1 Jan 2016

DVD Review: Fifty/50 Guard by Ryan Hall

Although released back in 2009, this DVD set is still the most in depth, authoritative instructional on the 50/50 guard on the market today. Although most of the techniques assume that the heel hook as the submission of choice, there is still plenty of important content for those who wish to gain a deeper understanding of the 50/50 regardless of the finish.

Available as a 3-disc DVD box set from Groundfighter.com website.
Price: $124.99
Chapters: 60
Total time span: 4 hours 3 mins
Published in 2009

I don't know who invented the 50/50 guard (also written Fifty/50) but given that he uses it a lot and has named his academy 50/50 I think it's reasonably safe to assume that Ryan Hall is one of the leading exponents of this position.

In Ryan's own blog article he name-checks a number of other elite players who use 50/50:

"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."

Very briefly, the 50/50 is a leg entanglement position that places both players at an exactly equal and neutral position to one another. In the opening chapter of this DVD, Ryan explains that although it is a neutral position, this means the person with the higher 50/50 skill level has a higher percentage chance of winning than the opponent with less skill and knowledge of the 50/50.

The 50/50 guard has featured not only in BJJ gi and nogi matches but also in MMA fights too. Most recently, Ryan Hall himself successfully utilised his rolling 50/50 guard to heel hook attack (he refers to it as the Ashikan Judan, or Imanari Roll, in the most recent series of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), a season he eventually won. Other notable MMA fighters who have used 50/50 to devastating effect include Rousimar 'Toquinho' Palhares and Marcin Held. In fact one of Ryan's techniques shown in the DVD set is named after 'Toquinho'.

You can see a perfectly executed Imanari roll to heel hook in the Youtube video below (from the guy wearing the cool Honey Badger rashguard, yay!):


There are many arguments both for and against the use of 50/50 guard in jiu jitsu. Those against its use suggest that it is a stalling position and only useful for cheap advantages or points and not much use for attacking. In the opening chapter of this DVD set Ryan sets out a convincing argument in favour of its use by highlighting the tactical advantage as well as the many submissions, sweeps and passes that could become available - as long as you understand the position. Ryan emphasises strongly, that the 50/50 is a skill based position and the person with the most skill using 50/50 will win.

A screenrgrab from disc 1 Ryan showing the heel hook

Disc one contents:
1. 50/50 Fundamentals
2. Proper Limb Positioning
3. Controlling The Trapped Knee
4. Foot Fighting For Protection
5. Hand Fighting For Protection and Flow Drill
6. Splitting The Opponent's Crossed Feet
7. Defeating The Deep Triangle
8. Hand Fighting In The Split
9. Finishing The 50/50 Heel Hook
10. Alternative Heel Hook Grip #1: The Kimura
11. Alternative Heel Hook Grip #2: The Mata Leao
12. Forcing A Bend In The Leg
13. Alternative Finish #1: The Off-Leg Heel Hook
14. Alternative Finish #2: The Texas Clover Leaf
15. Alternative Finish #3: The Off-Leg Toe Hold
16. Alternative Finish #4: The Brabo Choke
17. Situation #1: Opponent Pressures Aggressively
18. Situation #2: Defeating The Can Opener Neck Crank
19. Situation #3: Opponent Stands
20. Situation #4: The 50/50 Reset

For 50/50 newbies, the opening chapters on this disc is vital viewing. Even for more experienced players, Ryan provides a very convincing argument for incoorporating 50/50 into ones game. In this entire set, you'll need to accept that Ryan likes to finish his 50/50 techniques with the heel hook. This is great if you train for heel hooks, not so immediately relevant if you only train IBJJF and other rule sets where heel hooks are banned. But the whole set is worth hanging in there because heel hooks are not necessarily the point of the set - much more important are the fundamental mechanics of the position, the control available and the tactical advantage with using it. It's obvious why heel hooks are so prevalent when using 50/50 - they just present themsleves as the most obvious submission available. There are of course various other submissions available and on disc one, Ryan shows the Texas Clover leaf (looks like a heel hook but is actually a straight ankle attack) and the off-leg toe hold.

Texas Clover Leaf - a straight ankle lock variation
Disc one finishes with a variety of ways to handle certain 'what if' scenarios. What if the opponent stands up? What if the opponent attempts a neck crank? Etc.
Viewing the entirety of disc 1 already provides the viewer with enough information to realise that the 50/50 is a powerful position that offers a lot of control.


Disc one sets out to present a convincing argument FOR the use of the 50/50 guard. Disc two concentrates on how to GET there. Most of the opportunities to secure 50/50 stem from leg attack attempts or guard passing attempts. Non heel hooking viewers will enjoy this disc as it shows a lot more IBJJF legal submissions that transition into 50/50 (straight ankle lock, knee bar etc).

