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The Power of the Underhook

The Power of the Underhook


The underhook is an extremely important element to almost all Jiu Jitsu positions.  It is an effective tool from standing positions as well as guard and passing positions.  Learning when an underhook is necessary is extremely beneficial for a Jiu Jitsu Practitioners growth.

The underhook will help negate size and may be able to slow down the pace of a match, check out our article on “how the half guard can negate size and weight advantages.” to learn more. The power of the underhook is one of the key components to the half guard from bottom and top, it is also one of the key components for controlling your opponent in side control, and escaping side control.

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Not only is the underhook an important part of escapes and guard, it is a pivotal grip for guard passing.  Many of the best competitors in the world use the underhook to pass a lot of the high level and complex guards that we often see at the IBJJF worlds.  We have seen many of the best competitors like Lucas Lepri, Marcelo Garcia, and Rodolfo Viera use the underhook to beat many of the best guards. 

Sometimes, the fate of a match is decided with a mere underhook.  This alone can determine who wins and who loses a match, whether it is the person on bottom or top who is able to establish the underhook, the person who gets the proper underhook is going to be able to make something happen with it as long as they are confident.  The underhook is also an amazing tool to get someone to the ground.  You can use the underhook to set up your single leg take down and your double leg take down.  Let's look further into this topic below. 

The Underhook from Top Half Guard

The half guard is one of the most popular guards in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and it is one of the first guards you learn in bjj.  Half guard is when the person on bottom locks their legs around one of their opponent’s legs.  For the most part, when passing the half guard, the most important detail and concept to remember is to get an underhook on the same side of your leg that’s trapped. Meaning, if your right leg is trapped, underhook your opponent with your right arm to control them and initiate passes like the knee slice. 

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The benefit of the underhook from top half is that it provides you the ability to go chest to chest and put both of your opponent’s shoulders on the mat.  Check out this cool half guard pass below from Marcelo Garcia, where he utilizes the underhook.

As you can see in the video above, Marcelo is using the under hook and the head control to keep an incredible amount of pressure on his opponent.  So much so that is opponent is almost willing to just open their half guard.  The underhook is an amazing method of establishing base.  When you have an underhook on your opponent, you can have extremely good base and you will be able to pass their guard much easier.  From half guard specifically, it is imperative to have the underhook so that your opponent is not able to get the underhook.  If the person on bottom is able to get an underhook, they will start to turn on their knees and come up for take downs. 

The Underhook from Top Side Control

The underhook is also an extremely important tool in being able to control and apply pressure to your opponent from the side control.  Anytime you pass and achieve side control, you would typically want to get an underhook so that you can keep your opponent’s shoulders on the mat and go chest to chest, just like in top half. A good side control pin consists of the underhook and cross face.  Check out World Champion Xande Ribeiro breaking down side control pins below.

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Being able to keep your opponent down in side control is so important.  The underhook is an enormous part of that.  You want to use the underhook to pin because if your opponent does re-establish a guard, you already have one of the most important grips to pass, the underhook.  Sometimes you will see a skilled passer give his opponent the opportunity to regain their half guard, this is because he knows that he has the underhook and will pass again.  That is how important this grip is. 

The Underhook from Bottom Half

Just like in top half guard, a crucial detail and concept from the bottom half guard is to get the underhook on the same side of your outside leg.  Meaning, if you trap your opponents leg, one of your legs will be in between his and the other will be on the outside, get the underhook on the side of your outside leg.

The benefit of the underhook from bottom half is that it allows you to stay on your side and keep one of your shoulders off the mat.  The battle in half guard is who can get the underhook, the guard player or the passer.  Check out our recent post breaking down the single leg takedown here and learn more on the underhook from bottom half. Check out this video below disusing the details of half guard.  

The Underhook from Bottom Side (for escape)

The underhook is a paramount detail for many side control escapes.  The underhook will allow you to get on your side and shuck your opponent off you in bottom side control.  If you can manage to get the underhook, you can shuck your opponent off you and turn belly down to set up single legs and double legs.  Check out our recent post on the double leg, it shows some set ups from the underhook, also check out this video showing an escape from side control utilizing the underhook.


Underhook for Open Guard Passing

the underhook can be one of the best grips to get when you are trying to pass just about any guard in bjj.  You can use the underhook to beat De La Riva, Reverse De La Riva, Single leg X, X guard, Deep Half, and many other complex guards that people use.  The underhook is so powerful, some people just use the underhook in order to force their opponent into half guard and then they will pass the half, other just use it do blast past their opponents guard.

With some of these distance based guards like De La Riva, the hard part of the under hook is getting close enough to achieve it.  Once you get the under hook you can use old school passes like the knee cut and pressure passes. If you want to learn how to pass anybodies guard, check out Bernardo Faria's "Battle Tested Pressure Passing."  In this DVD Bernardo shows you several ways to pass including his patented over under pass. 

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