In teaching half guard, or any other aspect of jiu-jitsu, I try to first create the fundamental skeleton and build from there. Once the foundations are built, we start to layer on element by element and detail by detail until we have a polished game.
The half guard itself is just a small part of an overall skeleton of your game. It’s like the bones of an arm. It integrates with the whole but is its own working system within that whole. We first build the bones, line them up properly, then we add layers of ligament, tendon, muscle, nerve, etc. Similarly, in this instructional, I have tried to provide the fundamentals of the way I see successful half guard being played and layer on more and more detail in response to the problems you are likely to encounter. I also try to give you an idea of how the arm integrates with the torso, meaning how the half guard integrates most naturally with other parts of the game, like closed guard, guard passing, and attacking the back.
The Skill of Troubleshooting
Integral to the process of creating a game built of parts which link together is the skill of finding weak links in the skeleton. Building a game and getting good at it are organic processes which will happen automatically on their own over time, but making this a deliberate and thoughtful act will help shorten the learning curve. A big part of this is learning how to troubleshoot problems you come across when applying this material in sparring. Sparring is where you experiment, gain information, and find problems. Troubleshooting is where you clarify the problems and find working solutions which you then take back to the drawing board in sparring.
Since this is a skill, it can be sharpened with effort and regular practice. In fact, I think the processes of learning to troubleshoot and problem-solve are maybe the most important things I can offer as a teacher. It sounds corny, but it’s like that old saying “give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” If I can impart how to think about BJJ, then my students can start to solve their own problems rather than forever relying on me to spoon-feed answers.
Building the Internal Video Camera
When I teach my students a new piece of the puzzle, I ask that they test it out in sparring to gain that experience and information we discussed earlier. The next time I see them, I always start things off by asking “what happened when you tried the move in sparring?” At first, their answers are usually vague and incomplete because they don’t know the game well enough to remember specifics and also because it’s hard to remember details in the heat of the moment in sparring. What happens over time, though, is they become better and better at giving me an accurate picture of the problems and successes they experience when applying the techniques we worked on. Honestly, half of the improvement in remembering things probably comes from them just wanting me to shut up with the speeches about remembering stuff.
I call this the process of “developing the internal video camera.” The idea is when you are working on a specific thing in sparring that you want to try to remember exactly what happened with as much clarity as possible. If you don’t think about what went wrong and you don’t remember anything from your rolls, it’s often like going to a doctor’s office but having no idea how to describe the symptoms of what is wrong with you. The doctor would be completely unable to help you if you tell them “doc, I got this itch…” and gave no further information. Similarly, the internal video camera idea helps in that it gives you information for you or your instructor to form a diagnosis and a plan for treatment of the problem.