The Art of Half Guard with Tom DeBlass
Tom DeBlass is one of the most widely known jiu jitsu black belts, competitors, and instructors on the planet. With over 100,000 followers between his Facebook and Instagram accounts, he has become one of the most influential instructors and motivators in the BJJ world today. Whether you are looking specifically for jiu jitsu related posts, sharing effective techniques clearly explained or life-changing, motivational advice that can help improve your mental game, you will want to look no further than the Instagram and Facebook pages of Tom DeBlass.
With seminars booked for the foreseeable future and scheduled talks at martial arts conferences worldwide, the number of people DeBlass reaches is only going to grow in the next few years. At 35 years old this three time ADCC veteran, former Bellator and UFC fighter, and BJJ competitor seems to be gaining momentum in his career as his audience broadens. Reaching a larger and larger audience every year, DeBlass moves closer and closer to be one of the first BJJ athletes to break out of the jiu jitsu world into the mainstream.
His many thousands of fans and followers are drawn to his social media mix of positive message and "real talk" that can sometimes be lacking from our lives. He is literally messaged by hundreds and hundreds of fans each day seeking advice, acknowledgement or a friendly word.
As a student of BJJ and MMA legend Ricardo Almeida, DeBlass has developed his aggressively technical grappling style forged in the fires of training camps with the likes of Ricardo himself, his instructor, the legendary Renzo Gracie, and the late Ryan Gracie to just name a few. DeBlass is keeping the fighting lineage alive, as he prepares to travel overseas to coach his first black belt and grappling superstar Garry Tonon in his mixed martial arts debut in Thailand for the up and coming One Championship promotion.
In addition, Tom continues to embrace the role of student, traveling multiple times a week to NYC, a three hour commute from his home in New Jersey to train with the inimitable John Danaher to continue to add new wrinkles to his game. Training with the likes of Garry and Gordon Ryan and fellow UFC veterans like GSP and Jake Shields, Tom continues to push himself outside of his own comfort zone, never complacent and never comfortable with where he is and what he has achieved.
Tom's path to his position as successful academy owner, athlete, and sought after instructor did not come easily. As a child, he was exposed to the horrors of family members and their drug addictions. He turned to athletics to divert his attention to something positive, becoming a high level competitive track star at Central High School in his home town.
It wasn't until a severe injury happened that he was forced to turn away from competitive track and field which he planned to pursue in college. Still seeking something competitive to remain part of, he turned to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which eventually connected him with his long time instructor Ricardo Almeida, who awarded Tom all of his belts along the road to black belt, and recently awarded Tom with his 3rd degree on his black belt, signifying nearly a decade as a black belt.
Tom would eventually become an important training partner during the many of the fight camps for the likes of Renzo, Ryan and Ricardo. He would step away from jiu jitsu for a short time to win multiple titles with the Ring of Combat promotion before being called up to the UFC for two fights and finishing his MMA career in the Bellator promotion, retiring with a 9 and 2 MMA record. He would return to his first love which was grappling competition and dedicating his time to growing his academy, Ocean County BJJ which currently boasts nearly 400 students.
Tom's impact on BJJ and fitness took a different turn in 2017 as he released the best selling "12 Weeks to Ripped" program and materials which detailed his personal approach to eating and training. His easy to follow nutritional guidelines and exercise programs, make it the perfect program for anyone looking to get into the best shape of their lives in as little as 90 days, improving their jiu jitsu and more importantly the quality of their lives.
To learn more about this best selling program, check out the program here available from BJJ Fanatics! You will not be disappointed as there have been thousands of lbs lost in the months since the release of this program.
The program details Tom's philosophy of intermittent fasting and his use of short, intense weight training instead of long cardio sessions to burn fat and build muscle. The ease with which you can implement intermittent fasting requires little change to how much you're eating, just when you're eating. Once you realize how easily it can fit into your life, you will be well on your way to the best shape of your life.
For another look at the life of Tom DeBlass and how his personal journey has helped shape his philosophies on life and jiu jitsu, check out his article from BJJ Fanatics!
One of the key positions that Tom DeBlass uses in every role is half guard. It is a position he has been working on and refining for nearly 15 years, starting as a blue belt. It is a position that early on was looked upon as a last ditch effort to keeping someone from passing your guard. Over the years, with a variety of competitors, starting with the legendary Gordo and culminating with competitors like Bernardo Faria and also Tom DeBlass, half guard has developed into an extremely dynamic position.
