The Evolution of Guard Passing in Nogi\MMA: the half guard
The primary focus of this analysis is a summary and focus on the elements that the modern grappler needs to be aware of so as not to fall behind the evolution of the guard pass in the NoGi\MMA context. Credit goes to Gambledub and BJJScout for basically doing the dirty work for me. Make sure to check their respective Youtube channels and Forum posts (links below)
Most passing is revolved around the half guard. Takedowns, scrambles, guard pulling all lead to this position as recovering the opponent's leg is often the last line of defense for the guard player.
Many passers also prefer to stage attacks in this position and will actively seek out the half guard in order to smash their opponent's shoulders and hips on the mat, and secure a more dominant position while minimizing the opportunity for the guarder to create scrambles.
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The Traditional Objective of the Passer
I highlighted "smash" for a reason: the key premise of this study is that almost every guard passer seeks to win the underhook battle in order to gain head and arm control.
Particularly at the lower belt levels, one of two moves will happen:
- Smash through the inside (kneeslide)
- Smash outside into mount (foot wedge pass)
The guarder has the option to keep the passer away by framing with:
They can then use this frame to weave the underhook in and begin to work offensively.
But if the passer strips the kneeshield without conceding the underhook, gravity now favors the passer who can now begin to smash the guarder with the deadly crossface and underhook combination. Once the passer has the following, the guarder is in serious trouble.
The Guarders Strike Back: Countering the Smash
Being smashed to the floor makes regaining upper body control very difficult. A good top player will expect the guarder's attempts to frame the outside arm on the neck and push, and will often wait for the guarder to commit to the frame in order to deflect and isolate the arm either:
- To the inside for the arm triangle\pass setup
- To the outside in order to switch the hips in reverse half and attack the straight armbar\kimura or work the pass
There's a reason the guard still exists though: smashing the guard isn't a guaranteed pass\submission attempt.
Even when the passer dominates the upper body, there's still hope for the guarder if he can do just enough to avoid his outside arm from being isolated.
From the half guard, once the smash is on, the guarder has two main options, both involving torquing the trapped knee.
Either with the Lucas Leite style grapevine:
Or with the Eddie Bravo lockdown:
Once the guarder is in a position to apply sufficient torque to the passer's knee, they can remove much of the smashing pressure of the passer while simultaneously re-framing in order to:
- re-pummel their own underhook and begin working offensively on the outside
- dive\roll under the opponent to underhook either leg to secure deep half or the electric chair position
- create space for the technical standup and get back on the feet