to take a look at any clutter or disorganization you've amassed over the Fall and Winter. By cleaning things up, we can make our lives and our jiu jitsu more efficient. By looking at the advice of the experts in our field, we shorten our own progressions towards proficiency and save ourselves hours and sometimes years of trial and error. Let's take a look at how you can apply this concept to your BJJ and more specifically your half guard.
Half guard is quickly becoming one of the most widely used versions of guard on the mats today. There are many reasons why this is occurring. First and foremost, more and more high level practitioners have used and continue to make use of the power of half guard. World champions like Bernardo Faria, Tom DeBlass, and Lucas Leite each make use of their very own manifestation of half guard in their games. The influence of these world class athletes on the current body of practitioners continues to rise through their performances on the competitive mats, their seminars, and the students they teach at their academies and affiliations. These techniques are working at the highest levels, therefore, it makes sense that they can go a long way towards improving the average practitioner's game.
Half Guard is Applicable for Anyone
Besides all of the famous half guard practitioners who are influencing the development and spread of half guard, the fact is that half guard is highly applicable regardless of your BJJ level. Once a student has a grasp on some of the core fundamentals and concepts of half guard, they can begin using it in almost no time. And being one of the most accessible forms of guard, doesn't make it any less practical, instead this makes it even more dynamic as more students are starting to use it early and often, adding their own nuances to the game.
Unlike many forms of guard, not only does half guard not rely on any particular level of jiu jitsu knowledge, it also does not require an overly athletic style or game to play. An effective half guard is not predicated on strength, speed or flexibility. Can you lie on your side and keep your bottom leg hooked on their thigh? Can you utilize your knee as a shield to steer their pressure and weight away from you? If you answered yes, to these simple questions, then you can use half guard effectively. So whether you're a brand new white belt, or a seasoned higher belt, you are literally moments away from starting down the road to Half Domination.
Half Guard is a Bridge Between Closed and Open Guards
The earliest guard most of us are exposed to is the closed guard. We spend a lot of time and energy squeezing and pulling, trying to keep someone locked in our closed guard. There is nothing more heartbreaking as a new student than to have someone rip open our closed guards and pass to side control or worse. Half guard was once considered a last ditch effort to maintain control and prevent the opponent's pass.
Roberto "Gordo" Correa is credited with popularizing the guard in the early 90's in competition. He began utilizing the guard because a knee injury actually prevented him from using other guards and half guard became a way for him to control and sweep his opponent. After this more and more athletes began looking to half guard to provide them an edge.
Half guard can be seen as an effective bridge between closed guard and open guard. Half guard provides the control and strong connection to the opponent that closed guard can provide. It gives a solid foundation of security that new BJJ students can rely on to make sure that they have an opportunity to think through the situations they find themselves in. Half guard also allows for the dynamic hip and body movement that can unbalance one's opponent and lead to many sweeps and reversals that will put the half guard player in dominant spots.
Whereas closed guard provides strong control, the mobility of the player in closed guard is diminished. Not so in half guard. The control is maintained, but the ability to be mobile is wide open. With so many individual variations of half guard, from deep half guard to butterfly half guard and more, the possibilities are nearly endless to both stop the guard pass and reverse your opponents.
So before we get into the actual "spring cleaning" of your half guard, what are some questions we should ask ourselves beforehand. First off, do you even play half guard? If no, why not? No matter where you are in your jiu jitsu journey, half guard can add something to your game. If you're a dynamic, flexible, athletic game player, perhaps you could add top half guard's ability to slow down the action and smash the opponent to your game. If you're a newer practitioner or a older, less athletic hobbyist, the half guard is a must use guard for surviving pressure, creating sweeps out of some of the worst situations, and also attacking submissions that no one expects.
If you are currently a half guard player, its important to take stock of where you're at and see what areas you can "clean up" with this exercise. Basic bottom half guard can be broken into a few distinct parts. First, there is the connection of our lower body to the top opponent who is most likely trying to blast through your guard and secure a dominant position like side control or heaven forbid, the mount. The basic connection would be both of your legs around one of their legs. The next item of concern would be how you are using your hips. The first time you have someone in half guard, you are probably going to be looking up at the ceiling of your academy and wondering what's happening. You will quickly learn that this is bad and you will want to get to your side, to allow your hips more mobility. This also allows space to be created around the upper body to bring your arms into play, whether as protective frames or powerful under hook.
Let's take a look at some videos from one of the masters of the half guard, Tom DeBlass. Tom DeBlass has competed on nearly every high level stage there is in competitive combat. He has been a three time ADCC competitor, an IBJJF Champion, a UFC and Bellator MMA veteran, and continues to test himself on premiere stages like Fight to Win Pro. He began implementing half guard in the earliest days of his career as a Ricardo Almeida and Renzo Gracie blue belt. For nearly 16 years, he has been using half guard to stop some of the best guard passers in history, sweep those same competitors and attack submissions. Who better to help us clean up our half guard games?
Let's take a look at some great techniques from DeBlass that will clean up your half guard game and have your opponents and training partners feeling the Half Domination in no time!
In this first video, Tom DeBlass and his student, brown belt Kyle Krieger demonstrate how to address the top player who is looking to control the bottom leg that is hooking their thigh, preventing them from passing. As Tom will explain in the video, if we allow this crucial leg to be controlled, the pass will become inevitable.
