Class 12/08/2011- Half Guard Top, the three spots on the map analogy

Well, I finally got a chance to make some more video for the blog. I’ve been working on a few other things lately and haven’t had much time to give this blog much attention. I hope I can start getting back to more regular posting. Anyway, this week we were working on half guard top. I was lucky enough to have had a seminar on half guard a few weeks ago by a great SBG coach from Ireland named John Kavanagh. It’s really cool when you learn something new that makes everything start to fit together for you. John’s seminar did that for me. It really helped me to simplify the game. I’ll describe the simplified version of the half guard top game below with descriptions and video. I’ll also use a map analogy. Bear with me…

Steve Whittier (SBGi Blackbelt) and Matt Thornton both use this analogy quite a bit. I think it fits well with BJJ. I look at it as a map with routes and locations. The routes are the movements and the locations are postures and rest spots. My job as a BJJ guy is to make sure we are taking the route that I know very well and that we stop at the rest stops that I feel comfortable with. If I can get you to take my routes with me I can beat you. I know that territory very well. If you take me off path and put me on a different route that I don’t know so well I get lost. I have to rely on stamina, wit, and cunning to figure it out. I don’t want to do that.

Our half guard route today is a fairly straight one. Not many side routes to take if we do it right. There are only 3 stops. They are the leg, the hips and the shoulders. You’ll see how we get to stop and rest at those points as we progress through the journey. So, here goes…

Step 1- The Leg

The first step in half guard top is controlling the leg. If you don’t control the trapped leg a good guy will simply pull it out and take full guard. We can hold the bottom leg 3 ways:

  1. With our weight. Sit on it and be heavy. Squeeze your knees together. Point your outside knee towards his hip.
  2. With your hand. Reach way back between your legs. Grab his gi pants at the knee and staple the cloth to the mat. Be sure to keep your arm straight. Lean forward a bit and put the shoulder of the grabbing arm against his chest if needed. Be sure to squeeze your knees together.
  3. With your foot. Either one… Foot must be above knee. Squeeze knees together.

Step 2- Control the Hip

This one was a bit new to me. I had an “aha” moment when I realized that if I really sprawled on the bottom guy’s hips then it made it much harder for him to shrimp out. In fact, it really compromised his movement quite a bit. I was controlling the hip before but not with a guard sprawl. I was simply staying low and hugging it with my arms. The nice thing about the guard sprawl is that it frees up my arms so that they can be used to flatten  the bottom guy out.
In this stage of the journey it’s critical that my hip maintain contact with the bottom guy’s. You can use your arm to assist by hugging the hip to maintain the connection. As the bottom guy bucks and moves you simply keep pressing your hip into his and prioritize that contact.

Step 3- Flatten Him Out

If things are working out well we are prepared to take some steps to get to our next stopping place on the journey. We are doing a good job of controlling the hips but the bottom guy can still get his shoulders off the mat. We need to fix this. It’s a two step process. We have to first flatten him out. Then we have to hold him there. We’ll start with the different ways of flattening out the bottom guy. They are:
  1. Shoulder of Justice.
  2. Pry Bar.
  3. Lift the near arm.
  4. Head pressure.
All 4 of these are detailed in the video below.


Step 4- Lock down the shoulders

Once we get the bottom guy flat we want to keep him there. At this point we have reached our final stop on our journey. We have the shoulders locked down. All that is left is to free the legs. An easy task as long as we keen the shoulders pinned hard. The video below will show a few different grips that work extremely well in accomplishing this task.


  1. I know you have plenty on your plate during the holidays… but would love your input (video?) on two topics– fighting for the farside underhook/compensating if you can’t get it, and the negative pass… thank you 🙂

    • Sorry Georgette. Haven’t been on here as much as I’d like. Not sure what you mean by negative pass? From what position are you interested in far side underhooking? Hope you had a great holiday!

      • Well, specifically getting the far side underhook from top half guard. Or did you mean more specifically than that?

        I’ve heard the negative pass (for passing halfguard) also called the butt-flop pass. In a negative, you rotate around the axis formed by the trapped leg, kind of parallel with their spine, and instead of facing down, you end up facing up, on the opposite side of their body, with your free leg out and based on the mat. Make sense? I’m sure I’m as clear as mud..

        Yes, had a happy holiday. Hope you did too 🙂

        • Oh, got it! We call it the Capoeria pass. I’ve got a couple of ideas about the far side underhook issue. I’ll try to shoot something next time I’m in the gym. Good idea for a video…

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