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Week 11: The most important Half Guard Principle: Knee Lever for Kuzushi
This week's focus will be the Knee Lever and generating Kuzushi
When I first started training jiu-jitsu, I made a conscious effort to learn positions and techniques that were somehow obscure or disregarded by most people. I figured that maybe if I got really good at a position that most people don't like and therefore don't play too often, I would have an edge over people who had been training longer than I had.
I'm not talking about learning how to do Dead Orchards as a white belt, but rather getting better at half-guard than the average person.
Most beginner and intermediate BJJ practitioners don't love half-guard. I think this is because it can be a hard position to play when you are not already good at it. Most guards have some weak points, but in my opinion, half-guard has more potential weak points than most guards. This doesn't mean it's an inferior guard (I actually believe it's superior to many other popular guards), but it means you can't make many mistakes. Otherwise, those weak points get exposed.
Josh Waitzkin speaks about Investment in Loss in his book (The Art of Learning: my bible when it comes to sports psychology and the "inner game" of BJJ). Learning how to play half-guard is impossible if we don't use this philosophy. We are going to get flattened and smashed when we are in the process of refining our half-guard. There's no other way to learn how to play HG and adjust the little mistakes we make if we only play our A-game all the time.
Half-guard can be one of the most versatile guards there is, and therefore it can be very complex. But one of the main components that I've found most people get wrong is using kuzushi or unbalancing. Most of you already understand that unbalancing is one of the main pillars of guard playing (and BJJ in general, to be honest). Still, in my experience, half-guard is absolutely impossible to play effectively if we don't make our opponents constantly worried about getting unbalanced and swept.
That's why I think the knee lever and the John Wayne sweep are so important. Not because I think you'll be able to hit them every time you try, but because I believe they will teach you how to use your legs and trap your opponent's arms to unbalance them and generate reactions that open up space for you to play an offensive half guard.
If you think of half-guard as "half-passed," I urge you to think again and add this basic sweep to your game. Once you get proficient at it, you'll see that it will open up your half-guard game exponentially.
Another great thing about becoming a master of this sweep is the fact that it will help you get out of one of the worst places you can be when playing half guard: flattened with both shoulders on the mat and no underhook.
Let's dive in!
Feet outside: Blocking the knee and back heeling. Your knees should point up:
Block their underhook arm:
Here’s another angle:
How to drill it:
I think the best way to learn body mechanics is to make sure you get proficient and understand the work that your legs do before you try the whole thing. So the initial drill is this: You are going ask your opponent to keep their torso separated from your chest, and you will unbalance them using ONLY your legs. The goal is to make their hands touch the mat like so:
Once you feel like you understand how to use your legs to generate kuzushi, you can start drilling the whole move.
Watch it in action
My Favorite Half-Guard Players to Study
Adam Wardsinski (Mainly known for his Butterfly guard, but he uses grapevines better than anyone, so I think studying his is very useful)
Training Plan for the Week
💡 Has this section been helpful in the past? Please let me know what would make it more helpful!
First Half of the Week:
Drill the whole sequence and try the positions with your training partners before you try them while rolling.
First half of the week, I think you should only drill it so you can get a full sense of the timing and engrave good mechanics.
Second Half of the Week (Training sessions 3 & 4 of 4 for me):
Gradually start picking better and better opponents until you cannot perform the move anymore. Once this happens, start going down and picking less skilled opponents until you get to a sweet spot where you are performing the move more than 50% of the time you try it.
Try to finish your week DRILLING the move as flawlessly as possible at least a couple of times: You want to make the last rep as perfect as possible. That's the repetition we internalize the most when we leave the training room.
Remember: The sweep will fail many times, but the goal is not always to sweep but to open space to be able to play an offensive Half-Guard with a good inside position.
That’s it for this week!