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50/50 Guard - Untangling the Powerful Position!

50/50 Guard - Untangling the Powerful Position!

The 50/50 guard was never considered a credible position in the BJJ world until recently. The position has gained acceptance in the jiu-jitsu curriculum despite harsh criticism. With its continuous evolution and ever-growing popularity, more athletes are adopting it as part of their central game strategy. After analyzing the position closely, athletes realized that it allows for an easy win. It reached a point where competitors used it to stall the match and earn advantage points.

Suffice to say, the 50/50 guard has seen an interesting series of events since its birth.

Whether you are a BJJ enthusiast who wants to develop his/her BJJ knowledge or a professional competitor aiming to win competitions with the 50/50 guard, this article has you covered!

Familiarize yourself with the 50/50 guard. Read on to find out how it works, its origin, its association with BJJ, and the IBJJF 50/50 guard rules.

"Despite its effectiveness and ability to line you up for a perfect submission victory, the 50/50 guard still doesn’t get the respect it deserves in some circles of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world. While it can be dangerous at times, it acts as a dangerous tool when yielded correctly."
( Dan Fagella leg lock expert in the BJJ world.)

1. What Is a 50/50 Guard?

The 50/50 (fifty-fifty) guard is a ground position in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A guard is called 50/50 when the two combatants engaged in a grappling bout become entangled with their legs locked.
In other styles of martial arts, it is a type of leg control and is commonly known as the “outside leg triangle.” In this position, the combatant on the bottom attempts a triangle on his opponent’s leg. With his arms free and the opponent’s leg under control, he can work on sweeps and submissions. The 50/50 guard of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu operates differently.

Related: Top 5 Guards for BJJ Beginners

2. The Origin of the 50/50 Guard

The 50/50 guard is not an original creation of jiu-jitsu. The position and its variations were developed by other grappling styles across the world. The existence of the BJJ 50/50 guard dates back to the 1500s. The earliest trace of this position was found in the Khetappaya Narayan Temple in India. A sculpture demonstrated the steps that would influence today’s modern 50/50 guard. Some images of the 16th century also show people fighting while using this guard. Today, it has become an essential weapon in every BJJ practitioner’s arsenal.

3. How Does BJJ 50/50 Guard Work?

The position puts both combatants on equal footing. No one has the upper hand; the opportunities are equally available and that’s why the position is d “50/50.”

Here is a lucid explanation:

“To enter the 50/50 guard, one combatant has to place one of his legs around the opponent’s leg. With their free hands, both can perform different types of attacks.”

It is widely accepted that this guard impedes an athlete’s performance in a competitive environment and is often related to stalling in BJJ tournts. From 2010 onwards, the 50/50 guard was allowed only for strategic game-play and not to advance positioning as in other guard systems.

4. Importance of the 50/50 Guard in BJJ

Importance of the 50/50 Guard in BJJ


The 50/50 guard has been an essential part of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for many decades, but it never attained the status of a legitimate guard position. The orthodox jiu-jitsu practitioners emphasized that a 50/50 guard should be used as a response to a grappling exchange. They highly discourage an athlete from building his/her game around this guard concept alone.

For example, one can use a 50/50 guard only to control the opponent and prevent him from attempting the original more legitimate guard position.

4.1 The Acceptable Use of the 50/50 Guard


In 2004, the conspicuous bout between Roger Gracie and Ronaldo Jacare at the IBJJF World Championship Open Weight Final showcased the use of the 50/50 guard. The jiu-jitsu community scrutinized the few minutes when these two athletes were entangled in a 50/50, with Gracie close to getting a sweep. The move was not criticized because it was a consequence of a grappling exchange. None of the combatants had created a 50/50 guard game plan.

However, the use of the 50/50 guard in several other competitions was widely frowned upon. It was deemed a notorious match-stalling trick that restricts the use of leg locks. The athlete on the top is unable to pass the guard, and the one on the bottom cannot perform a successful sweep. Back in the day, the hard-core BJJ athletes had little patience for this less than impressive exhibition of grappling.