Disc two contents:
1. Transition #1: Straight Ankle Lock To 50/50
2. Transition #2: Reverse Heel Hook To 50/50
3. Transition #3: Kneebar To 50/50
4. Transition #4: Calf Slice To 50/50
5. Skill Drill #1: Seated Straight Ankle Leg Switch
6. Skill Drill #2: Standing Straight Ankle Leg Switch
7. Skill Drill #3: Reverse Heel Hook to 50/50 Flow
8. Deep Half Guard: Thread The Needle To 50/50
9. Deep Half Guard: Backdoor Spin to 50/50
10. Deep Half Guard: Waiter Sweep to 50/50
11. X-Guard: Near Side
12. X-Guard: Far Leg Scissor
13. Sitting Guard: 360° Granby On Kneeling Opponent
14. Sitting Guard: Armdrag to 360° Granby On Standing Opponent
15. Standing Footlock to 50/50
16. Knee Slice Pass: Kneebar Bypass To 50/50
17. Knee Slice Pass: Reverse Heel Hook To 50/50
18. Leg Drag Pass: Direct 50/50 Entry
19. 50/50 Defense To Kneebar Attack
20. Standing: Ashikan Judan
21. Standing: Toquinho
22. Situation #1: Defending The Bull Fighter Pass
23. Situation #2: Defending The Knee Slice Pass

A Ryan Hall DVD would not be complete without a few crazy spinny-upside-downy techniques and there are plenty on display throughout the set, but Chapter 20 - the one titled Ashikan Judan, but more popularly known among grapplers as the Imanari Roll , is THE best show off technique of the lot. It's the one Ryan himself used during TUF and if you watched the series you would have seen how easy it was for him to take down several of his opponent's by surprise and finish with a heel hook.

It's not all party games - Ryan finishes off Disc two with a couple of examples where 50/50 is used to prevent the opponent completing his guard pass.


In many multiple disc box set instructionals, the material towards the end can get a bit thin and less useful, but NOT with this set. I actually found the opening chapters of disc three to be the most useful  of all to me - the way that legs become entangled in 50/50 can get very fiddly to deal with, these chapters offer the viewer a whole bunch of very important methods to extract the legs, pass the guard and take a more dominant position. Imagine this - you the 50/50 guard player by now will have options to submit, sweep and pass from here - all part of the skill based game that Ryan Hall discussed in the opening chapter of Disc One.

Disc three contents:
1. Passing: Leg Retraction
2. Passing: Step-Over
3. Passing: Step-Over To Mount
4. Passing: Step-Over To The Back
5. Disentangling: Stand Out To Open Guard Top
6. Disentangling: Stand Out To Pass
7. De La Riva Guard: Granby To Far Leg 50/50
8. Inverted Guard: Kneebar Bypass To 50/50
9. Inverted Guard: Outside Leg Lasso
10. Inverted Guard: Salvaging A Missed Attack
11. Inverted Guard: Calf Slice To 50/50 Off Opponent's Defense
12. Back Attack to 50/50
13. X-Guard Top To 50/50
14. Oma Plata To 50/50
15. Sitting Guard: Leg Drag To 50/50
16. Open Guard: Frazatto
17. Advanced Heel Hook Finishing

The middle portion of Disc 3 is where viewers may require more familiarity with the inverted guard. I recommend viewing his Inverted Guard instructional. It's not a hard position to use or get in to, but for newcomers, might require a bit of practice.

I really enjoyed this set and, like many others before it, enjoyed how well Ryan breaks down jiu jitsu into mechanical concepts that are easy to understand and remember. Many of the techniques rely on the assumption that heel hooks are the first choice submission (heel hooks are banned in most jiu jitsu competitions). On the surface that might appear to be a problem for those who only compete using IBJJF rules, however watching the entire disc gives the viewer a deeper understanding of 50/50 from a tactical perspective. One can also cherry pick the legal submissions within the set (straight ankle lock, clover leaf lock etc) and adapt as necessary but for me, the best portions of the set were the chapters on 50/50 guard passing. The ability to untangle from the 50/50 and move into a dominant position is a pretty cool skill to have.

For jiujitsu and MMA fighters looking to understand the 50/50 in great depth, this set is unbeatable. For those not interested in finishing with heel hooks, I would say that this set provides an important base with which to learn 50/50 position but it is also worth adding 'legal' submissions into the mix - for example, the Keenan Cornelius 50/50 armbar, or the belly down straight ankle lock, or the opposite arm straight armlock (9 mins in) and many many more you can happily find on Youtube or other instructional sets (for example I really recommend the Roli Delgado legal leg lock set as it has an excellent chapter on the 50/50).

Final Thoughts
For your viewing amusement, take a look at this humdinger of a match showing Ryan Hall vs Ramon Flores. See how Ryan transitions into the 50/50 from half guard to inverted guard, and then uses it to control Flores before ultimately closing the match with a heel hook. But just prior to the finish, look at how Ryan defends a heel hook attempt made by Flores by straightening his own feet while still crossed together. It's a perfect example of the 50/50 as a position of control and attack in nogi grappling where heel hooks are allowed.



About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.



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