I have a love-hate relationship with the half guard. For the first two and half years or so of my jiu-jitsu career, I was on the rubber guard bandwagon, so I pulled lockdown in every match and in every roll. I had a lot of success with that approach too. It even won me a few tournaments. As I advanced up the ranks, however, pulling lockdown worked less and less. I eventually figured out why: higher-skilled opponents had better posture in my half guard, which meant hiding their leg from the lockdown.
Consequently, my game shifted away from half guard, and now I rarely use lockdown, preferring instead to either set my butterfly hook, attack with a single leg, or abandon half guard completely to assume a full guard or a butt scoot guard. At this point in my career, I do not consider half guard an advantageous position. I don’t like having someone’s weight on top of me. That is not to say that half guard cannot be a powerful position—plenty of high-level grapplers have demonstrated that it can be—I just prefer not to fight for half guard sweeps, especially in no-gi. I’d rather transition to another position as soon as possible.
Whether or not you want your half guard game to be one of your primary positions, you still need options for working from there. To start the half guard module, we look at some half guard basics: establishing half guard from side control, transitioning from half guard to full guard with a knee shield, and transitioning from a half guard to a single leg. When you do this technique, focus on pushing your hips forward to point your knee rather than trying to use your shin to maneuver your opponent’s leg.
Once you establish half guard, what you do next is largely determined by what your opponent gives you. If your opponent does not have an underhook and you have his biceps controlled, meaning that his arm is not attacking your head, you can either go toward his legs or away from his legs. You have a few different options for what exactly you do when you move in either direction, but it’s important to start thinking in terms of moving in or away.
In this technique, you feel that moving away is easiest, so you set a knee shield to create and maintain space as you return to guard.
In this technique, you feel as though moving in would be easier. You could use this opportunity to go under the legs for a deep half guard or a leg hook, but I prefer to attack with a single leg so that I am out from under my opponent. Again, this is a matter of preference. Many grapplers far more experienced and accomplished than I have proven that going under the legs can lead to great success.
With these basics established, we will start to look at troubleshooting some of the common attacks and techniques that your opponent will use to counter and pass your half guard. Since this module was requested by my students, I am assuming that they are tired of getting beat up when they land on the bottom of half guard, so our focus will stay mostly on problem-solving.
Artechoke in a Can is the online version of Marshal D. Carper’s weekly no-gi class. Marshal is a purple belt under Sonny Achille at Steel City Martial Arts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and he is the author of The Cauliflower Chronicles and Marcelo Garcia’s Advanced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Techniques.