Half-guard.

A little while back I decided to pick an position that I feel I’m really lacking in and put a lot of focus on improvement in that area. It took about a millisecond for me to hone in on the position that I know could use a lot, lot of improvement. I mean technically every position needs lots of improvement, I am only a blue belt after all, but there seems to be one position in particular that I find myself in often and seldom execute what little I know.

Half-guard.

Top. Bottom. Either or, my half-guard sucks. Su-ucks. I either get stuck, can’t pass the leg or end up getting swept, or I get smashed flat on my back and passed.

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Lucky for me, the last few weeks have been all about half-guard in class. We’ve been working a few variations on a basic half-guard sweep. I remember this half-guard sweep being one of the very first techniques I learned. I don’t even really know if I can accurately say that I “learned” it because those first few months of technique and drilling felt like I was learning something in a foreign language. I’m also pretty sure I filed the sweep away as a “not gonna happen, I’ll never remember this, impossible for me” category. I did that a lot in the beginning.

But, I’ve learned, as the time goes by, each time you revisit a technique it suddenly seems so much easier than you remember. I remember the second time I worked on this half-guard sweep quite vividly. It started with a slight feeling of dread because I quickly remembered the struggle from the first go at it and then after I went through the technique I found myself asking, “Why did I struggle with this so much last time?!”

So over the course of the last three years I’ve drilled this half-guard sweep many, many times. What I like and notice most about drilling is that each time my technique improves, I can focus on a different, smaller detail. At first it was just about learning the moves, now it’s down to sharpening the finest details. I like that. It makes me want to drill more and more.

With all of that said, even though I’ve drilled this particular sweep many times and feel confident in my detail, I can never execute it in live rolling. I get smashed flat on my back and passed and crushed.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

But, over the last few weeks I’ve kind of had a revelation. I get smashed flat and instead of focusing on the one detail I need to achieve in that moment, I go to “Oh shit! I need to get the underhook, shift my hips, get on my side, and get to my elbow!” I put all my focus on the technique as a whole instead of focusing on that one detail that I need to get first in order to continue on to the next step. It doesn’t take long to figure out that a technique in live rolling doesn’t always go down like it does in drilling. In live rolling, there is a good chance, I’m going to have to work really hard for that underhook. Once that kind of sunk in I found that instead of getting completely smashed and lost, I was finally starting to work and get to that underhook. So far, for me, it hasn’t been a one-step motion like it is in drilling. It’s been actually working to get it, sometimes inching my hand little by little through a pocket of zero available space to get to that underhook.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt a victory as grand as finally being smashed flat and working to secure that underhook in live rolling. Twice. In one night. It felt pretty amazing.

And that whole scenario really drives home just how difficult jiu-jitsu is and a good reminder that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. My victory of last night’s class is getting one step, one small detail down in one technique. I can’t even finish the technique yet in live rolling, but I’m extremely proud of finally executing that one detail and seeing what it takes to get it. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll make it to the next one and then the next one and then before you know it, I’ll be a half-guard sweeping machine.

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