A Work in Progress: Options From Top Half Guard

Sally Arsenault


Halifax, Canada

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, MMA


In my Brazilian jiu jitsu training, I have spent a lot of time trying to pass half guard. One day, my teammate brown belt Chris White asked if I had ever thought about trying to submit from top half, rather than just trying to pass. That way, he said, the person on the bottom would be kept guessing. His attention would be split between trying to prevent a pass and defending attacks.


Eddie Bravo’s first 10th Planet black belt, Denny Prokopos, explains in the video below that he experienced the same transition in strategy at the purple belt level and demonstrates the guillotine from top half. In addition, he provides insight to his top half game:




I have a lot of experience in passing top half, so I will share the techniques that have worked well for me, as well as ones I am working on.


Following that, I will share submission strategies I learned from my teammates and from chatting with BJJ Scout on #Jack, as well as others I have picked up while doing research for this article.


Passing Half Guard

A lot of half guard passes start with flattening your opponent. Xande Ribeiro shows us how to do that in this video:



My version of the second pass in Trumpet Dan’s video below works often for me, as well, depending on who I’m rolling with.


But I’ve often been swept during my attempts at this pass, probably because I wasn’t posting and I didn’t have the gi wrapped under the shoulder.


What has helped to prevent sweeping recently is something Jonathan Satava showed my teammates at a seminar - sprawling the legs out and walking your opponent’s knees up toward his side.



What I like about this next video with Jason Scully is that he makes sure you understand where your head should be when passing.


Pushing your opponent’s head with your own head makes a big difference. In addition, Scully tripods rather than sprawling his legs out, which has also worked for me a lot.



Finally, the trick my instructor, black belt Kevin Taylor, plays on me every time we roll is the shoulder roll to back take from top half.


Be sure to pay attention to the details regarding trapping your opponent’s legs in the roll and then grabbing the arm.



Otherwise, if you try to roll, your opponent can simply pull his legs away and scramble, or if you don’t grab the arm or neck once you’ve rolled, he can end up in top half.



Passing Studies

Marcelo Garcia, Rodolfo Vieira, and Leandro Lo pass so beautifully that studies have been done on their technique.


Watching athletes in action can be a great way to learn small details that can dramatically improve your technical skills.





Preventing Sweeps

One of the problems I face a lot is deep half and the waiter sweep.



Until writing this article, I didn’t have much insight as to how to defend the sweep, but in searching YouTube, I found a cool pass from the Mendes brothers. Will it work? Time will tell!



One of my training partners has suggested to me, “When you can’t move forward, try moving backward.”


And that’s what Kurt Osiander does in this deep half guard defense. He moves backward to kill the underhook, pulls the arm out, and uses it to giftwrap and take the back.



If you’re having issues with getting that arm to giftwrap, Caio Terra offers an alternative.



In this next video, my teammate Renzo Gracie black belt Josh Wincey demonstrates how to crush your opponent’s waiter sweep to get an armlock or, alternatively, the triangle.


Wincey is facing Andre Galvo black belt Andris Brunovskis at Submission Series Pro in June. Andris is known for his colorful submissions, as well, so it should be an exciting match.



Submission Chain

For those of you who love BJJ Scout’s breakdowns, you will be happy to know that you can chat with him online regarding all things jiu jitsu. Or Judo. He seems to know everything.


I asked him about submissions in top half and he directed me to his Japanese necktie video with Geo and Richie Martinez.


In it, he points out how the Japanese necktie is a logical submission attempt between the d’Arce and guillotine from top half.



BJJ Scout emphasized that the grip you use in the guillotine is very important. He recommended a monkey grip at the wrist above the fist. He also shared the video below to demonstrate what he feels is a key detail:



What wasn’t mentioned in the Japanese necktie study was the anaconda, but BJJ Scout suggested adding this submission to the series, as well.




Other Tricks

I found a few other cool techniques during my research, including a slick Kimura from top half to back take:



And Leandro Lo stays offensive in top half by using the face crank and active posting:



In Conclusion

We’ve seen a lot of different options from top half, too many to remember all at once.


What this article has done for me is allow me to close all of the tabs I had up on my browser and organize everything I have been working on from top half. So, maybe it can serve as a study guide for you, as well.


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