Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
Going to the back from half guard when you're on the bottom is an incredible game changer, and likely to be one of the first back-takes you have success with during your jiu-jitsu game. However, after some time, it can be shut down by a knowledgeable opponent, so it's important to tweak a few key details and make some simple modifications as you're going along.
What follows are the fundamental concepts of posture in the half guard bottom, how to use them properly to set up the back take, and the aforementioned tweaks.
If you haven't already done so, you may want to review our basic half-guard tutorial. Start with solid posture from bottom. Your right hand should be busily blocking the crossface, with your right pinkie finger meeting the crook of your partner's elbow so that you can follow them just about anywhere. Your left hand can reinforce this, framing all the way across to your partner's shoulder. During this entry, you should remain on your side, not on your back.
Use your partner's force (driving forward) to allow your top elbow to collapse, and then pummel around to their back, leading the way with your elbow first, not your hand. Think of half guard as 3/4 of the way to the back. As you make the swim, use your back knee to nudge your partner's hips forward, facilitating the climb onto their back. Make sure your underhook is deep enough so that you can avoid the Kimura and the overhook/whizzer counters.
Getting the Underhook
This back take is clearly reliant on having the outside underhook, so there's an art to getting it back when your partner has taken it away. This position starts from a smashed half-guard bottom, meaning you aren't doing so hot right now. Never fear; start by opening your half guard and posting your outside hook on the mat, about a foot away from your partner's hips. Next, bridge your hips up high so that you can perform a much, much wider version of the swim move from earlier, leading the way with the elbow once again. From here, use your outside (top) leg to build momentum so that you can pop out the back door and come up on top.
Note that you might finish a different variation of the back take finish itself, depending on how your partner reacts.
Finishing the Back Take
When you've crept around to the back, there are several options for completing the assigned task. One very high percentage method involves reaching for your partner's far lapel with your left hand, taking early control of their far shoulder. Once you start to build your base up, try breaking down their supporting hand with your free left hand. As you begin to climb up, make sure your near hook (the "half guard" hook that remained while you were bridging earlier) shortens itself so that your second hook will be long enough to complete the back take; it may be useful to think of your legs as the drawstring of a pair of gi pants here (one unit). Finally, scoot out until your partner falls right into your lap.
Half Guard Evolving
Half guard has evolved so very much over the last 20 years, going from essentially an unfavorable fringe position to a position of prominence, and then going well past even this to become where the lion's share of the action takes place in sport BJJ nowadays.
Nevertheless, the "old school" stuff still works fantastically well, and it's well worth learning the basic system outlined here. Keep in mind that there are many, many paths to the back in jiu-jitsu, but this is likely to be one of the very first that is effective for you while rolling live. As always, please let me know how these techniques work for you!
© 2017 Andrew Smith