4.2 The 50/50 Evolution by Mendes Brothers


A game plan based on the 50/50 guard appeared a few years later. The strategy was developed in the lower belt divisions by Rafael and Guilherme Mendes (the Mendes Brothers). From 2007 onwards, the two brothers devoted themselves to revolutionizing the traditional use of the 50/50 guard and paved the way for the modern 50/50 guard.

The style of the Mendes brothers introduced a unique element to the position. One aspect of their game that quickly gained ill-fame was the Berimbolo technique - a back attack that resembled a scramble.

This Berimbolo scramble changed into the 50/50 leg entanglement. Rafa Gui and their teammates at Atos Jiu-Jitsu, including Bruno Frazatto and Ary Faria, used the opportunity to bring this forgotten position back into the game. As a result, they studied the position thoroughly and managed to create moves, ranging from sweeps to back attacks, from the 50/50 system.

4.3 The 50/50 Guard BJJ Controversy


In the late 2000s, the evolved 50/50 guard - introduced by the Atos team - was disregarded by a major chunk of the jiu-jitsu community. The 2009 World Championship featherweight black belt semi-final bout fuelled the dismissal of this technique. Rafael Mendes and Rubens Charles, the two contestants of this match remained stuck in the 50/50 position for nine minutes and 30 seconds attempting futile sweeps and toeholds.

This match set a precedent that countless others blindly followed whenever similar circumstances appeared.

The objectors explained that combatants found in the middle of a 50/50 guard are unable to make any progress in the match as the position prevents freedom of movement. Moreover, it keeps a contestant from reaching his ultimate goal - a fight-ending submission.

In order to win, the grapplers battled for advantage points. Since both athletes get equal opportunities to sweep, many resorts to faking a sweep to gain scores and run the clock down.

The two-time ADCC champion, Xande Ribeiro, openly voiced his disapproval of the exaggerated use of 50/50 guard in competitions. In an interview with Tatame Magazine, he criticized the excess time spent on 50/50 guard in these words:

“You take what you want of Jiu-Jitsu. Some people tie the entire fight and only rise at the end o get points to win. The Federation is reluctant to punish athletes who exaggerate in the 50/50. You have to reward a sweep, a pass, something that I built and honed by the sweat of my workout. The problem is 50/50. It looks like two idiots on a see-saw. Paulo Miyao and Keenan Cornelius are two exceptional athletes who were in a match, more than seven minutes n 50/50 and in the end, went up to try to make points. I think that’s devaluing our sport.”
(Xande Ribeiro)

Many other big s of the sport, including Carlos Holanda, Fabio Gurgel, and Rodolfo Vieira, spoke against the way competitors were using the technique to slow down the match.

4.4 The Resurgence of 50/50 Guard


The Resurgence of 50/50 Guard

Ryan Hall then took it upon himself to revolutionize the position. He proved the benefits and efficiency of a 50/50 guard in his BJJ and MMA combats.

Other athletes gained inspiration from Hall and incorporated the 50/50 guard into their game. This attracted much criticism, but eventually, the 50/50 guard became a part of the BJJ curriculum. The inclusion in the curriculum marked the acceptance of this position in the jiu-jitsu community. This development urged top jiu-jitsu athletes to follow in the footsteps of the Mendes Brothers. They studied the position and associated it with different techniques including the Botinha, leg drag guard pass, armbar submission, and lapel guard.

Right now, the pro-MMA fighter Ryan Hall is considered to be the mastermind behind the 50/50 guard position. He also d his academy based on the position. The establishment is called Ryan Hall’s 50/50 Martial Arts Academy.

5. IBJJF Rules for 50/50 Guard

It is well-established that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a dynamic sport that underwent many changes over the decades. In the 50/50 guard’s case, the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) issued new changes to its rule-set to tackle the notorious scoring manipulations and misuse of this position.

