Some Notes on the Half Guard
I've been training BJJ for a while now and one of the positions I've come to love and admire the most, largely because of my exposure to coaches who are really phenomenal at it, is the half guard.
I've had a lot of great guys work through the half guard and impart little gems of wisdom that I've puzzled over. Of all of the people who have influenced my half guard the most, though, I think the most significant is Jeremy Adkins (now a brown belt under Eduardo Rocha), who really taught me the ropes when it comes to weighting, setting up hooks and using the legs and hips to set up sweeps.
I'm not training with Jeremy at the moment, since he's still based out of the bay area, but I was rolling a lot today and jumping half guard periodically, and I was finding myself, despite still being in a state of returning to jiu-jitsu, finding things and thinking to myself, "Jeremy told me that this is how it's supposed to work," and then getting the sweep.
The first thing is to remember the positioning of the hips, keeping one hip off of the ground. The second the hips are flat, the options for the half guard become much slimmer. Now, this is significant in that it gives you the distinction between the top hand (where you're fighting for the underhook) and the bottom hand (which you're trying to keep control of so that you don't get flattened out).
The second thing is to connect the elbow of the top arm to the knee of the top leg as you fight for the underhook, keeping the elbow on the inside of the knee, protecting the arm from being collapsed. One of the brownbelts where I was training now brought this up with some of the other guys, it seems like a fairly universal point. It also allows you to kick through and ensure that you get the underhook, as the leg can open space for the arm to go through, if you decide you want to pop up and attempt a sweep or just ensure that you can threaten the back whenever you want.
The third thing is to not be afraid of compression. This is what I mean, since it's very abstract. In the closed guard, if you get stacked up by a big, strong ogre who can compress your body and make you uncomfortable, you know that you're going to have to alter your position in a disadvantageous way, or open your guard and bail to something else. In the half guard, its important to become comfortable with that compression, and remember that if he's pushing down, it's acceptable not just to threaten to go underneath and lock up the sweep, but to use that as a way, generally, to tighten up the half guard position, as you attack the leg that is not in your guard.
Attacking that other leg with your arms can be dangerous, since it requires reaching, but if your opponent is trying to compress you, committing his weight (especially if he's committing to your shoulders and trying to flatten you out, rotating your hips towards the inside, letting him compress and looking for the sweep can be pretty devastating, as the half guard that it puts you in when you come up is very, very easy to pass.
I've gotten pretty good at attacking the half guard, because most of the guys that I trained with learned their half guard from Jeremy and Stephen and (obviously) Eduardo, and that means that you have to know the passes and execute them well. It also means that, when you're on the bottom, you get to be more acutely aware of what little details you have to look out for on the passes. Pinching the knees in around the thigh of the bottom leg can be very tough to escape. Getting that bottom arm ripped out so that you're flat on your back can be very tough. Whether an opponent keeps his hips low or high when he passes makes a big difference in how you choose to defend.
There's a lot going on in the half-guard, and it's a terrific position for those looking to develop a really challenging game. It takes a lot of time and, because all of your opponent's weight is on top of you, it's not always the most fun position to drill, but it is incredibly useful, sometimes even more than the full guard, especially at the lower level where guys are used to the full guard, but not used to the half.
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