A week ago or so I wrote a post about the ever increasing popularity of the 50/50 guard. I was prompted to write this post after observing that quite a few women were playing the 50/50 guard. Here’s post written for 50/50bjj by Ryan Hall.
The 50/50 Controversy by Ryan Hall
As many of you are aware, 50/50 guard has come under fire recently from many in the Jiu-Jitsu community, in large part for its use in the Pan and Mundial tournaments as an attempted strategy to dethrone 4-time consecutive featherweight champion Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles. It has been hotly discussed and has as many detractors as it does proponents. Much of the discussion thus far has focused on whether it is “unfair” or simply a “stalling position” that should be banned.
In my mind, the 50/50 is no different than Roleta’s inverted guard or Gordo’s half guard. Both men revolutionized the positions associated with them not through closed-mindedness but rather through analysis, practice, and re-analysis that resulted in innovation. I believe that we are beginning to see this as many instructors and fighters have been releasing technique videos billed as “solutions” to the 50/50 guard. In everyone’s haste to find a way to do away with what they consider to be a problematic position, though, I believe that many are putting the cart before the horse.
Like any other legitimate position (mount, half guard, closed guard, x-guard, et al), there is no “magic bullet” that will defeat the 50/50. As one can notice from observing the back and forth between the Alliance and Atos teams, as soon as you develop one counter and use it a couple times, your training partners or opponents will develop a counter to your movement. The cycle is endless because all single moves or techniques are inherently vulnerable to a specific counter technique.
What allows Roger Gracie to be so dominant, almost never losing a position even against the most elite of competition? Is it a specific move that he knows which all others seemingly do not? I could be wrong, but I do not believe this to be the case. Instead, I think we can all agree that the true skill of Jiu-Jitsu is not in one move or series of moves, but rather in movement itself, the ability to understand balance, timing, base, and other fundamental skills that allow a fighter to protect him or herself while putting their opponent in danger.
But what happens when even the best are at times stymied by a new or unique position? Should our ire fall on the position or rather on ourselves for being temporarily unable to manage it? Some would call the 50/50 a gimmick, but I would contend that it is a testament to its validity that even the world’s greatest and most dominant lightweight BJJ player has experienced some difficulties in navigating it.
To understand the best way to proceed in furthering our knowledge of the 50/50, we need only to look at the not-too-distant past. There was a time not long ago when the half guard was considered largely a defensive position. Today, though, we have Celsinho Vinicius, Lucas Leite, and others showing it to be far more. Next there was the spider guard, a clear stalling grip that made for an unpassable situation. But what about Rominho Barral’s or Michel Langhi’s aggressive and innovative use of it as a highly dangerous attacking position or Cobrinha’s or Roger Gracie’s systematic destruction of the open guards they face? The change in both the fighters’ and spectators’ perspectives on these positions did not happen over night, of course. Evolution happens everyday in athletics, particularly in a sport as young as modern competitive Jiu-Jitsu. Monumental change, though, is measured in years, not weeks or months.
The 50/50 presents a unique challenge to grapplers everywhere because the best means of navigating it would be considered unconventional at the very least when compared to standard guard passing techniques. Pressure fails to crack it and movement is limited. How then does one deal with it? I would contend that, like passing the half guard of an elite opponent, there is no magic move. Only an intimate understanding of the mechanics of the position will allow an athlete to be truly able to utilize the 50/50 effectively in both defensive and offensive capacities, as well as prevent others from stalling the fight should they attempt to. This is particularly true in a gi-less scenario where potentially injurious leg attacks are a constant danger and solid grips are hard to come by.
I have been able to utilize the 50/50 with a great deal of success for a number of years in competitions ranging from Grapplers Quest and NAGA to the ADCC Trials and ADCC itself. A deep understanding of it has allowed me to compete successfully at the elite level without the gi early on in my career in spite of giving up a considerable amount of experience and sometimes overall skill to my opponents. Also, I feel that the perspective gained from competing with such high level opposition in the formative stages of my competitive career has had a massive impact on my development both as a competitor and instructor, and that it is in large part what has allowed me to improve at a fairly rapid rate thus far. I believe that this perspective makes me uniquely qualified to help others learn about the full benefits drawbacks of the 50/50, particularly from a gi-less perspective. Additionally, I feel that I am now at a place as an instructor where I am able to articulate the details that matter most and flesh out the entire position and accompanying strategies rather than simply offer a series of moves.
Some of the world’s best black belts such as Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles, Rafael Mendes, Bruno Frazatto, and Guillherme Mendes have made considerable use of the 50/50 in elite-level gi competition, so I’ll leave it to them to cover the fine points of the position in the kimono. Without the gi, though, I can comfortably say that I have had as much or more experience and success in submission grappling with the 50/50 than anyone I am aware of. As I continue to compete in Jiu-Jitsu, submission grappling, and mixed martial arts, I plan to make the best use I am able of this dynamic and intricate position whenever it presents itself. I truly believe in the 50/50 and I hope that the DVD series that I have just released with World Martial Arts (www.groundfighter.com) will, at the least, put a shadow of doubt in the minds of the 50/50 detractors and with any kind of luck, help to spread the position to many other BJJ players, facilitating its development and growth as yet another face of the beautiful gem that is Jiu-Jitsu.
Ryan Hall Fifty/50 BJJ
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