Underhooks are great for grapplers who prefer to control their opponents from close distances. It’s also useful when opponents are faster and like to work from space. First, it’s important to understand the main principles behind setting up an attack. More about underhook below.
Underhook Set Ups: Main Principles
Break your opponent’s position. Throw jab fakes, pull their head down, snap them down to the mat, push them, make them step forward by circling or pulling them, etc.
Put yourself within shooting distance. Close the distance on your opponent and get a good feel for how far away from your opponent you need to be in order to fire off a successful attack. The nice thing about an underhook is that you’re already well within attacking distance.
Clear your opponent’s head/hands defense. Lower your level and clear your opponent’s hands for a clear shot to your opponent’s legs.
By accomplishing these principles, you are very effectively setting up an attack.
Underhooks: Key Positional Points
The near side leg should be forward. For example, if you’re doing an underhook with your left arm, your left leg should be in front. This creates more stability and control by allowing you to put your center of gravity underneath the opponent. Otherwise, you risk creating too much distance and it leaves you vulnerable to arm throws/seoi nages or fireman’s carries/kata gurumas.
Keep your head position at an angle. Your forehead should be pushed into the side of your opponent’s head, which makes it very difficult for the opponent to attack.
Clamp tight on that underhook until you execute an attack. Your opponent will most likely try to clear out of the underhook.
Leg attacks are great options from the underhook, and you don’t need a penetration step for some of these options. The underhook throw by to single leg is very easy to learn and is a good default attack. From there, you also have the option of doing a knee/ankle pick to the far leg as well.
Snap downs are another great option when your opponent puts their legs back to in anticipation of your leg attacks. You can snap your opponent down to go behind for back control. In some cases, you may be able to find a guillotine or other choke submission from the position as well.
Arm drags from are uncommon, but another possibility. Most opponents won’t predict this. However, this potentially takes some elbow and shoulder flexibility.
Throws are also another option, but you somehow need to control the far side. With an underhook, you have many possible throws to choose from, so it’s up to preference.
Many combinations exist from the underhook. Most combinations start from an attempted leg attack followed by either a snap down or a throw. Once you learn some options from this position, you can improve your skills further by learning how to set up the underhook and learning how to chain two or three different attacks together.