Overhaul Your Half Guard

Overhaul Your Half Guard

When it comes to training or competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, there are few cardinal sins worse than having your guard pass.  Your guard, or legs and hips is your first line of defense and if you're able to keep the enemy at those gates long enough, you will frustrate them and make it more likely that you can launch the offensive game plan you want and keep control of the action.

One of the best ways to ensure your guard game stands up to the competition is to have a variety of styles of guard to be able to present to the enemy at the gate.  In simplest terms, guards can be broken into a few categories, closed or open depending on whether or not the legs are wrapped and connected or the legs are open.  

The classic starting point for most of us as BJJ practitioners is learning about closed guard.  Closed guard is historically one of the most important positions in jiu jitsu, but often times we rush to begin learning new techniques before we've mastered the fundamentals, so it's always a good idea to go back to those never fail positions, like closed guard to refine them and make sure they are sharp.  A good way to do that would be to check out the work of Luis Heredia in his "Pure Jiu Jitsu" instructional, or the inimitable Chris Haueter who, as one of the legendary "Dirty Dozen" has seen more than most of us ever will and he shares the insights in "Old School Efficient BJJ" instructional both available at BJJ Fanatics!

As you start looking for new guard games to add to your repertoire, half guard can be one of the best for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, being proficient at half guard, doesn't require ridiculous athleticism, flexibility, or strength.  On the contrary, half guard provides a very strong position where a smaller, less athletic, or even inflexible person can still be highly successful.  

In the past, half guard was seen as a 'last ditch' effort to regain guard, but over the years it has been transformed by a slew of BJJ luminaries who have each added their own flavor to the recipe.  Half guard has developed it's own offshoot variations as well.  Athletes like Jake MacKenzie, Tom DeBlass and Bernardo Faria have all introduced their own interpretations to half guard.  To learn about Jake MacKenzie's "High Precision Reverse Half Guard" check out his instructional available here from BJJ Fanatics!

Before we look at some of the key elements or starting points for an effective half guard as a beginner, you will want to check out this article from BJJ Fanatics where we take a look at some of the various stages of half guard development that you may go through on your journey.  Check it out here!

Let's look at the key elements of a solid half guard if you're a beginner to the wide world of half guard.  Let's start from the ground up.  

The Half Guard hook

The bottom leg is the primary connection to the opponent's body.  Without a well placed and highly active hook, your opponent will easily make the pass, destroy your defenses and begin progressing towards side control or worse, the mount.  The bottom leg hook must stay active and in the game and cannot passively be at rest lightly holding the opponent's leg.  

Once you begin to develop your half guard knowledge, you will see that this bottom leg hook will play into a wide variety of sweeps and continue to be a powerful ace up your sleeve, or in this case, your gi pants.  Wait till you learn about the lock down!

The Half Guard knee shield

None of these elements are any more important than the others, but the knee plays an important role in your life as it helps keep the majority of the opponent's downward pressure diverted because of the strength of your hips and thighs, but also because of the discomfort your knee can provide to your opponent if directed into their sternum or their hip depending on the approach you are taking at that moment.

The knee shield can also be a strong indicator of a flurry of action and a furious intent from the bottom player as it is often only removed when an offensive undertaking, like a sweep or a possible submission is being launched.  So the removal of the knee shield for the opponent can be a very mixed blessing and comes with its own ramifications if they do not tread cautiously.

The shield can be removed and followed by a strong under hook which can divert the top player and allow the bottom half guarder to enter into deep half guard or possible attack the back.  In the case of Tom DeBlass, he often removes the knee shield and brings that leg over the opponent's head to work submissions on the far side arm.

The Half Guard framing arm

 The framing arm works to support and further strengthen the structure built from the ground up. Depending on the distance or the pressure your opponent is presenting an arm from running from one shoulder to the other can deter them from driving full pressure into you.  The frame can also be extremely helpful in 'steering' the opponent's body from side to side depending on what you're trying to do.

The Half Guard free arm

 The bottom half guard player's free arm is used as a guard to ensure that the top opponent doesn't secure a cross face or any type of grip that would potentially flatten you. If the arm is in range, simply cupping the opponent's bicep can go a long way to ensuring that there is no attempt at the cross face position.  

Once your half guard begins to develop, you will also begin to see opportunities to scoop up submissions with that bottom arm.  It will also play a strong roll in all deep half entries.  

Each of these elements serves a variety of purposes.  Each element must also work in concert to build a strong and active infrastructure that will slow down your opponents and make them think twice about trying to pass your guard.  Once you are able to withstand their attacks and delay the pass for as long as you need, you can then begin exploring the wide variety of sweep opportunities and even submissions that can arise from the position.

In the video below, two of the all time best half guard players in competitive jiu jitsu have a short "meeting of the minds" to share a series of ideas that will help you overhaul your current half guard approach and get yourself ready to control, sweep and submit your opponents.  Tom DeBlass and Bernardo Faria are well known for their unique approaches to half guard.  In this short jam session, they play off of each other and share some approaches they have in common and some differences.

As Tom sums up the key ideas to take away from this video is the notion of controlling the space between you and  your opponent.  Whether you are using a far reaching under hook to drive them forward and enter into a deep half guard to set up sweep or back take, or perhaps allowing them to smash you (as Tom says, it's necessary to suffer a bit) to have them commit their weight to allow for an effective sweep, or when Bernardo shows how to pull half guard, each of these ideas has the common denominator of controlling space and pulling your opponent into the quicksand that is your bottom half guard.

To further develop your half guard game, you've got to take advantage of these two BJJ giants who specialize in this position and their instructionals from BJJ Fanatics.  Tom DeBlass and his best-selling "Half Domination" 4 volume course will have you frustrating the strongest, heaviest training partners and opponents in no time.  His style of instruction is extremely applicable and in most cases, watching a technique once, will be enough for you to give it a try and get it working on the mats.  

The same can be said for Bernardo Faria, the 5 time world champion known for his "Battle Tested Half Guard" series where he shares all of the secrets to a half guard that is still talked about despite his competitive retirement to focus on growing his new Academy and spreading jiu jitsu around the world.

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