BJJ Half Guard – The Ultimate Guide

BJJ Half Guard - The Ultimate Guide

At the beginning of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, most of the people considered the half guard only as a transitional position. It was really underrated. Nobody even considered it as a valuable guard method. However, as BJJ grew and progressed, people started to pay more attention to this position, improve and innovate it. Thanks to that we can now confidently say half guard is one of the most fundamental positions in BJJ. Therefore it is good to have some knowledge about it. 

What is the half guard?

Half guard is a ground position where the bottom grappler (person with the back towards the mat) by using both his legs controls only one of his opponent’s legs. Thanks to doing that he can control the distance between himself and the person on top. In this position, the grappler on top will try to untangle the leg and obtain side control or mount, while the half guard player will try to transition into a closed guard or try a sweep or some attacking technique. 


The half guard is a position of unknown origin. Who or how started it exactly cannot be accurately indicated. This does not mean, however, that nothing can be said about this position. The half guard called niju garami was used by Judo practitioners such as Tsunetane Oda (the creator of the triangle choke) back in the 1940s. At that time it was a holding position only used to prevent the opponent from obtaining side control. Half guard in this form traveled from Japan to Brazil in the early 20th century. This concept of this position lasted until the 1990s.

It all changed thanks to Roberto “Gordo” Correa. As only an 18-year-old purple belt under Carlos Gracie Junior, he revolutionized the half guard position. In 1989 he suffered a serious injury to the knee, which prevented him from using his leg to its full extent for a long time. Instead of quitting training he decided to adapt. Gordo started using more half guard to stop his sparring partners from passing. It was simply one of the few moves he could use at that time. Therefore, he used this position so often he started thinking about how to improve it. Roberto wanted to be more offensive from there, so he came up with the idea of the underhook. This move revolutionized the half guard game and set a much-needed bridge between defense and offense in the position. Correa is responsible also for other half guard variations, including the deep half guard. 

With time the half guard evolved into one of the most complex and utilized positions in BJJ, both in gi and no gi. Soon many others, not only Gordo, have adopted this intricate position to their extensive grappling game.

Different versions of half guard

There are many different versions of half guard. They differ in how far you are from your opponent, how exactly your arms and legs are arranged, etc. Below you will find what exactly are these different types of half guard. 

Standard half guard

This is a position where you are on your side using your inside leg to hook one of your opponent’s legs and have some sort of underhook with your top arm. In this position you can have your legs triangled, gripping his gi or his belt, etc. From standard half guard, you got several options of what to do. You can try to get the back, sweep your opponent by getting under his hips, etc. 

Deep half guard

Deep half guard In this type of half guard, where you must dive deep under your opponent’s legs to establish this position. It is the closest range of the half guard because you’re directly under your opponent’s hips. There are various ways you can position your arms and legs depending on the grips and hooks you’re going for, but typically you’re going to be threatening the other person with either rolling him backward or tipping him forwards and then taking his back. This position is more used for sweeping and got only a few submissions possible from it.

Knee shield

It is a common position to be in, especially if an opponent just broke down your full guard. The knee shield is effective for keeping other person’s weight off of your body. It also allows you to control the space between you and your opponent. Think of the knee shield like a seat belt going across your opponent’s chest from the hip to his shoulder. It is important to remember to use your foot to hook your partner’s ribs. This helps you control where your opponent can move. While having the knee shield most of the time you use a cross collar grip and control other person’s sleeve or wrist to start setting up sweeps, transitions, and some attacks.

 Knee shield also got its low version. In that version of this position you just need to place your outside knee on or across your opponent’s hip instead of at his shoulder. Most of the time in this position it is better to have an overhook rather than a frame or an underhook.

The double triangle also called the “Lockdown”

In contrast to other half guard forms, in the double triangle position, you enter your outside leg over the top of your opponent’s entangled leg instead of your inside leg. From here you lock your legs into the lockdown. Most of the time you will need at least one, if not two underhooks here. The fact you control the other person’s leg like that makes your half guard difficult to pass. Also, it allows you to attack your opponent’s posture by stretching out his body. Once his posture is gone you have a variety of sweeps, and even a few submissions, available to you.

Attacks from Half Gaurd

The half guard is better known for sweeps than submissions. This does not mean, however, that there are no attacks from it. There are several effective submissions from half guard depending on one’s position, making it both secure and deadly. Below you will find some attacking techniques from this position that you should know. 


If you want to perform kimura from the half guard grabbing the wrist of your opponent is crucial here. You need to do this not only to lock the kimura grip but also to prevent the opponent from cross facing you from the top half and flattening you out. Pay also attention to where is your opponent’s head. His head must go to the outside away you to provide the proper body positioning that puts the opponent most susceptible to the kimura. If his head stays on the same side near your chest, the kimura will be much less effective and the opponent will most likely be able to resist.   

Straight arm lock

Very often person on top to increase his pressure and start to attempt a variety of passing techniques will grip your collar with his far arm or will place an arm under your head for a crossface. Generally, it is a disadvantage for you when he does it. However, you can quickly turn it into submission. When the arm is there, use your arms to establish the palm to palm grip. After you have it, use your free leg to swing it over their head. Now trap the arm with your head and extend your hips while pulling down for the tap.

Loop choke

This is a type of submission applied by using the collar grip. One of the most efficient plans here is to first push toward the opponent to make him push back and then immediately pull his head into the choke. To perform it instead of looking for an underhook, make sure you have a tight grip on the opponent’s far side lapel with your near sidearm. A push with the arm is going to cause the opponent to push back. This is the exact moment you need to fold your arm around his head. There’s no need to leave the half guard to finish. Just thread your arm through and it’s a tap.

