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Artechoke in a Can: Basic Half Guard Drills

For as much as we talk about individual techniques in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or in submission grappling it’s easy to forget the importance of movement drills and combination drills. To take an isolated technique and to make it useful in a live situation is to incorporate it into a greater game, which means forging connections between the new technique and the other techniques in your game. If you jump right from isolated drilling to live rolling, you’re likely to have a much more difficult time making that technique work the way you want it to.

Movement drills and additional repetition help you to train your body to react appropriately to a particular stimulus. In this week’s class, we focus on movement drills for what we have learned so far, our goal being to make the distance between learning a technique and applying it regularly as short as possible.

For our first drill, we isolate some key butterfly movements, dedicating most of our attention to using butterfly hooks to create space and to alleviate pressure.

In the next drill, we connect last week’s Kansas City Shuffle with the half guard single leg entry that we learned before that. Making a combination drill like this helps you to increase your aggression and confidence because you know well-ahead of time where you are going next when you initiate the first technique in the series.

Instead of going low for the single leg, you may sometimes want to create space by moving away and transition to a full guard. That’s what we do in this technique. Once we return to guard, we set up a push-pin triangle, which is commonly available after the first transition.

To close the class, we return to a butterfly hook drill, except that this time we are working a half guard butterfly, using the hook as a leverage point to create space.

No matter what position you’re working on, developing and using drills like these are essential. So whether or not half guard is a big focus in your game right now, I hope you walk away from this lesson with some ideas of how you could incorporate more drills into your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training.

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.

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Artechoke in a Can: Half Guard Survival

I apologize if I seem a bit out of it in this week’s videos. I had a pretty serious sinus infection and was loaded up on medicine.

This week, before we get to exploring the variety of options available in half guard (specifically for no-gi Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), we explore half guard survival. Because half guard can be a very frustrating position to work from if your opponent is beginning to rack up positional advantages, I wanted to give my students a breakdown of their options for when things go pear-shaped.

The first technique is a dumb little move that I developed after years of being frustrated by the turn to toward the hips half guard pass. When I first learned this pass, Reagan Penn called it the “unstoppable pass” because your options for defending and countering the pass are few.

I call this little move the Kansas City Shuffle, after one of my favorite movies Lucky Number Slevin. The key to this movement is to keep your feet attached to the mat to optimize your leverage and to do it quickly. If you hang out in the KC Shuff position, you will get passed. Slap your knees to one side, and then slap to the other before immediately shrimping away to create space.

The other scenario you are likely to encounter is your opponent establishing head and arm control, usually to set up the cross knee pass. With your upper body controlled, your next best option is to use what mobility you have in your lower body to start undoing the damage that’s been done. In this first video, we talk about setting the butterfly hook from here and the importance of footwork in doing so.

In this next video, we look at using that half guard butterfly to create space. You can sometimes jump right into the butterfly sweep from here, but that’s a more advanced application of the position. For now, you’re better off mastering the sit up technique so that you can develop your ability to control and manipulate your opponent with a half guard butterfly.

For our final technique, we run through some last-minute options for fighting out of a bad half guard position. These are your last resort options as they come into play when things have gotten especially bad, and please forgive me for phasing out a bit in this video. Again, lots of medicine.

With three weeks of half guard techniques under our belts, we are going to spend next week doing movement drills to ingrain these concepts into your brains, making them more natural and more instinctual.

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.

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Artechoke in a Can: Half Guard Basics

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.

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Artechoke in a Can: The Wrestler’s Switch

Taking the back is an obsession for me, and in past classes I’ve gone over how to take the back from an armbar attempt and how to take the back from a kimura. Rather than rehash those techniques, I wanted to challenge my students explore the concept of taking the back a bit more deeply, so we covered a technique that many jiu-jiteiros don’t learn: the switch.

The switch is a common technique in wrestling that you see more often in MMA than you do in jiu-jitsu. It’s a surprisingly versatile technique that can be used to simultaneously defeat an underhook and improve your position. Before we dove into the switch itself, we looked at an approach to taking the back from mount which is essentially a no-hand arm drag. I like to teach this technique because it starts to acclimate you to using your chest and torso to defeat your opponent’s limbs, a coordination that is useful when you start to use the switch.

From the no handed arm drag, we revisited a switch that I taught in the kimura module. This particular entry is unusual by wrestling standards, but it’s a position and a movement that tends to more comfortable for people that do jiu-jitsu but have never wrestled. From here, the switch feels very close to a super simple back take but the end-result is an arm drag-esque-ish-sort-of position.

This last application of the switch is one that I use frequently. If I am working to pass half guard and I feel an underhook start to overpower me, whether I am working to pass from a more traditional top position or after I’ve high-stepped over my opponent lay on one of his underhooks. I do not look to set it up because the cost of failing is ending up on bottom, but it has bailed me out of a few troublesome situations.

When you first start to learn this, it may feel awkward because your legs can end up trapped between theirs. If your switch arm is set properly (and remember to dig with your elbow), you are relatively safe, just keep working to get your hips free and your legs will follow.

And that wraps up our back take module. By request, we are diving into half guard for the next few classes.

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.

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Artechoke in a Can: Troubleshooting the Arm Drag

Matt Kirtley of Aesopian.com makes a special appearance in this edition of Artechoke in a Can!

As I continue to have my students drill finishing the rear naked choke from the back, paying particular attention to winning the hand fight that leads to the finish, we are resuming our exploration of paths to the back. Before we leave the arm drag behind, I wanted to cover some re-counters for common defenses to the arm drag from the butt scoot position, which is where most jiu-jiteiros will probably find themselves using the arm drag.

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, we have to assume that our opponent will defend, so it would be a disservice for me to teach the arm drag without reviewing tactics for troubleshooting road blocks. Some of these back-up plans still lead to a successful back take, while others have you changing course and pursuing a different position. Which path you can take is dictated by your hip position.

If you have gotten to your side and started making the transition to back control, chances are good that you can use your opponent’s attempt to flatten you out to shrimp him into a back take (demonstrated in the first video). If your hips are flat, however, you should transition to one of the later techniques.

When you find yourself flattened out beneath an attempted arm drag, hip escaping to the point that the back take is a viable option will be very difficult. Your opponent is likely to escape his arm and put you on the bottom of half guard before you ever create enough space to improve your position. With his weight and pressure bearing into you, you simply can’t move fast enough.

But all is not lost. The leg between his legs, the one that would become your first back hook if the arm drag was successful, can turn into a butterfly hook with little effort. Matt Kirtley calls this a stupid little sweep that is surprisingly effect. After I show my application of the move, Kirtley adds some powerful details and shares some insight into how he learned to use this particular sweep.

Lastly, we look at what to do if your opponent shuts down your arm drag very early into its application. In this technique, your opponent hops his foot forward to brace himself instead of pulling you back into the squatting arm drag position. This set up can feel weird to drill, but it happens very frequently during live rolls, and I have had significant success with countering with this sweep.

I learned this sweep from Marcelo Garcia’s book on the x-guard, and it’s been very high-percentage for me. Two details are key: sweep straight backward, not side to side, and hug your opponent’s leg tightly to your chest until his weight is starting to travel over your head. You may also find it helpful to post and push off of your non-hooking foot for additional momentum.

Next week, we will begin exploring taking the back with the switch. The switch will achieve the same advance in position as the arm drag, just in a different way.

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.