Check out this short clip from a gi seminar a number of years ago where he underscores some very key details and an entry to an offensive version of half guard, then we'll break down some of the key points Tom shares that you can apply today. These points will come into play later in this article, but each time we look at them, it will be from the more developed, mature lens of a competitor who is always sharpening his blade.
This may be one of the best illustrations of Tom DeBlass and his teaching style. With both humor and a no nonsense, simple approach, he makes complex concepts highly digestible and able to be implemented easily. As he explains, as a young blue belt, he used half guard rather simply with one goal, to achieve some sort of leg submission.
With the help of both his instructor, the legend Ricardo Almeida and a Lloyd Irvin competitor during a match, he was able to begin to see the limitations of his approach towards half guard which forced him to take another look and begin to develop a much more well-rounded and effective half guard game. Ricardo had warned Tom not to be so linear in his use of half guard to set up his leg attacks. At an early competition a Team Lloyd Irvin student, being coached by Irvin was able to shut down Tom's half guard transition to leg locks, which forced Tom to reflect and begin diversifying his game.
Let's look at some of the key points, as we will see variations of these throughout Tom's instruction. By keeping these principles at the forefront of your mind, you will begin your half guard journey with a strong foundation.
Rest Your Head aka Hide Your Arm
Always the entertainer, Tom describes how he came to love half guard in the first place. In his own words, he describes his head as huge and loves how half guard provides him the opportunity to lie on his side and prop his bulbous head up while training. The audience laughs and will always remember to keep their hand back, which is Tom's true lesson. One of the keys to not having your half guard passed is to prevent them from controlling that free arm and creating an opportunity to cross face the opponent.
Using humor helps take a concept and make it easy to remember and implement into one's game plan. This approach is one of the reasons Tom is so sought after as an instructor. Think of the teachers you've had during your education. Typically the ones that made the subject matter more entertaining were the ones that had the greatest impact and stood out from the crowd.
The Underhook and the Knee Shield
The relationship between the under hook and the knee shield is another theme that runs throughout Tom's half guard instruction. The knee shield represents the first line of defense, maintaining the structural integrity of the half guard and withstanding the pressure and power of the opponent.
The under hook represents the piercing adjustment to close the distance and begin to control the opponents body. The two cannot exist in conjunction, but instead play off of each other. It is by dropping the shield that the attack for the under hook is made possible.
The transition from knee shield to under hook represents the move from defensive half guard play to a more offensive version. The use of the under hook has itself some key points for DeBlass that we will look at next. Being able to alternate between a structurally sound knee shield and the dynamic and spear-like under hook will keep the opponent guessing whether to pressure forward or posture back, which will make them much easier to sweep or attack because of their lack of certainty.
The Far Trap
For DeBlass, the under hook grip on the opponents body must be high and deep and not just shallowly and lazily around their waist. By not being proactive, we make it very easy for the opponent to utilize their whizzer and nullify the work that the under hook hopes to achieve. By reaching for the far shoulder and trapezes muscle, you maximize the control over their body and make it far less likely that they will slow down your next offensive move. This deep under hook also keeps your body in a T position in relation to the opponent which maximizes your ability to control or possibly transition to a back attack.
Match Their Grips
A rule of thumb DeBlass shares in this video, is a good tip that should be kept in the forefront of our minds whenever we are training. If the opponent secures a grip on you, it's a good idea to grip back and work to nullify the control and power their grip has on us. If for instance in half guard, the opponent grabs the sleeve of the bottom arm in an attempt to control us, but gripping back, we are able to steer the opponent and make their pass attempts that much more difficult.
In the video below, 5 time world champion Bernardo Faria visits Tom's home academy Ocean County BJJ to share some ideas about half guard. Bernardo is well known to be one of the best half guard practitioners and competitors in the history of the sport. Let's take a look at what these two giants of the half guard game have to say and break down some principles afterwards.
Many of the concepts from Tom's earlier video show themselves again. The importance of keeping a strong knee shield and employing the under hook are seen again, but the way Tom has developed them in this more recent video show an evolving teaching style and a deeper understanding of the position that comes with the hundreds and hundreds of hours as a black belt applying the principles and sharing them with students around the world.