In 2015, the IBJJF revised the rule and banned advantages from being scored for an incomplete sweep attempt. According to the new IBJJF 50/50 guard rule, the contestants were bound to display a more fluid game with little “stagnant periods”. Moreover, the fighters who stall and win on advantage will be penalized.

6. How to Perform a 50/50 Guard?

For many practitioners, a 50/50 guard position is a natural part of jiu-jitsu. If you don’t engage with this position on purpose, then you may enter into this leg-entanglement by chance.

6.1. 50/50 Guard Setup



To understand the 50/50 guard attack, it is important to gain control over the knee of your opponent’s trapped leg. Whoever dominates the knee in 50/50 has the upper hand. This simple strategy can immobilize the opponent or leave you vulnerable to his moves.
Here’s how you can control the knee to avail submissions and other offensive opportunities.

Basic 50/50 Guard


  1. Sit down on the mat with your legs splayed out.
  2. The primary step is to interlace your right leg with your opponent’s right leg. (For ease, we may refer to the entangled right leg as the 50/50 leg).
  3. For this, put your leg over his hip. And let him put his leg over your hip.
  4. With your legs entangled, you have achieved the basic 50/50 guard.

50/50 Guard Sweep Setup



  1. Once you have achieved the basic 50/50 guard, your opponent will try to pull you to the other side.
  2. To maintain your position, hold the knee of his entangled leg (right leg in this case) with your right hand and pull it in tightly.
  3. It will be a two-fold grip. With your hand pulling him in and your elbow clamping down, you will trap him in and keep him from going over to the other side.
  4. Simultaneously, lower your opponent’s knee by turning your 50/50 leg inward - your thigh goes in and your 50/50 foot extends out.
  5. To fight from a position of strength, get up to the top. You have just achieved the 50/50 guard sweep.

6.2. 50/50 Guard Defense


Basic 50/50 Heel Hook Defense


  1. When you are in a basic 50/50 position if your entangled leg is left dangling your opponent can heel hook you.
  2. For this, you need to protect your leg by crossing your other leg. Your left calf will come over the upper side of your right foot. (Your opponent is likely to do the same as a heel hook defense).
  3. Therefore, a typical 50/50 guard position is incomplete without a heel hook defense. From here you can play a 50/50 positional position or a 50/50 submission position.

Basic Sweep Defense



As mentioned above, scoring sweep points is all about maintaining the top position. However, the inherent nature of 50/50 poses a threat here. It is possible for your opponent to attempt a reversal on you.
Follow the steps to deal with this problem.

  1. If you are sitting straight, leaning toward your opponent, he can move you down and get on the top. And if he is leaning toward you, the same can be repeated.
  2. To prevent this, make sure that your body is angled in such a way that you are facing outside and not straight.
  3. Your opponent might try to get you down, but with your 50/50 knee pointing out, he might not succeed.
  4. Cup your opponent’s knee and hide your heel to prevent leg locks.
  5. To start an attack, it is better to start from the top position. Do not forget to lean at a favorable angle (pointing outward) or you may get reversed.

6.3. 50/50 Guard Attack (Submission)


The advantage of the 50/50 position is not confined to only sweep points. On the other hand, you can also perform submissions from this position. For instance, you can execute an armbar, a straight ankle lock, or a toe hold.
Let’s learn to apply these common 50/50 submissions.

Armbar from 50/50 Guard



Let’s look at the armbar submission from a 50/50 guard.

  1. Get into the 50/50 guard by entangling your 50/50 leg (in this case, your right leg) again. If you are in a competitive environment, then it is better to add the heel hook defense to your position. Otherwise, don’t cross the other leg over your 50/50 foot.
  2. Now add gi grips to the right arm. Grab your opponent’s collar with your right hand and his sleeve with your left hand.
  3. Place your 50/50 foot on your opponent’s belly.
  4. To enter the armbar, pull him in, bend him around and bring your other leg over.
  5. Your opponent’s 50/50 leg will be trapped between your legs and his right arm will be straight.
  6. Squeeze your knees tight because the opponent’s leg is in the way. Apply pressure on his right hand to finish your armbar.

