The butterfly sweep is one of the most powerful and versatile techniques in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It allows you to quickly and efficiently take your opponent off balance and take control of the match. It is an essential move for all BJJ practitioners, from white to black belt level, as it is available from a lot of positions and is often the great equalizer when it comes to beating bigger and more experienced opponents.
Anatomy of the Butterfly Sweep
The butterfly sweep is a fundamental technique in BJJ that can be used from a seated or supine position. This technique involves using your legs to lift your opponent off the ground while maintaining control of their upper body. Once you have lifted your opponent, you can then use your body weight to sweep them to the side and take control of the match.
The butterfly sweep is a versatile technique that can be used in both gi and no gi matches. It is an effective way to take down an opponent who is standing or to sweep an opponent who is on their knees. Additionally, the butterfly sweep can be used to set up submissions, mostly in the shape of front headlock chokes and leg locks.
To sweep people with any sweep, including the butterfly sweep you need three things:
- Take a post away in the direction of sweeping
- Disrupt the top person’s balance
- Get in the top position
That said, the butterfly sweep consists of several key components: the grips, which ensure you take posts away, the butterfly hook(s), which take care of the off balancing and the sweeping motion itself which gets you on top
The grips vary based on whether you are wearing a gi or not, and whether you are only looking to sweep, or also want to set up submission in the process. I’ll cover the grips in more detail in the dedicated gi and no gi butterfly sweep step-by-step setups later in this article.
The butterfly hook is created by placing one of your feet on the inside of your opponent’s thigh, This creates a hooking motion that allows you to lift your opponent off the ground and also helps prevent them from passing the guard.
The sweeping motion is created by using your body weight to sweep your opponent to the side. The best way to approach it is to think about rotating your body 180 degrees relative to its starting position. This means your butt needs to be off the ground and preferably pointing toward the ceiling.
To do this, you need to use your arms to control your opponent’s upper body while simultaneously lifting their thigh with the butterfly hook and driving your hips in the direction you want to sweep your opponent.
The Butterfly Hook
The butterfly hook is the make-it-or-break-it concept when it comes to mastering the butterfly sweep. It allows you to create a lift which will help keep the opponent off balance and make it easier for you to control the direction and intensity of the sweep.
The role of the butterfly hook cannot be overstated, hence the importance of understanding how it works
The hook is created by flexing the foot, toes pointing towards your own shin. The placement of this foot is on the inside of the opponent’s thigh on one or both sides. It helps keep the opponent in place and offers options to easily disrupt balance for sweeping.
A key structural aspect of the butterfly hook is to remember that your ankle, your knee, and your hip must not end up in the same line while you’re hooking. If this happens, all power of the hook is lost and the top person will strip it off easily.
The goal is to keep the knee pointing outwards in relation to the position of your torso and the opponent’s hips and shoulders. This keeps the hook strong and will help you execute sweeps and submission entries without the risk of losing the butterfly, or another guard position.
Gi Butterfly Sweep Setup(s)
The gi provides a number of opportunities to set up the butterfly sweep using different grip combinations. One effective setup is to use the collar to control the opponent’s collar with one hand and their sleeve with the other hand.
The collar control should be a cross collar grip, while the sleeve grip is done with the same side arm.
Next, you will use your legs to create butterfly hooks. The hook that is going to lift the opponent is the one on the opposite side of the side you are controlling with your grips.
The sweeping motion starts with you pulling with the grips, going supine on your side, and lifting with the butterfly hook.
Finishing the butterfly sweeps requires you to turn toward the mats, using the hook to throw the opponent on the mats and dragging yourself on top of them using the grips, in order to complete the butterfly sweep.
Another effective gi setup is to use a belt grip to control your opponent’s torso. To do this, start by grabbing your opponent’s belt with one hand, and reaching over their shoulder. The other arms should control the sleeve again, like with the previous setup.
The hook placement and movement, as well as the sweeping motion, remain the same. This variation works best against kneeling opponents., given the rach demands for the belt grip.
The No Gi Butterfly Sweep
Without a Gi, gripping for a butterfly sweep is a bit trickier. To ensure you have control over the opponent, you will want to control the head and one arm directly. The best combination is to use a collar tie, which means placing your arm around the back of the opponent’s neck.
Obtaining arm control means you need to grab the triceps of the opposite side arm, just above the elbow. This will take away the post, ensuring the first conditioning for sweeping is fulfilled.
The butterfly hook(s) are set up the same, with knees pointing outwards and the hook on the side of the collar tie is the one that will cause the lift in the opponent.
The sweeping motion is once again to the side of the trapped arm, done in the exact same manner as with the gi.
A no gi grip variation that is also very useful for a butterfly sweep is to grab double underhooks by placing both arms under an opponent’s armpits and gripping a palm-to-palm grip behind their back.
This manner of upper body control provides options to sweep to either side or even better, overhead. It works only against kneeling opponents though.
Butterfly Sweep Variations and Combinations
The butterfly sweep does not have to originate in the butterfly guard. Read that again.
Inserting a butterfly hook can work from just about anywhere that makes sense. The butterfly half guard is one popular example of a hybrid butterfly guard that revolves around the use of the butterfly hook and the butterfly sweep.
The butterfly hook is also the best friend of guards like the Reverse De La Riva, the X guard, the tripod guard, etc. It works the same in each of these guards – prevents the top person from directly passing while offering easy ways to off-balance the opponent.
Another thing to consider when looking to execute a butterfly sweep is that, depending on the grips, you can turn failed sweeps into guillotine or leg lock submission entries.
Whenever the opponent’s arms are over your shoulder (like the double underhooks grip configuration) you can cause them to post over your head, making their hips light and opening up direct Ashi Garami entries on both legs simultaneously.
If their hands are below your shoulders and they attempt to post or float, the head becomes exposed and you can transition into front headlock attacks while keeping the butterfly hook(s) at all times.
Butterfly Sweep Defense
As with any other BJJ technique, there are ways for your opponent to defend against the butterfly sweep.
One common defense is for your opponent to sprawl their legs out behind them to prevent you from maintaining the butterfly hook. The weak point of this defense tactic is that it opens up the head for front headlock control and all subsequent submissions.
A smart defensive tactic is for an opponent to control the knee of your butterfly hook, aligning your ankle, knee, and hip together in order to kill the power of the hook, This is what most float passing entries do. Rotating your knees outward, or your ankles inwards (or both) is going to fix this problem, giving you back control in an instant.
Finally, a last-ditch defense option is also for your opponent to use their free hand(s) to post on the mat and prevent you from completing the butterfly sweep to the side. To counter this defense, you can use your body weight to drive your opponent in another direction, like the other side, or over your head.
Getting into leg locks when they post is also a good way to turn their defense into their downfall.
The butterfly sweep is a powerful technique that can give you the upper hand in a BJJ match. By understanding the anatomy of the sweep, the butterfly hook, and the sweeping motion, you can execute the technique with precision and efficiency. Additionally, by using the gi and no-gi setups you can play around with different variations and combinations in order to keep your opponent guessing and stay in control at all times.
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.