Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
The Knee Cut
The knee cut guard pass has long been a staple for getting around someone's legs, dating back at least to the earliest days of judo newaza, and likely well before. The pass remains one of the first passes a white belt learns in BJJ, and yet it remains one of the highest percentage passes for black belts in competition. The aim of this tutorial is to give you a sketch of the underlying concepts behind the knee cut pass, and then to touch on some key details as to why this pass will work on very high-level practitioners. Let's get started!
The Almighty Underhook
Although there are numerous starting positions from which you can hit the knee cut guard pass, the most logical starting point is combat base. When your partner moves their hips to the side (let's call it hipping out to the left), assuming your right knee is up in combat base, this is your cue to move. Start by sliding your knee across your partner's right thigh, making contact with your shin. When you make this initial slide, your hips should be facing up and to your left, not straight forward. Next, your right arm needs to hunt for the underhook, keeping your partner flat, and also keeping them from getting to your back. Now, step out with your left leg (like a kickstand, providing additional stability), and then simply pull your foot free. We'll talk more about what to do with your left hand next.
Head and Arm Control
Another simple entry involves starting on your feet and stepping in between your partner's legs in order to start the same knee cut pass position. From here, the same knee slide applies, pinning your partner's right leg with your shin across their thigh. Don't pull your foot through too quickly, though, or else your partner will likely be able to recover guard. Instead, use this as a position in and of itself, allowing you to get the much-needed underhook. In this video, Russ starts by grabbing the lapel relatively low, close to the hip, and then slides up to the underhook, very tightly and close to the body. Next, get your head right next to your partner's head (or under their chin; the idea is not to allow your partner to turn in to you in any fashion whatsoever). Grab their triceps with your left arm and pull up, helping to keep your partner flat. Finally, slide your foot free, completing the guard pass.
Hips, Shoulders, Head
Another way to think about this pass is to consider that you're almost always going to go in the following order:
- Hips. You need to beat your partner's hips with your hips, and this means controlling (pinning) your partner's hips.
- Shoulders. Your partner's shoulders need to be flat on the mat, just like their hips.
- Head. Your partner's head must not be able to turn toward you.
While you may pass some guards some of the time without having all three of these characteristics, having all three helps to ensure that you will have a great chance of passing even a fantastic guard. Note that you can also do this guard pass without the underhook, provided your lapel grip helps to achieve these three objectives. Feel free to switch your hips back to a head and arm or "100 Kilos" side control position, unless you're comfortable with modified kesa gatame (in which case, you're good to hold right here).
As you move through the ranks in your jiu jitsu training, you will almost certainly continue to see the knee cut pass used more than nearly every other pass in sport BJJ (and even in MMA). It is powerful, difficult to defend, and easy to enter from a variety of different scenarios. Here are some defenses you can practice (before next week's lesson on how to troubleshoot some of these defenses!). If you're a black belt who is struggling to pass some of the crazy guards that are out there nowadays, consider revisiting the knee cut pass. There are ways to get there from virtually every type of guard, given the right combination and reaction from your partner. Finally, as always, please let me know if these techniques are working well for you! Happy training!