I chose to use half guard as a vehicle to explain some of my ideas on jiu-jitsu thinking for a number of reasons. One, half guard is broadly accessible. There are no special attributes necessary to play half guard at a fundamental level. No special flexibility or mobility is required, no extraordinary amount of strength is necessary, and no special speed is needed. I will say that you do have to have a certain amount of grit to tough-out some of the grinding battles you will come across in developing your half guard, though. You will have to get used to being smashed and dealing with the uncomfortable nature of dealing with a good pressure passer on top, but this isn’t unique to half guard.
On a technical level, half guard allows me to get underneath and flank my opponent. This positions my body in a place which is very hard for my opponent to effectively deal with, relieves their body weight pressure from me further, and gives me many options which lead to dominant or neutral positions. Second, it keeps a consistent theme with the way I deal with two other positions closely related to half guard, the bottom of the cut pass and the bottom of side control. Both of these situations I try to solve with the same concepts of getting to my side, off balancing/kuzushi, and using an underhook to escape. It’s much easier to reduce most of my bottom game to those three objectives, rather than having to get good at a broad variety of different solutions for each of those problems. If I can use a butter knife to spread cream cheese, scrape some dirt off my window, and pry open the lid off a can of paint, why would I buy separate tools for those jobs?
Defensively, you are seldom more than one or two moves away from half guard in most major BJJ positions, especially the bad ones. For this reason alone, half guard is worth investing in heavily. It is a fantastic “bridge” because you can be on bottom of an awful mount position or side control, and in one or two swift moves be in half guard and ready to completely reverse your fortunes. As an extension to this idea, half guard also bridges old school jiu-jitsu well with new school jiu-jitsu. Most of the modern guards, leg attack positions, and recent innovations are accessible in one or two steps from half guard. This means a beginner student can use half guard to access positions like X-guard, single leg X, and other positions which might otherwise be hard to access well until later without other prerequisite intermediary guards being learned.
Another benefit of playing half guard, particularly an underhook based style, is that it fits in perfectly with wrestling style single and double leg takedowns. You can go to single leg attacks quite easily from bottom half guard, and you can pull half guard off of a failed or shortened single or double leg (Demian Maia is brilliant at this). The patterns of movement you play fit in very well between standing and ground work here, and a lot of the transitional situations which you will come across (whizzers for example) are common in wrestling. This means two things:
- If you have a wrestling background, this will be a good extension to your already existing skills and relatively easy for you to learn.
- If you haven’t wrestled and are looking to add takedowns to your game, you can link single and double leg attacks to this system very easily and build a more complete and synergistic game.
Lastly, a lot of the half guard techniques we use here can be applied with the gi on, in no-gi training, and with some use in MMA (transitionally and with modifications of course).