Passing the half guard will remain a one of the most common puzzles in BJJ for years to come.
Over the course of several years the half guard has become a guard of choice for many players all over the world. Legendary half guard players have constructed impassable bottom half guard games, and have turned passing the position into an absolute thing of beauty.
With the popularity of the half guard, knowing its intricacies and developing our own methods to beat it, is paramount to rounding out your guard passing game. If you don’t have solid plans when you’re in that top position, be prepared to be endlessly frustrated by the knee shield and eventually reversed.
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Along with the half guard the knee shield game has also come a long way. If you’ve ever trained with someone that has a deep understanding of how to use the knee shield, it can feel like you’re just running into a brick wall over and over again. And in my experience, the more you play into the knee shield game the more opportunities your opponent has to use it. The knee shield loves to be pressured, it thrives on your resistance. And when you feed it too much of these things, reversals, under hooks, and elevation begin to make your life much more difficult.
Once we can pass the knee shield, and get chest to chest in our partner’s half guard, things become exponentially easier to deal with. But this can be an arduous task.
What’s the best way to attack the half guard, and gain ground over the knee shield? This going to vary depending on the situation. Lachlan Giles has some ideas for you in this lengthy but important video on passing the half guard.
To touch briefly on one of the ideas at the very beginning of this video, Giles makes mention that the half guard is more of a “feel” based position. I have to agree with this, as every half guar feels different. The resistance you feel, the placement of the knee shield, framing, and mobility. These are all factors you’ll encounter when trying to pass. So, it makes sense to bring a small live feel into your drilling when your navigating the half guard. This is good advice from Giles.
Make some time to sit and watch this entire video with Giles about passing the half guard. It’s roughly 20 minutes, but you’ll get a lot out of it.
Lachlan Giles is an ADCC Veteran, Pan Pacific Champion and coach to one of the fastest rising starts, Craig Jones!
Getting past the knee shield
Giles first offers us a very basic way to get past the knee shield. Instead of pushing forward, Giles opts to do more of a reset. After all, the reason we’re most likely in this predicament is because we failed to control our partners top knee, and allowed it to cross the threshold of our side body and into knee shield territory.
Giles offers a solution to this problem that employs our hand elbow and forearm. He uses these body parts in combination to track hi partners inner thigh, also that the leg does not enter the area where it can become a knee shield. But inevitably this preemptive idea will cease to exist in our minds during the action, and the knee shield will come to life.
To get past the knee shield, Giles uses a technique that more like resetting. Our partner can best use the knee shield when they are on their side. This is where all the attributes of the bottom half guard work best. So, with that being said, Giles plants his right hand in his partners hip, and takes a deep cupping grip under his partners bottom leg. With grips in place he stays low in a squatting type position and walks his partner’s hips back to the middle. From here he can re pommel to the inside of the leg, and then return to the original position, now with the knee shield eliminated. Giles pinches his knee tightly around his partners bottom leg, and then gets chest to chest. Don’t sleep on controlling the bottom leg. As you make your way through these steps, the bottom leg can be just as problematic as the top. Be sure to keep it under control with the cupping grip, and then by feeding it to your pinching knees.
Controlling the bottom leg
As Giles gets chest to chest, the bottom leg and guard retention become even more of a threat. To eliminate the possibility of guard retention, Giles now switches his hips. This blocks the bottom leg out completely, and stops the re composition of the guard.
Be careful to keep your toes live and your legs engaged here to prevent bridging, and the threat of a reversal. Giles uses his head side hand to catch any off-balancing moments, rather than his far side arm which when prompted to make a base, can give up the under hook.
Giles again recommends some sparring from this position to help us get the feel for keeping that bottom leg under control and keeping a solid base, so we don’t lose the position.
Dealing with frames
You will undoubtedly encounter frames once you’ve made your way past the knee shield. This is inevitable. Giles offers several ideas here for clearing the path. Playing directly into a frame will never yield results. Giles recommends changing the angle of your body to disrupt the structure of the frame. He also offers retreating a bot and then reentering with his head, as well as pommeling options to get to the inside of the frame and then chest to chest.
When the cross face is not an option
As his partner is doing a good job of keeping Giles from acquiring the cross face, Giles will use a similar tactic as before. He secures a small under hook on his partners shoulder (be sure to get your shoulder lower than the level of your partner’s elbow, as this will allow you to gain superior position and drive you partner’s arms north), and again changes his angle to deconstruct the foundation of his partners frame. This time coming forward and then to the near side with his head. The leg that was preciously stopping guard retention now becomes a strong kickstand with much of our weigh being transferred to it. Stay low, and stay heavy here.
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With the frames now killed, Giles searches or the bottom arm of his partner and secures it at the elbow. This stops any plans of his partner re pommeling for the under hook, and also keeps him flat. Remember that this is of the utmost importance through and passing sequences. The more your partner is allowed to be on their side, the easier it will be from them to re establish the guard. Giles also couples his controlling grip on the elbow with his head being firmly planted on the floor, blocking his partners head out.
To complete this passing variation, Giles begins to raise his hips up high. He walks toward the middle, still being mindful of pinching his partners legs to stop the guard from re-forming. He then begins to shake his leg free, or uses his free foot to provide stomping pressure to the leg that’s keeping him trapped.
If you choose to implement this type of pass, be sure to invest heavily in the upper body controls. If you’re lazy there, the pass will be easily dismantled. Maintain excellent control of your partners elbow, and apply heavy pressure to the head, to stay on the correct path.
An alternative way to finish this pass finds Giles extending himself out further, pulling himself further toward the posted leg, and using the sole of his foot once again to push his partners bottom leg, freeing his trapped foot. There a lot of the same mechanics at work here, but this time Giles is freeing finishing the guard pass from a more sideways position rather than completing the pass from above his partner’s hips.
The moment the pass has been completed, Giles makes sure to keep the hips at bay, as to not allow his partner to regain the guard. Because the technique is so upper body focused, this is a critical step in successfully completing the guard pass with this variation.
Giles closes the instruction with reiterating the importance of the control of the bottom arm. With the bottom arm secure we can nearly lay flat on the ground, pinning the arm, with almost no threat of our partner escaping, acquiring the under hook, or slipping out from under us. Focus heavily on this detail and you’ll have a lot more success with this particular guard pass.
There are a lot of reoccurring themes at work here. It seems that the most important conceptual pillars of passing the half guard continue to repeat themselves no matter what variation you hope to apply:
- Addressing the knee shield.
- Placing just as much importance on bottom leg being a problem as the top, and adjusting accordingly.
- Finding a way to deal with the frames. This may include changing angles or the positioning of your body as a whole.
- Freeing our foot. Giles used his instep as a pry, and also the bottom of his foot in a stomping manner to accomplish this.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, these concepts will have to be given your attention in some manner if you hope to be successful at passing the half guard. I found this video incredibly helpful, and filled with game changing details. I hope it helps you as well!
Want more from Lachlan Giles? Check out his DVD “The Half Guard Anthology“, and get to work on improving your half guard! BJJ Fanatics has it! Check it out here!