Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
Imagine that you're cutting your knee across, three-quarters of the way through a very nice knee-cut guard pass. Something's not quite right, though. Your partner has baited you, and they now have the underhook! This scenario happens a great deal in BJJ training, and, of course, the BJJ gods have offered up a fantastic solution: the backstep.
The Initial Motion
So here's the aforementioned knee cut guard pass. The person on bottom manages to snag a sneaky underhook, forcing your hand. Back in the late 90s when this guard pass was beginning to come to prominence, it was easy enough to simply step backward, creating a confusing half guard of sorts where your partner is facing away from you.
Today, however, things are very different, and so we need to address a few key details. Start by changing your overall angle right away. Drive your right hip into their left shoulder, flattening them out. Post both of your hands on the mat well above your partner's head so that you can make this happen; remember: a knee cut guard pass is no longer in your immediate future. Retract your left leg and kick it through to the other side, completing the "back step" motion. Resist the temptation to simply swivel your leg back during this step, or else your partner will have many options to exploit your mistake.
One Option: Head Control
When you execute a solid backstep, you will end up with four options to advance your position, all determined by where your right arm (during a right knee cut pass) ends up. If you're hugging around their head, that's the first option we'll look at, although you could also drape your arm over like a Kimura, or allow your arm to end up underneath their arm, like a "Twister pass" or ninja roll position. Finally, you could also re-pummel for the underhook and revisit the knee cut guard pass.
Let's take option one and consider how that might work out. Once you are finishing the backstep motion, guide your right arm so that you are hugging around your partner's head, ensuring that they can't turn their head in toward you. You can reinforce the grip by grabbing the fabric on the far side. Now, walk your hips up so that you can begin to turn your trapped leg's knee toward the ground. This motion will begin to free your foot, allowing you to finish a (very smashy) guard pass.
Here's a quick overview of some of the other options. Note the re-pummel for the underhook, then the switch right back to the knee cut pass. The leg attack options are everywhere, and the rolling back take option is a nice bonus (there are at least three different ways to take the back here).
Another excellent option from this passing position involves draping your arm over your partner's head, just as though you are setting up a Kimura (and, indeed, you can do just that if the circumstances are right). From here, it's important that you turn your partner's head away, so you will need to scoot up until your ribs start to do this job. Notice the detail of keeping your left foot on their knee until you have secured getting the right foot free.
As you may already be familiar, the backstep opens up a completely new world of techniques you can use, not the least of which are the guard passes outlined here (but there are plenty of other options). As you experiment with these techniques, don't forget to remain playful throughout. Don't be afraid to try to develop your own versions of these passes that work for you as well. As always, please let me know if these techniques are working for you!
© 2017 Andrew Smith