BJJ / Grappling Tips: Half Guard Top Theme Part 2

Half Guard Wizardry

In a previous post I explained the main concepts a Half Guard Player can dominate your trapped leg from the half guard by controlling your foot, your knee and / or your hip. I explained that I've found that the key to unraveling their control is to negate their control of the trapped foot using a "Lockdown" style control. Once I freed and hid my foot, I noticed most of my training partners tried to control my hip instead and I promised I'd discuss what I have found to be the most important concept to prevent the opponent from controlling my hip (plus 3 auxiliary ones) so here we go:

The most important concept(s) in preventing the HGP from controlling your hip in the half guard:

  1. Keeping the opponent flat, rather than on their side. This will force their top leg to point upwards rather than into you, like a good frame would.
  2. Using the outside of your elbow to peel off any part of their leg that tries to gain purchase against your hip.
  3. Contouring your hip, ribs and torso past their top leg and closer to their torso, so that your top arm hugs their hip close restricting their ability to shrimp away and your tightness restricts their ability to re-insert the top knee or shin against your hip or chest.
  4. As an extension of the point above, especially when the opponent frames hard against your upper chest / throat, considering turning to face the legs. Not only does this allow you to bypass their top leg entirely, it, consequently, allows you to land far more of your weight directly onto their torso and it gives you several tools to help free your leg and pass, if that's what you want to do.

It is important to note that not all these points are equally valued. Point 1 is king, because it directly facilitates points 2-4 and more, to be honest.

Back to our chain of command: foot - knee - hip(s)

Once you've succeeded in negating the opponent any glimpse of control over your foot and hip, all they have from the standard half guard is, at best, a weak grasp at the back of your knee with their bottom foot / lower leg. To increase their sense of control / comfort, they may:

  1. Cross their legs, providing the illusion of control
  2. Insert a butterfly hook with their top foot, doubling up against your knee, so to say
  3. Work to control your nearside hip, not with their leg but, with their top arm, aka obtain a low underhook wrapping right above the belt line or right below the buttock line.
  4. Work to control your (nearside) hip(a), not with their leg but, with their bottom arm, aka diving under your hips for the deep half guard.
  5. Work to control your torso / upper body, not with their leg but, with their top arm, aka obtain a high underhook wrapping right below the armpit.
  6. Abandon the half guard all together by loosening the half guard leg and aiming to transition to another guard position (including inverting for tornado guard) or getting to their knees or even further back up to their feet.

Here are a few counters I’ve been playing with over the past few weeks:

1. Crossing the legs: this barely adds a bit of friction. Simply crossing the legs and trying to grip the leg like a vice does nothing other than slow the passer (unless it’s used to gain the guard player a second mechanical advantage)

2. Butterfly hooks serve two main purposes: i) to create distance ii) to manage it through “stickiness”. Once you’re aware of this, manage your opponent’s moves and intentions accordingly:
- if they’re on their back, they will try to create space with that hook. Keep your hips heavy and deny them upper body control so they can’t rock you forward to lighten your hips. Alternatively, let them get an initial lift the pass by switching your hips midair.
- if they’re in their side, ask yourself why you let that happen. Swim / contour your arms inside their top knee and move your knees in a circle until that flattens them. NB: unless you’re an expert at smashing their top knee by wrapping it with your top arm, don’t risk it. You could very well be walking into a lasso sweep / inversion - to - triangle.

3. Whether you’re low on their torso or sitting upright to evaluate your options (clamping their bottom leg between your thigh and calf), you should never allow them the underhook! Sure there are things you can do from here but why allow them so much control off your torso in the first place? Here are a couple of reliable options I’ve seen payed with to help me regain control if I ever lost the underhook battle:
-regain the underhook.
-overhook armlock, anticipating that they might try to escape by pulling the arm out, and regaining the underhook that way
-turning to face the legs and playing the half guard (or even attacking the legs) from there, knowing fully that I allowed the opponent to dictate my actions!

4. Again, awareness of this option is key. One of the top priorities for the top player is to dominate the opponent’s spine with the cross-face (more in that later) but that does mean your bottom arm isn’t guarding their bottom arm from diving between your legs for the deep half guard. A high percentage precaution to this, however, is i) keeping your knees tight which can make your base narrow so you’d ii) turn so your spine is 45 degrees or more to theirs, allowing your shins / feet to help your resist against sweeps that may rock you on your side / back. Conceptually, you want to prevent your opponent from getting under you. How exactly you do that is up to you. If they do manage to get under you for the deep half, I recommend “shallowing” it back to regular half guard and being hyper aware that they might try that again.

5. Same as above really, with the added urgency of crushing that rising underhook, with your armpit at their wrist, as it can very quickly escalate to a back take.

*I wrote extensively on this topic in a previous article back in 2011*

6. Now we’re talking. For me Jiujitsu is first and foremost a battle of will and intelligence. I love submissions, sweeps and escapes and all what the art has to offer but I love nothing more than knowing that the choices I strung together just made (encouraged / convinced / cajoled) you to change your mind and, by extension, abandon your original plan.

In the next and final post on the topic of the Half Guard - Top, I will discuss how I like to deal with the Butterfly Half Guard. This is the position you find yourself in when the HGP inserts their top foot as an additional Butterfly Guard Hook to boost their half guard control. The solutions I offer are technical tools I've stolen from observing a legendary coral belt instructor and arguably the Greatest Grappler of All Time. You won't want to miss this!



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