Cross choke

The cross choke technique starts the same as loop choke. Again you are baiting your opponent to lean forward onto you. While he rests his weight on your frame, deepen your collar grip then slide your shin out of the way, forcing him to fall forward. Immediately make your second collar grip to implement the choke. With all his weight on you, it will now be very hard for him to pull away from the choke. 

Knee bar

To perform this attack you need to push your opponent to create the natural reaction of smashing back into you. Use that exact moment to go for the reach to his other leg. As he will be pushing forward you dive for the leg. With your free hand go under your opponent’s leg. You want to have the thumb of your hand in the back of his knee. Remember to maintain the collar grip while going for the under hook on the leg you want. It prevents your opponent from countering by reaching for your head.

Now with your hand behind your opponent’s knee, reach and pull your arm all the way through. Next, you want to switch your grips to create more leverage. Use 4 fingers inside your opponent’s gi, and set up a deep cross collar grip. This now gives you the power to push your opponent’s head away. As a next step, you need to take your leg out and hip escape up on your side. After that, change the hook that you had inside to foot on the knee.

Now, place your other foot on your training partner’s hip so you can push him. Immediately when you start pushing do a fast grip switch. Use the hand from the collar to maintain it over your opponent’s leg, right above the heel. Take your other hand to post up and switch your head position so that your opponent’s toes are resting directly on the back of your head. Doing that will let you get your hips up as you turn your body into the knee bar position.

Remember you need to get up on your elbow to have the leverage to come up and over with your body. After you come over the leg, kick the other leg of your opponent out from underneath him and proceed to roll over into the knee bar finishing position.

How to pass half guard?

Passing half guard can be a difficult task. However, this does not mean, it is impossible to do this. Below you will find some great methods of how to pass the half guard. 

Cross face

It is one of the basic concepts for passing the half guard. To perform it, first, you need underhook on the far side of the body. Keep fighting until you get that grip, then close off space so that your opponent can’t escape his arm easily. As a next step gets underneath his head with your top arm. Later push your weight forward so that the pressure of your shoulder on your opponent’s face will turn his head away from you. Then link your hands to solidify the position. At that moment, you flattened your opponent but haven’t yet passed the guard. There are several ways to do this, but they all come down to one, you just have to free your leg. To do this sometimes you can just shake it. Other times you need to use your free leg to help yourself. In this case, you need to place it on top of your opponent’s knee and start forcing it to open. 

The hip switch

This passing technique is based on rooting yourself into a position until you end with the lockdown. Here there’s nothing more important than keeping the hips low and placing the knee fo your trapped leg on the mat. That’ll give you enough space to neutralize your opponent hook by simply lifting your foot towards your butt. From there you have the space to maneuver into a pass by switching your hips and placing the foot between their legs and their butt. Now, your safe from the lockdown and ready to demolish what’s left of his guard.

The scissor pass

It is one of the easiest ways of passing the half guard lockdown. Once again, it is all about keeping the hips low and methodically untangling your feet. For this variation, though, you’re going to use a bit more movement than before. For the scissor pass, the goal is to end up in a hip switch position before you attempt to pass. Just remember, if you do not stabilize a powerful cross-face quickly, you’ll have to go back and try again. When you get it right simply stay there and work on unlocking. With your free arm put pressure on your opponent’s far side hip and scissor your legs. By doing that you will bring the locked leg behind, and the free leg (your bottom one) in front. Now your goal is to hook his leg with your bottom leg and strip your opponent’s hook off. Scissor your legs back into the starting position and you’re free and clear of the lockdown.

The shin circle

As with the previous two passes, the shin circle requires your hips to be as heavy and low as possible. For this position, you start just like with the scissor pass. This is a great option to see if your opponent’s lockdown is too tight for the scissor pass. Here, after you switched your hips and stabilized a cross face, you need to use your free arm to push down on your opponent’s knee. By doing that now you have space to circle your shin out of the lockdown. 

Things to remember when passing half guard

If you want to pass the half guard you need to remember you must be a winner of the underhook battle. It is the basis of passing the half guard. Only after you secure an underhook, you can start to apply for a pass. The next critical action is to flat your opponent to the ground. To perform it, you need to rightly apply your weight for the greatest effectiveness. Don’t forget about the pressure here. Putting pressure on your opponent is a great way of causing discomfort and helping you to free your leg. Getting it free from his thighs is essential for passing the half guard. Just remember, pressure includes not only correct weight distribution but also proper angles and movement. 

When you got it all, an underhook, you’ve flattened your opponent and have pressure on, it’s time to finish passing. The best way is to use your hips. The hips have to stay close to your opponent at all times. Having your hips low is creating the pressure on your opponent during the pass. This decreases his options to sweep because your center of gravity is low. Opponents pinned like that and under so much pressure got small chances to do something and most of the time will let you pass.

Famous grapplers well known for their half guard game

Some grapplers very well known for their half guard are Bernardo Faria, Lucas Leite, Tom DeBlass and Eddie Bravo. The first two are both black belt world champions. While Tom DeBlass is a multiple time ADCC trials winner, a NoGi world champion, UFC and ADCC veteran. And last but not least Eddie Bravo. After all, he is also very famous for his rubber guard, the twister and finally his lockdown. All of these athletes have paved the way for innovations in the half guard and they have contributed hours upon hours to developing this position.