The 50/50 guard is one of those guards in BJJ that seems to work like a charm for a while, and just when everyone thinks it is going to solve a bunch of guard-related issues, somebody figures out a way to kill it off, and it is back to the drawing board for all 50/50 enthusiasts. Well, what if I told you there was another way to approach it?
The Mathematics of the 50/50 Guard
During my early purple belt days, I decided to take the 50/50 guard for a spin and spend some time researching it. After months of work, I figured out two things.
The first was that I liked to learn leg locks far more than I wanted to learn the 50/50 guard. This was an important notion, seeing as I discovered the true power of leg locks by doing them from the 50/50.
The second revelation was that I did not particularly enjoy being in a position that allowed my opponent to have the exact same options as me. Why be in a50/50 position with someone when I would much rather be in a 100/0 one for myself?
I abandoned the guard for a while, sporadically using it as an Ashi Garami position to finish heel hooks, until I figured out a different way to approach the math problem: the 50/50 guard in BJJ.
Namely, I figured out that I should look for an 80/20, or at least 70/30, position out of the 50/50 to ensure I have a positional advantage over an opponent.
I managed to achieve this in two ways. The first one was withdrawing one of my legs so that my knee was almost clearing the opponent’s knee line while keeping theirs inside using different grips.
The other was making sure that my feet were on the bottom and the opponent’s feet were on the top in areas where I couldn’t get to wiggle the knee out as much as I liked.
After a long time of studying the likes of John Danaher, Ryan Hall, Lachlan Giles, Josh Hayden, Robert Degle, and others, I managed to figure out how to connect several different aspects of the 50/50 into a coherent and precise game, making my opponent think we have equal chances along the way, while I constantly have the mathematical advantage (70/30 or 80/20).
The “Ashi Garami Guard”
Let me put things in perspective by issuing the following claim: “Every solidly set up Ashi Garami is effectively a guard position for the person holding it”.
That said, some guards we often use in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can double as both guards and Ashi Garami positions, becoming the perfect hubs for connecting the two aspects of grappling together.
You probably immediately thought about the Single Leg X Guard as one of these positions. Well, you were right… kind of. The Single Leg X Guard only works as a guard if the opponent is standing and an Ashi Garami if the opponent is seated.
The 50/50 guard, on the other hand, is both a guard and an Ashi Garami position when seated, standing, or even when an opponent is trying to break loose.
The 80/20 principle of having your feet on the ground and the opponent’s feet towards the ceiling in the 50/50 guard means that your legs are safe from leg locks while the opponent’s are exposed.
Digging mechanics are easy, and there are plenty of quality submissions available, from a straight ankle lock, through the Texas cloverleaf to a brutal inside heel hook.
The real leg-locking gem from the position came in the form of the backside 50/50, first seen in Ryan hall’s UFC performances and later popularized by Lachlan Giles’ giant slaying escapades in the 2019 ADCC absolute.
The backside 50/50 Ashi Garami works when opponents turn belly down to try and pull the leg out from the guard. All you need is to follow them, looking to go belly down yourself so that you prevent all backsep escapes. Finishing from there is effortless.
Solving the Perpetual Sweeping Issue From The 50/50
When the 50/50 guard became somewhat of a mainstream thing in the Gi in the 2010s, Caio Terra, the Mendes brothers, and the Miyao brothers used it to terrorize people in the Gi, both by taking the back from the 50/50 and by stalling for time.
What quickly became painfully apparent was that people in the 50/50 guard, when seated and symmetrical, have the same chance of executing whatever they are looking for. In the case of sweeps, this became an endless swing with luck and the timer eventually deciding who managed to be the last person to get on top.
The IBJJF revised the rules since, in an attempt to stop the mindless points accumulation from there. In order to get sweep points now, you will need to disengage from the 50/50 guard once on top. In other words. You can swing up and down as much as you want, but you’ll only accumulate advantages rather than points.
Once again, the key to successful sweeping is breathing the math problem and transforming the 50/50 situation into an 80/20 advantage for yourself. When sweeping, I like the knee to be deep in the side, so that leaves the tilt-to-the-side method, aiming to trap the opponent’s feet on the mat.
From there, you can use any sweep you want, from scissor sweeps to simply sitting up. The crucial thing is to remember that once you sit up, which is very easy from the 80/20 position, you need to turn your body sideways, facing away from your opponent.
This will kill off the angle that would otherwise allow them to get you back on the ground and into the endless 50/50 sweep loop. Once there, you can focus on dismantling the 50/50 guard and passing the legs.
Dealing With The 50/50 Guard
The 50/50 is not an easy guard to ass because it falls within the category of close-range guards. These are guards that place the bottom person’s hips underneath the top person’s hips, making it very easy for the guard player to affect balance.
Let’s build on from the sweep tactics to see how to keep the mathematical advantage and not fall back into the 50/50 rabbit hole.
As long as you keep facing away from the opponent, you will prevent them from bringing you back down. Remember that facing completely away from them will expose you to the backside 50/50 heel hook.
The ideal position is to keep your torso facing at a 90-degree angle in relation to your opponent’s torso. It is all about the knee of the trapped leg, and having it point to the side rather than toward your opponent.
Once there, you untangle their legs, trying to force the opponent’s knees towards their chest by grabbing behind their ankles and pushing their heels towards tehri face. You can use any passing sequence you liek once you push one of their legs towards their face.
Putting it All Together
The best way to approach playing the 50/50 guard in Jiu Jitsu is to constantly threaten the opponent with one of the three aspects outlined above.
When you know that you need to turn things to your advantage while still having your opponent think they’re in a 50/50 position, you can do anything you want as long as you do it in a direction that makes sense.
For example, you look straight for the pass from a successful sweep, but if brought down, you don’t engage in endless looping exchanges, but rather switch gears and attack leg locks, which will lead to either a tap or an option for you to get back up and this time finish the pass.
The 50/50 guard is still a position that leaves a lot to be discovered. Things like the leg-in triangle choke from the 50/50 or direct back take using lapels and inversions are still out there, but they need to fit into a system that gives you the advantage rather than a position where luck decides who gets away with the points.
Use the mathematical approach the next time you engage in a 50/50 battle, and you’ll never go back to sharing the options with an opponent.
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.