Tips

The 50/50 guard armbar position can also invite a valid cross-choke. If someone tries to cross choke you, you can still dominate them with an armbar.

Straight Ankle Lock from 50/50 Guard



Let’s look at the straight ankle lock (a foot lock) submission from a 50/50 guard.

  1. Get into a 50/50 guard position with your opponent.
  2. Before he applies the heel hook defense, grab his 50/50 ankle (right leg) with your arm. His ankle should be trapped between your elbow joint and underarm.
  3. Now fall towards your other side away from the opponent. (If your right leg is in 50/50 guard, fall towards the left. And if the left leg is in a 50/50 guard, turn towards your right.)
  4. Once you are on your side, scoot in and place your feet on your opponent’s ribs. This single move is similar to a typical ashi garami but far more powerful.
  5. Your opponent’s 50/50 leg will get trapped between your legs.
  6. Squeeze your legs tight, maintain control of the ankle and finish the straight ankle lock in an ashi garami position.

Tips

  1. To perform the straight lock ankle bar from a 50/50 guard, you will be facing away from your opponent. He might mimic your position and turn to face your back.
  2. In this case, rollover. Get on your knees and your free hand. Your back should be up and belly down. Hold tightly on the 50/50 ankle.
  3. As you arch your back to move to the other side, bring your arm - the one holding the 50/50 ankle with you. Don’t let your arm go down or you will lose control.
  4. Finish the straight ankle lock from a belly-down position.

Toe Hold from 50/50 Guard



Let’s look at the toe hold submission from a 50/50 guard.

  1. Get into a 50/50 guard position with your opponent.
  2. Before he applies the heel hook defense, grab his 50/50 ankle (right leg) with your arm. His ankle will get trapped between your elbow joint and underarm.
  3. At this point, your opponent may attack and grab your gi. So add your left arm to the mix
  4. Bring your left hand from below the opponent’s shinbone and continue to clamp down with your elbow.
  5. It may seem like a simple foot lock technique. However, the key to converting it into a toehold is to rotate your dominating arm inward.
  6. Finish the submission in the 50/50 position or drop to the side and finish using the same leg mechanics as described earlier.

6.4. 50/50 Guard Pass & Escape


Standing 50/50 Guard Pass



To pass the 50/50 guard, get on top again with your knee pointing out just like you do in a 50 /50 sweep position). Now stand up, using your hands for support. Bend forward to maintain balance. Make sure that your 50/50 knee is jutted outward. If you turn your knee in, it will break your structure and your opponent will pull you down.
Moreover, stand with your legs apart so that they are out of your opponent’s reach. If you have a short stature then grab your opponent's gi (sleeve) to keep him from attacking your other leg. Now put your hand underneath your opponent’s left ankle and push up. The only option available to your opponent is to hook his 50/50 leg to your rib and retain the guard.
Keep controlling his ankle and with your free leg step back to unwind the 50/50 position. With your other hand, grab your opponent’s 50/50 ankle to open the guard and disengage from the position.

Related: Top 5 Guard Passes in BJJ That You Should Know

Pass with Double Outside Ashi Garami


In case you want to try the 50/50 guard in a seated position, move your 50/50 leg to the other side of your opponent’s torso. This move will put your opponent into a double outside ashi garami. We have used this position above to apply for submissions. The same position makes it easier to get on top and gain control.

7. Is 50/50 Guard Dangerous?

The 50/50 guard is usually not very harsh on knee joints considering there is a lot of flexibility. However, the BJJ beginners may experience a strain if they sweep too hard. Moreover, the joint locks added to the position to control or submit the opponent may cause muscle and tendon damage, torn ligaments, and dislocated joints.

8. Takeaway

The 50/50 guard is a great way to enhance your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills. The position adds versatility to a practitioner’s leglock game, helps to score points, and is equally effective in gi and no-gi environments. Though common, it is a technical guard and demands consistent practice. Next time you get on the mats, try this technique on your opponent and see if you win the bout.

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