How To Combat A Half Guard Player In BJJ (Videos)

Ask any BJJ student, and they’ll tell you that the half guard (especially a good half guard) is one of the most frustrating guards to pass. Typically, half guard players are extremely strong and athletic, because of their willingness to keep on moving and enforcing the half guard.

They will also do the following:

  • Fight to stay on his/her side
  • Keep his/her bottom elbow close to his/her side
  • Always fight for the underhook
  • Keep on moving
  • Stay as close to his/her opponent as possible

If you’ve played half guard before, you’d be familiar with one or more of the concepts above. Although there are many versions and variations of the half guard, the two most frequently used positions are the deep half guard and the classic half guard. The classic half guard utilizes the underhook to take the back, while the deep half guard requires a BJJ practitioner to be completely underneath his opponent, using his opponent’s center of gravity against him by off-balancing him or attacking with submissions. Being underneath neutralizes his opponent’s weight as he works to off-balance them.

Without a doubt, the half guard has proven to be one of the most effective guard games in BJJ — just ask Lucas Leite, Ryan Hall, Bernardo Faria, and Leonardo Nogueira. Because of its effectiveness, learning how to combat the half guard is a necessity for all BJJ practitioners. Today, Evolve Vacation reveals How To Combat A Half Guard Player:


1) Flatten him out

To combat the deep half or classic half guard, you must flatten your opponent. Any half guard player will fight to stay on his or her side because it is how he or she will be able to get the underhook and sweep you. To flatten your opponent, you can pin his/her legs together to prevent the knee shield, use the crossface to drive your opponent down with pressure or pin his/her shoulder down.

If you’re faced with an opponent who tries to keep his/her bottom elbow close to his/her body, you should always try to push it out so that you can enforce the crossface and make it easier for you to flatten your opponent out.

In this video, multiple-time BJJ World Champion Xande Ribeiro shows how he is able to flatten his opponent in order to pass the half guard. By flattening his opponent, Xande is able to take away any opportunity his opponent might have to get into position to sweep and off-balance him.


2) Win the battle for the underhook

The underhook is the key to the classic half guard. Once your opponent has the underhook, they can immediately work to attack and get the sweep and eventually, the submission. The underhook is exactly what they want — so why give it to them?

Luckily, because you now know that they are going for the underhook, since you are trying to pass the guard, all you have to do is drop your weight on your opponent and get the overhook before he/she gets the underhook. Once you prevent the underhook and use your weight, your opponent would most likely struggle because he/she needs to work harder to fight against gravity.

Multiple-time BJJ World Champion Leandro Lo is famous for his active posting and dynamic guard passing, which includes a unique take on the knee cut. Whenever he is able to secure the underhook for the knee cut, passing his opponent’s guard and winning the battle of the underhook becomes a sure thing.


3) Make your opponent uncomfortable

Even if your opponent manages to pull you into his half guard, you should work on making him uncomfortable. This forces him to tire out and secondly, it makes him do things he isn’t supposed to be doing. For example, it could make him expose vulnerabilities that he would normally never do. Also, to move from an uncomfortable position to a more secure position would make your opponent exert himself, causing him to gas out sooner. As the great multiple-time BJJ World Champion Saulo Ribeiro once said, “If you think, you are late. If you are late, you use strength. If you use strength, you tire. And if you tire, you die.”

To make your opponent uncomfortable in the half guard, you could use the cross face or flatten him out (done with the unerhook and the crossface). In this video, multiple-time BJJ World Champion Rodolfo Vieira manages to pass Lucas Leite’s deadly half-guard by constantly using pressure with a cross collar grip to form a cross face. Watch how this forces Lucas Leite to give up the half guard and let Vieira finish the pass.


4) Free your leg

For the half guard player, leg strength is as very important. In the closed half guard, having your thighs around your opponent’s leg makes for the most secure position. This is because it is where you are the strongest mechanically, especially in the closed half guard. With the thigh muscles, you can better hold an opponent in place. There are many ways to circumvent’s the half guard leg’s strength. One of the passes popularly used to combat the half guard is the shin cut. The shin cut allows you to place your legs on the weaker part of your opponent’s legs.

In the video above is a great example of the shin cut concept. The passer enters from a standing position (although this can be done from the knee cut position as well) and uses the shin cut to prevent his opponent from attacking with the half guard.


5) Keep your hips down

It doesn’t matter if you are passing the deep half guard or a regular half guard – you must keep your hips down to flatten your opponent. By keeping your hips down, you decrease your opponent’s chances of creating space to get his hooks in and sweep you. This space also gives him the leverage to attack as opposed to when he is flattened out, where the only option to escape is to use power. And as we mentioned, this will cause your opponent to gas out faster, which is exactly what you want when combating any opponent.

In this video, watch how BJJ Champion Gamal Hassan always keeps his hips low as he passes the half guard. This ensures that the space between him and his opponent is minimal, allowing him to pass the guard with maximum pressure.


Although it can be tricky to combat a half guard player (especially one who moves fast), with enough practice and application of the knowledge we’ve shared, it certainly becomes easier with time. So tell us, which of these tips will you apply to your passing game today?


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