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Half Guard BJJ Instructional Video
The Benefits and Negatives of Playing Half Guard

The Benefits and Negatives of Playing Half Guard


All of us have probably heard of the half guard and many of us are probably even familiar with it.  Why is the half guard such a popular position?  What are the benefits and are there any negatives?  We have seen that the half guard can be utilized at the highest levels of competition several times.  Black Belts have won the world championships by using the half guard.  Bernardo Faria, Lucas Leite, and Xande Ribeiro are some of the most famous half guard players in history and they have all achieved greatness with this position. 

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu we have so many different guards that we can take the time to learn and master.  We can choose to be good at any of them by practicing them.  The trick to progression in bjj is to get very good at one of the guards and make that your game.  This is how many of the best in the world are able to do what they do.  Let’s look at someone like Marcelo Garcia.  Arguably the best bjj practitioner ever.  What did Marcelo do?  He loved the X guards.  That was his position.  If Marcelo got someone into the x guards it was over.  

Can we do the same with half guard?  Yes, the half guard can easible be one of the best positions for many people to play.  Although it is not as complex as other guards the subtle techniques that we learn from this position are important.  Let’s look below what the benefits of the half guard are and what the negatives are.

The Benefits of Half Guard

Half guard has so many benefits.  This position has long been used by many of the older grapplers, less flexile grapplers and less athletic grapplers.  Bernardo Faria was quoted saying “I play the half guard, I may be the only Black Belt World Champion who cannot do a cartwheel.”  Bernardo always believed that he was not athletic, not flexible, not strong and that his best position was half guard.

So what are the benefits?  Well, first off, the half guard is easy to learn.  Anybody can take this guard and make it a staple in their game.  You just have to know some of the principles like staying on your side and getting the under hook. The half guard is good for people who are not flexible.  Some guards like the spider guard or the De La Riva require you to have a certain level of flexibility to get good at them.

The half guard is also good for people who have bad knees or issues with their bodies.  You are not at to much risk for injury when playing the half guard.  Lucas Leite actually suffered a knee injury and said that this is one of the reasons he started to play the half guard.  The half guard is also excellent for slowing down your opponent.  If you are an older guy and you are constantly getting passed and beaten by the young, fast, and explosive guys then the half guard may be for you.

The half guard will slow down the pace of the match. If someone is trying to stand and pass with agile passing and you are able to lock a half guard it will be very difficult for them to continue this movement.  This is one of the biggest benefits of the half guard.  You can slow down the match and do things at your own pace.

Another benefit is the fact that the half guard is simple.  If you know the principles of the half guard it can be very easy to play this position.  The half guard is an excellent option for those that don’t have that much time to train.  Some of the more complex guards can be very time consuming to learn and it is important to take time to study them.  With the half guard you don’t need to do all of this.  Check out this video below with another half guard expert, Jake Mackenzie on some cool techniques.

The Negatives of Half Guard

Although there is a myriad of benefits to playing the half guard, this must be accompanied by some negative.  The negatives of the half guard do not out weight the positives and for some of us, they are not that bad.  So what are the negatives?  Well, the first is the fact that you are going to get smashed and smothered.

When you are a half guard player you are going to have to learn how to deal with pressure.  Chest pressure, cross face, head pressure and more.  You won’t get injured from pressure and it is not dangerous, but some people are not able to take the pressure and this guard is not for them. 

If you are playing the half guard and someone gets the under hook and the cross face, you are going to feel their weight and get smothered.  This is normal and if you play the half guard you have to learn how to deal with it.

You also have to know that when you are a half guard player, sometimes you are at risk for leg locks.  Obviously, you can learn how to defend them and minimize the potential danger from awareness, but the leg locks are there. Check out this half guard technique video below with Jake Mackenzie.

Combining The Negatives and Positives

So if we look at both the negatives and the positives it is quite easy to see that the positives out weigh the negatives.  The half guard is a great position to learn if you lack flexibility, lack athleticism, or if you are recovering from an injury.  This does not mean that those are the only reasons to play half guard.  The half guard can also be an extremely dynamic guard that with flexibility, athleticism, and strength can also be good.  

So we see that the negatives of the half involve getting smashed, but these things are easily prevented by a good half guard player.  So how do we get smashed when playing half?  Well, we have to have our back flattened, we have to allow our opponent to get the under hook and the cross face.  Now, if we are aware of what to do to prevent this, it is actually very easy to do and then the negatives of the half guard are even more minimal.  As we saw in the video above where Jake Mackenzie showed us the half guard basics we can see that he emphasizes staying on your side, closing the distance and maintaining the under hook.  These things are imperative to preventing yourself from getting smashed.  

The half guard is the simple guard, there are a lot of do's and don'ts that seem to be pretty cut and dry.  IF you let your opponent get an under hook and cross face, you can be as good as dead.  Yes, there are plenty of techniques that you can do when they have these controls, but why make your life miserable ?  It is bizarre isn't it?  To have an advanced half guard, you have to master the basics, the basics make the half guard advanced.  

If we know the negatives and the positives of the half guard it will allow you to develop a very sound game where you are aware of the do's and don'ts.  We are going to give you a bonus tip on how to improve your half guard, ready?  WRESTLE .

Wrestling is one of the best things that you can do to improve you half guard.  So many aspects of wrestling coincide with the things you need to possess to have a good half guard.  First off, many of the half guard sweeps end in the dogfight where you want to be able to do single legs and double legs.  This is one of the main things.  Wrestling can also help you learn how to deal with under hooks, cross faces, and whizzers.  The three things that can make playing the half guard miserable.  

If you are able to incorporate some wrestling into your training you will not regret it.  Bernardo Faria is a 5x black belt world champion who is one of the best half guard players in the world.  That being said, he was able to win the double gold in the adult black belt division at the worlds in 2015.  Coincidentally, this is the same year that he started to incorporate wrestling into his training regimen. 

So you want to take the positives and the negatives and use them to learn how to develop a better half guard.  Also, take us up on our bonus tip of learning wrestling and you will see your half guard game accelerate leaps and bounds.  IF you don't have time for all of that just check out some of our DVD's and you can gain some serious progress in your game. 


Jake Mackenzie is one of the best competitive half guard players in the world.  Jake has won many of the IBJJF Black Belt opens at the adult division and he has established a name for himself in Brazil.  If you want to learn more of Jake’s game check out his DVD below.  This DVD is also available as a digital download.


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