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Dean Lister on Passing Half Guard (with Leg Lock Entries)

Dean Lister recently stopped by Gold BJJ HQ to film another instructional for our Online Training, covering his tips and tricks for playing half guard. Due to his infamous leglock game, opponents rarely put Dean into a tight half guard - doing so locks them into his hips, exposing them to a variety of leglocks. In this post, we'll break down some of Dean's favorite ways to open and pass the half guard (and even include a couple of leg lock entries).

Half guard is one of the most advanced positions in Jiu Jitsu, since a single movement can lead to either a mount, back-take, or submission. When learning the half guard, Dean recommends sticking to your favorite side while you hone your technique. Eventually, you can start to add a balanced half guard on both sides to your game.

Guard Passing Concepts

Before passing the half-guard, one of the things that you have to deal with is the open guard. When passing the guard, most players typically either smash, sprawl or stand up. When you stand up, your opponent’s going to center on you, and you have to deal with their open guard. Sometimes when dealing with your opponent’s guard, you have to force them into a weaker form of open guard before initiating your pass. Some savvy opponents stall in the open guard to make you frustrated and induce a mistake. Don't fall for this trap - take your time, and slowly move them away from the special area of their game.

Finding the right distance when passing the guard is essential. If your opponent is resisting, grabbing your leg, or trying to sit up when you are passing, sometimes you have to put your weight on them to prevent them from transitioning to a sweep. How do we do that correctly? Make sure that we are keeping our distance as much as possible, keep them from moving as much as you can and still be able to get around their guard.

Passing the Half Guard Concepts

When passing the half guard, you don’t want your opponent to be on their elbows as this closes their distance. Instead, your goal is to push them down flat on their back, grabbing their collar with your thumb in, blocking their hips while your hips remain very low. It doesn’t matter where your opponent’s arm position is, you just have to stay heavy on your opponent, have defensive hips, establish the position, making it hard for your opponent to move.

After pushing your opponent down, grab their head with a cross face at the same time, you grab their arm with an underhook.

Once you've established the cross face and the under hook, apply pressure on your opponent’s jaw to make them face the opposite direction. You can put additional pressure on your opponent’s chin by posting your hand, this will make them distracted and will be more concerned with their neck.

Along with the pressure on your opponent’s face, hook your free leg and use it as a wedge to free your other leg that is trapped on the half guard.

Passing the Traditional Half Guard

There are many flashy ways to pass the half guard, from standing up to passing on your knees. We'll start by covering a traditional pass that works great against an opponent that is committed to keeping you tightly locked into their half guard.

If your opponent tucks their hands in (to get the underhook from the bottom half guard), put your weight on top of them with your hips down low. This prevents your opponent from putting you inside his closed guard.

Now walk your toes up to elevate your opponent’s half guard legs, and push the knee down using your elbow to advance to the quarter mount position.

From the quarter mount position, you can either go directly to full mount position or you can drive your knee to the other side and finish with the knee slice to side control.

Knee Shield or Z-Guard Basic Concepts

The knee shield (also known as Z-Guard) was traditionally regarded as a transitional position. When attacking the Z-Guard, rather than putting your weight on the knee shield, pull your opponent's far arm. This prevents them from getting back up on their elbows and will help to flatten them out. You'll want to continue to block your opponent's arm to prevent them from getting offensive grips and getting under you.

Windshield Wiper Technique to Break the Z-Guard

A particularly useful variation of passing the Z-Guard (and Dean Lister's personal preference) is the windshield wiper. When doing this pass, do not lean over your opponent's knee shield to prevent yourself from getting swept. Hold your opponent's sleeve, control their bottom leg, and then do a strong movement by twisting your body to one side. This will reliably cause them to open even a very tight half guard. The next option available is to either move backward and pass your opponent's open guard or go directly to a knee slice.

Passing the Knee Shield/Z-Guard

Now let's look at launching an offense from top half guard. Push your chest on top of your opponent's knee shield and use it to drive your opponent's knee shield down while redirecting their leg.

Keep yourself low: this gives you the option to pass to either side by holding your opponent's pants and jumping around to side control.

Another option to complete this smash pass is to use one foot as a hook to free your other leg. Then, pass to side control by sliding your knee through your opponent's shin.

Toe Hold Attack From Top Half Guard

The toe hold is a sneaky surprise attack to use when your opponent locks his leg to a very tight triangle in the bottom half guard. This can be a difficult position to free yourself from, so it's useful to have an offensive move in your arsenal.

Make sure to stay heavy on top of your opponent to prevent him from getting a deeper underhook (or getting up on his elbows). Now reach for your opponent's foot, lock in a figure-four for the toe hold and pull his foot on the mat like a brush.

Please take note that if you roll over when finishing the toe hold, this exposes your legs and you're giving your opponent the opportunity for a toe hold of his own at the same time.

Kneebar from Top Half Guard

Like most leg lockers jokingly say, "why pass the guard when you can go for a leg lock?" As a bonus, Dean Lister shared two kneebar entries from the top half guard to surprise your opponents with.  

Kneebar Entry #1

The first kneebar entry from half guard is by going over your opponent's leg and fall on your side. 

This step-over kneebar works great against an opponent who is flattened down and gassed out from defending against your half guard pressure.

Kneebar Entry #2

The second kneebar entry from top half guard starts by getting a pistol grip on your opponent's top hand. Now push their hand all the way across their stomach.

Step all the way around while keeping pressure downward on your opponent's hand, pinning it to the mat.

As you lower yourself to the mat, hold your opponent's toes and keep a tight grip to finish the kneebar.

Want to Learn More?

Learn more about Dean Lister's preferred passing options and leg lock entries by checking out his complete Half Guard course on Gold BJJ Online TrainingSign up today to see this course along with 25+ other instructionals from top Jiu Jitsu athletes:

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Gear Featured in this Post

Dean Lister is wearing our Aeroweave Ultralight Gi in grey.