Beating the Odds: 50/50 Guard


Type in 50/50 guard on the Youtube and see what you get. A few videos are of techniques from the position, or big Jiu Jitsu stars talking about how they don’t like it. But the majority are 50/50 passes. Some of these passes are reliable, some are questionable at best. Why is everyone so eager to pass the 50/50 guard?

Any time a new position becomes popular in Jiu Jitsu the first instinct seems to be to learn how to avoid it. Most Jiu Jitsu students don’t know very much about the 50/50. When they do, it is known as a boring position or a place to stall. It can be very hard to pass, and some of the key sweeps end up back in the reviled position. Thus the need to learn to escape from the 50/50.

Yet a growing number of competitors generate a remarkably effective offence from the 50/50 position. It would be dishonest to claim that the 50/50 guard is always an exciting, dynamic position. However, several athletes from teams like CheckMat, Atos, Lloyd Irvin and 50/50 have been doing remarkable things from the position, which has furthered the evolution of the sport.

In the video below, compiled by the Jiu Jitsu Lab mostly from recent competition footage, you will be able to study the current state of the 50/50 guard in the top levels of competitive Jiu Jitsu.


50/50 Guard Highlight | The Jiu Jitsu Laboratory



One of the current teams dominating their opponents with their 50/50 game is CheckMat, specifically the branch led by Rodrigo Cavaca and including Marcus Almeida and Antonio Carlos Junior. These athletes have an aggressive footlock game from the position, often favouring the kneebar and near-side toehold, which Marcus “Buchecha” used to submit Kron Gracie and Rafael Lovato Jr., respectively.

The CheckMat atheltes also use the position to sweep by getting pant grips and sliding back to untangle themselves, putting them into a double-leg takedown. Most unique is Antonio “Cara de Sapato’s” kimura from the 50/50 against Antonio Peinado at the 2012 Brasileiros. Several 50/50 guard passes require the top player to reach back to untangle the leg triangle. Cara de Sapato takes advantage of this by baiting the pass, while keeping Antonio “Batista’s” posture broken with a cross-collar grip. Once the arm is in position Cara de Sapato uses his knee and back-grip to trap the arm like an omoplata before securing the kimura. It’s one of my favourite clips from the entire video because it shows a creative counter to a technique developed to pass the 50/50.

One pair that can be credited as primary developers of the 50/50 both with and without a gi have been the Mendes brothers. The 50/50 sweeping game of Rafael Mendes is highly dynamic and technical, specifically in his 2011 rematch with Augusto “Tanquinho” in the featherweight finals of the World Championships and the 2011 final of the ADCC featherweight division with Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles. If you’ve written them off because so much takes place in the 50/50, give Rafa’s matches with Tanquinho and Cobrinha another chance, as they are as fast-paced and technical as any other match of their respective tournaments. A staple of Rafa’s sweeping game is using the belt grip to turn for the back, forcing his opponent to give up the sweep to defend.

Several high-level American competitors including Ryan Hall, JT Torres and the latest Jiu Jitsu superstar, Keenan Cornilius have also been dominant in the 50/50 position. One of the highlights of this year’s competition season was the 50/50 armbar Keenan pulled off against two competitors at the 2012 Pans. Making it all the more impressive was that one of those armbars was against the scary-good purple belt featherweight champion João Miyao. It’s a tricky technique that relies on timing and confidence. I’ve been playing around with it lately and sometimes have trouble isolating the arm. Hopefully watching JT and Keenan will help me learn the small details that make it an effective and unexpected finish.

Lastly, we get to see the true effectiveness of the position when it is used without a gi. The 50/50 is most powerful when the reverse heelhook is allowed. Dean Lister was one of the first athletes to bring the position into popularity when he won ADCC in 2003. From Lister the position traveled through UFC-veteran Brandon Vera to Team Lloyd Irvin where a young Ryan Hall became obsessed with the position. Ryan’s 50/50 guard DVD is still the gold-standard for information on hand-fighting from the 50/50, a skill that was the focus of the last half of the video. Watch how Lister and Hall are able to get around their opponent’s defenses, splitting the legs and inevitably causing their stubborn opponents to require crutches for a few months after their ACL tears in half.

With this video I hope to prove that the 50/50 guard can be as exciting as any other position, and that those that ignore the abundance of effective techniques from the 50/50 do so at their peril. Do you really want to be trying to catch up when you’re struggling to defend yourself from Ryan Hall’s heelhook or Buchecha’s lethal kneebars?


Random Thoughts: 

  • If anyone cares, the songs used in the highlight are: Cat Power – Ruin; The Black Keys – Lonely Boy; The Pixies – Dig for Fire.
  • When I finished this video late on a Saturday night I thought, “I’ve done the impossible, made an exciting 50/50 guard highlight.” I hope you feel the same.
  • Many thanks to my friend Andrew Foster for helping me locate footage of some hard-to-find matches to include in the video.
  • How perfect would this video have been if it ended with Dean Lister’s heelhooks on Rodolfo Vieira and Joao Assis to win ADCC 2011? As poetic as that would have been it was nearly impossible to find good-quality footage of those matches. Sorry. But you can see a low-resolution video of those matches from the ADCC stream.
  • Still tripping out on Keenan’s 50/50 armbar and Antonio Carlos’s kimura. Training partners: you know what I’ll be working on next week
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Filed under Jiu Jitsu Stuff

14 responses to “Beating the Odds: 50/50 Guard

  1. I simply LOVE your contributions and case-studies. Thanks so much for your dedication to the art and your thorough publications! – Brent C. [Dallas, TX]

  2. pato

    really you made the imposible posible, the 50/50 looks awesome in gi!!

  3. Kevin

    Thanks for another awesome post. Be careful, I have heard that the Black Keys REALLY like to sue people.

  4. Al

    This is pretty awesome HL.

  5. David

    A really good article on the 50/50 I have taken seminars with Cavaca’s students and can say that the way they switch between spider/x-guard and 50-50 is mindblowing – a constantly attacking position if done right, which I can’t yet but I’m trying!

  6. Sorry Kazing, I deleted your post. Memes aren’t allowed on the Lab.

  7. David

    Jiujitsulab, the episode of rolled up with Bruno Malfacine shows some spider to x-guard similar to what I have been shown. Some of the sweeps I have seen where straight to the foot lock position looking for the tap, before points. I have also seen Michelle Nicolini/Buchecha sweep using x-guard etc and seek out the 50-50 to finish the match from there. Hope this helps!

  8. Wow, this is a good critique of how the 50/50 can be played well. Thanks for this contribution. More people should read this blog!



  9. David

    Another fantastic video and breakdown. 1,000 Thanks for all you do. I believe that 50/50 in the Gi would be more exciting if heel-hooks were allowed, at least at the higher belt levels. All Black Belts should feel comfortable defending the heel-hook! Heel hooks would lead to quicker finishes, better defense, a natural evolution in the sport. It is unrealistic not to allow them in Gi (yet they are allowed in NoGi). In reality, ALL submissions should be allowed at the Black Belt level.

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