The Role of Space
For DeBlass, the most complex ideas get boiled down into simple phrases that continue to play an important role as you develop in your understanding of a position. For him, a defensive posture in half guard is defined by the need to create as much space as possible, with our knee shield, our frames and our hip movement. Conversely, when it comes time to launch our offensive maneuvers, it becomes time to take space. Think of the transition from knee shield guard to taking the under hook. The space that had been created and maintained by the knee shield is relinquished and the piercing under hook is driven through as you bring your body tight to your opponents.
Head and Hips Always Above Us
Another simple concept that will serve you well in many positions, is the notion that to properly sweep ones opponents, we must keep both their heads and their hips always above us, or above our head and hips respectively. When the opponent is not put into this position, our leverage is almost nothing and they are able to base, requiring us to use huge amounts of strength to accomplish the task at hand or sweep. When we are able to get their head and their hips above ours, we command a position of superior leverage and can execute the technique with little to no strength or muscle. When you have some time, check out the article on the powerful lock down control.
Properly using space can go a long way to allow you to establish the room you need to make the proper escapes. Though we're talking mostly about Tom DeBlass' half guard in this article, know that he's also well known for his escape instructional from BJJ Fanatics. You can get it here!
The Arm Frame and the Under Hook
A very important key idea that this video also gives us in the development of the DeBlass half guard method is the more complete explanation of the arm frame which supports the knee shield and can act as a steering wheel to drive the opponent's weight where we need to go. Even if this frame gets smashed it's important to retain an awareness of where this frame goes and keep it tight to our bodies as out of the ashes of the frame, the under hook can grow and prove extremely beneficial for sweeping purposes.
In the next video, Tom DeBlass and Bernardo Faria meet again to workshop some half guard details that will help you improve the foundation we are building in this article. Check it out.
The key ideas from this video that will begin to refine your half guard are by constantly keeping yourself on the offensive. Even when your half guard feels defensive, you can make it seem offensive to your opponent to keep them on edge and uncomfortable, even when you're on the bottom.
Also, one point that both Bernardo and Tom shared, you have to allow yourself to suffer a bit. A small degree of discomfort on your part can pay incredible dividends and allow you to establish dominant positions. Your opponent will go from feeling like they're smashing and dominating to being swept and ultimately dominated themselves.
This willingness to be uncomfortable is an idea that transcends any one position. By allowing yourself to be put into bad spots and figuring out the best ways to capitalize on the position, you will be able to inoculate yourself to the stress of bad positions. This can help a great deal with your jiu jitsu, particularly if you are looking to become a competitor.
Once you've taken a look at these additional nuances, you will also want to check out this past article from BJJ Fanatics to look at more ways that you can overhaul your half guard. This article, coupled with the videos in this article will help you bring your half guard to new levels.
In this final video, Tom DeBlass and his student Craig Izzo demonstrates an additional nuance that can be added to your half guard to help your knee shield and your arm frames. Tom recalls the story of having a match with an opponent that had nearly 150 lbs on him and weighed in at 375. The standard knee shield and arm frame combo held for some time, but the power and weight of this opponent was simply too much over time. This video explains how Tom adapted adding another tool to his arsenal that you too can add to your game.
By using the bottom leg and foot to post into the opponent's hips you can greatly diminish the downward and forward force of the top player. This makes it relatively easy to make adjustments and reframe the arms if necessary or even to bring the knee shield back into play. By relying on the innate strength of your bottom leg, you bring an extra weapon to the fight that hasn't been capitalized on before and can either increase the odds of keeping them from passing, or allow you the space to make your move and launch submission attacks, like Tom does when he brings over the top leg into the omoplata.
As a recap, the videos we've shared from Tom DeBlass will give you a solid foundation to add half guard to your game if you've never used it before. Once you've played with it for some time, the latter videos will give you some areas that you can go back to time and time again to continue to refine the position. If you consider yourself an avid half guard player, know that as Tom DeBlass recently joked on a recent Facebook post, rather than spending time on social media arguing nonsense, we can all spend more time making our jiu jitsu better, which 100% needs work, according to Tom. And who are we to argue?
If you'd like to get a more complete picture of the Tom DeBlass half guard system you will want to get his 4 volume series "Half Domination" which is the best selling BJJ instructional at BJJ Fanatics! When it was launched, this DVD sold out in only a few days. Whether you are brand new to the world of half guard or consider yourself a veteran, you will learn something from this instructional available in On Demand or classic DVD format. Check it out here and get those knee shields and under hooks ready to attack!