DeBlass is a huge proponent of the idea of making your defense to any technique a strong offense. The high leg escape brings the top leg into play to set up this strong offense. In this case, when the top player tries to control the bottom leg and make their pass, DeBlass suggests bringing the top leg into play which continues to thwart their pass from each direction while attacking their arm, setting up submissions like arm locks and even omoplatas.
It is also key to note that DeBlass, being a larger, stronger 220 lb grappler recognizes that inverted guard is not somewhere he prefers to be. Even though he can effectively invert if necessary, it's not a preferred spot to find himself, so this technique allows him to slightly invert and then bring the guard passer back to where he needs them.
A few of the areas that this technique helps "cleans up" is how to think about the relationship of our legs. Both legs need to be respected and put into use equally. This helps keep our bottom half guard active and offensive first and foremost. Too often half guard is perceived or utilized as a passive position where someone is looking to simply survive. By using the top leg in such an active way, we turn half guard from a place where we simply hunkered down and withstood the onslaught, to a position where we can attack the opponent.
In the next video, we have two of the greatest half guard proponents in the history of competitive jiu jitsu meeting and working on some ideas that will further help to clean up your half guard.
A key fundamental or concept in the game of Tom DeBlass is understanding the roll of space for each position. In the half guard game, its important to understand when we need to create space and when we need to take away space. In simplest terms, the athlete on the bottom must work to create space for a variety of reasons. The space helps keep the weight and pressure of the opponent at bay. The opening of space affords more mobility for making adjustments and keeping the bottom player on the offensive. The opening of space also makes it more likely the opponent does not feel secure or stable in their top game.
Conversely for the top half guard player or person attempting to pass the guard, they must be focused on taking away space, of staying tight (but not too tight) and keeping the pressure on. By understanding what your opponent needs to do to accomplish their goals, your most important objectives become clearer and more solidified.
As the bottom player in this short video, DeBlass underscores his use of knee shield and arm frames to create the necessary fortification to help keep Bernardo from passing his guard. By adding these elements to your bottom half guard game today, you can immediately move from the desperate player holding onto the guard passer to someone who is effectively withstanding the onslaught and preparing for your next step.
This video will clean up your ability to withstand the pressure. It will also open up more space which will also support the high leg escape of the first video. The opponent will find themselves scrambling to try to smash you and wondering why their old standby pressure is no longer effective because of your use of frames and knee shields.
In the next video, featuring both Tom DeBlass and Bernardo Faria again, they reconvene after a session filming Tom's most recent instructional High Tech BJJ in the Gi to further workshop half guard concepts. Sit back and take a look at this two half guard technicians sharing ideas.
Hopefully you don't just watch this video once. There are so many tiny details that will help you clean up some of the most common half guard mistakes. There are also some very fundamental concepts that prove to be very important in both Tom and Bernardo's Battle Tested Half Guard games.
Both athletes make extremely good use of the under hook. The under hook allows you to control the movement and direction of your opponent with very little effort. In this case, both utilize a very specific version of the under hook which is an extremely powerful under hook that reaches for the far side shoulder or trapezes area of the opponent. By securing the far side trap, the opponent's whizzer counter is thwarted.
Bernardo's tip regarding the the importance of going deep and cutting the angles is absolute gold. The majority of the time, if we do not go deep enough under or cut a large enough angle on our opponent, they will easily be able to smash and flatten us. By simply adjusting that angle, we make it impossible for them to smash us and stop our control on their leg. This can take you from being a frustrated half guard wannabe who is convinced that the position will not work.
One last point that is crucial and underscores what we've been talking about in terms of DeBlass' philosophy of being more offensive is his use of the knee shield, most specifically when he removes it and goes on the attack. All of these tips and more will go a long way to fixing many of the frustrations these two athletes have worked through over their careers, so you don't have to.
Let's finish up this spring cleaning session on half guard with a few techniques from Tom DeBlass that will help you clean up your guard passing when presented with one of the key elements Tom himself would recommend to a bottom player, the knee shield. The power of the knee shield resides in the fact that most people will try to power through it and smash it. Check out Tom's advice for addressing that knee shield.
Much like Bernardo Faria shared in one of our earlier videos about cutting the angle, stepping up with the leg on the same side as the knee shield eliminates all of the power of the shield. In a sense, we have outflanked the shield and are able to easily move past it with very little effort. This technique alone will save you tons of time stuck in someone's half guard wondering how you will break through what was once a formidable shield.
Now that we've spent some time looking at elements to make your bottom half better and now your top half passing of the knee shield, let's finish up with a unique variation of a popular submission that DeBlass shows will make your half guard game much more well rounded.
At the end of the day, it's important to constantly be working to refine the techniques that you favor. The beauty of half guard is that you can start early, with very basic technical knowledge and by cleaning up some of the clutter and simplifying your approach to hone in on the key areas that we've discussed today, you will fast track your success. And keep in mind, people like Tom DeBlass and Bernardo Faria have been working on these techniques for years. As simple and as accessible as they are, they still take practice and years from now you will no doubt be adding your own wrinkles to the half guard game that could perhaps help a teammate or perhaps secure a victory for yourself on the competition mats. Keep at it and never stop learning!
To get more in-depth with Tom DeBlass and his half guard game, an absolute must-have is his best selling Half Domination instructional series made up of four volumes jam packed with all of the secrets of his top and bottom half guard approach. The feedback we've received on this series is phenomenal with the overwhelming feedback being that the series almost instantly cleans up the person's half guard game.