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Unlocking the Enigma: The 50/50 Position in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), known for its dynamic and ever-evolving nature, introduces practitioners to a myriad of positions, each with its own strategic advantages and challenges. Among these, 50/50 stands out as an enigmatic and often debated position. In this article, we will explore the intricacies of 50/50, its origins, applications, and the strategic chess match that unfolds within its unique framework.


BJJ 50/50 double seated position
50/50 double seated position

Understanding the Basics of 50/50

The 50/50 position is a symmetrical leg entanglement where both practitioners' legs are intertwined, forming a neutral and balanced structure. In this position, each person has one leg between the legs of the other. When the foot of the inside leg of each person is poking out to the nearside hip of the opponent, that position is defined as 50/50. If the foot position for the inside leg of either athlete is anywhere else, the position would no longer be considered 50/50.


In the 50/50 position, at least one person is seated. That means both athletes can be seated, or one person can be standing or kneeling. If one person is standing or kneeling, he is considered to have the top position in 50/50 while the seated person has the 50/50 guard. A 50/50 sweep occurs when the person with the 50/50 guard causes the person in the top position to fall and then immediately gets up onto his knees or feet to reverse the roles.


Controversial Position

In general, once the athletes get into the 50/50 position, it is difficult for either to exit if at least one person thinks he can exit with a slight advantange over the other. When both athletes are well-versed in the position, it is not difficult to foil the 50/50 escape of the other. It is also not difficult to defend the submission attempts of the other.


The position is notorious for creating a strategic stalemate. It demands patience, as both practitioners seek an opportunity to capitalize on their opponent's movements. Grips, weight distribution, and timing play crucial roles in gaining control and setting up successful attacks.


double seated 50/50 guard bjj
Equal opportunities from 50/50

Because the 50/50 position can stall a BJJ match for quite some time, many observers consider it boring to watch. You will often hear the tournament audience utter sounds of disappointment when the competitors of a black belt match enter the 50/50 position. Many BJJ athletes will tell you they abhor the position and will avoid getting into it.


On the other hand, athletes who find opporunity to eek out an advantange from the position will likely tell you it's a game within a game. The position allows the grappling community to continue creating strategies based on it. The rising popularity of the leg locks over the past decade has induced a much broader dimension to the strategies that can be derived. The more you know about the position, and the more strategies you've developed for it, the higher the chance you will gain an advantage over your opponent.


Origins and Evolution

The 50/50 guard position in BJJ began to gain prominence in tournament matches during the mid-2000s. While it's challenging to pinpoint an exact date, the position's rise coincided with the evolution of leg lock strategies and the exploration of new guard variations in the BJJ competitive landscape.


One of the early practitioners associated with popularizing the 50/50 guard is Ryan Hall, an accomplished BJJ black belt and mixed martial artist. Hall's innovative approach to leg locks and guard play, including the 50/50 guard, started to make waves in the mid-2000s. His success with these techniques garnered attention within the BJJ community, and other practitioners began to incorporate the 50/50 guard into their arsenal.


Today, the 50/50 guard has become a strategic battleground, where skilled practitioners navigate the complexities to gain an advantage over their opponents.


Offensive and Defensive Applications


Leg Lock Opportunities

The 50/50 position provides ample opportunities for both attackers and defenders to explore leg lock submissions, especially in a no-gi match where there are fewer chances of upper body control. All leg lock experts will have in-depth knowledge of the 50/50 position as it provides a platform for submissions such as ankle locks, heel hooks, toe holds, and knee bars.


The most basic defense against leg locks while in 50/50 is to simply cross your feet. Although an effective defense that you can apply immediately, crossing the feet alone does little to stop a strategy for separating your feet to set up subsequent leg attacks. It also slows down your 50/50 escape by preventing your hips from turning. For this reason, practitioners of the leg lock game must be proficient in both attacking and defending against leg locks from within the 50/50 position.


Inside heel hook from 50/50 nogi grappling
Inside heel hook from 50/50

Sweeping Techniques

While in the 50/50 guard, sweep variations become key offensive tools. By off-balancing the opponent, a practitioner can create openings for sweeps that can lead to a dominant position or secure points in a tournament setting.


The basic 50/50 sweep is facilitated by turning your hips and knees to the outside to buckle the knee of the top person so that they fall backwards. After getting the top person to fall over, you complete the sweep by getting up into the standing or kneeling position. The unremarkable thing about the basic sweep is that the opponent can easily do the exact same sweep on you because your legs are entangled in a way that makes it difficult escape the position immediately after the sweep.


Some competitors use the basic 50/50 sweep as part of their strategy to accrue points towards the end of the match. Some adjust the basic sweep with grips and use of the free leg to exit 50/50 immediately after the sweep and set up a guard pass.


basic 50/50 top and bottom position
Completing the basic 50/50 sweep

Back Takes

Taking the back from the crab ride position (when you have both feet hooked behind the opponent's knees) is a common attack from 50/50. You can get into the crab ride when the person in the top position stands up or gets up onto one knee, giving the bottom player room to hook his free foot onto the opponent's far thigh from the back side. That same hook then becomes one half of the crab ride position, so all you would need to get to the back is to angle your hips behind his hips by slipping your inside knee behind his inside knee.


crab ride entry from 50/50 bottom
Getting the first crab ride hook from 50/50

bjj crab ride to backtake from standing
Getting both hooks in the Crab Ride

However, as with all attacks and escapes from 50/50, freeing your inside knee is a lot easier said than done when your opponent knows what you're doing. All he has to do to thwart your back take is to hold on tightly to your inside knee so that you cannot slip it behind his knee. And here we are again, stuck in 50/50! You're going to have to find ways to distract him long enough to free your inside knee to get to his back.


Conclusion

The 50/50 guard is a position that epitomizes the intricate and strategic nature of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Whether seen as a defensive puzzle or an offensive opportunity, its complexity challenges practitioners to delve into the nuances of leg entanglements and strategic maneuvering. As BJJ continues to evolve, so too will the understanding and applications of the 50/50 position, making it a fascinating aspect of the art for both competitors and enthusiasts alike.


For more techniques, check out videos on the 50/50 position on my instructional channel.



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