When and When Not to Over/Under Hook in BJJ

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Have you ever found yourself passing guard only to end up with your back taken? Have you tapped from a guillotine when you were absolutely positive you had the upper hand? I sure know I have. Let me ask you another question, are you aware of your arms specific purpose in each position? If not, you’re 100% playing yourself into your opponent’s game and you need to start assessing both your over and under hook controls.

The over hook and under hook are extremely useful assets for controlling pace and position. All grapplers, even inexperienced ones, will instinctively seek to gain some sort of under or over hook control to take charge of a position, directing the flow to their desired endgame - just like the driver takes control of a steering wheel to direct a car to their destination. In the event of a scramble, and depending on the position, it’s usually the first person to secure one of these controls that will dominate and advance.

For this reason, the over and under hooks are definitely considered essential assets for success. Unfortunately, it’s also true that our greatest assets often double as our greatest liabilities.

To explain this idea a little better let’s take a look at this example:

A fisherman casts his line into the water hoping to catch a fish on his hook. If the fisherman is experienced and has knowledge of the waters, and the fish that inhabit them, all things being equal there’s little chance he will face trouble using the hook.
Though, in another situation, if a fisherman is not experienced and has not spent time researching the foreign shark infested waters where he has chosen fish, there’s a chance he could hook the hide of a powerful and deadly shark possessing the strength to pull him in the water. Just like a poorly placed under hook, the tables will turn as the fisherman, now the prey, is attached to a superior hunter.


Now, which fisherman best describes your knowledge of under and over hooks?

Knowing when to use your hooks can be the difference between success, or a shark taking your limbs.

For those of you who need help in this area, I have prepared a list of basic situations detailing the potential consequences, and advantages, of appropriate or misplaced hooks.

Part 1: Disclaimer for Keyboard warriors and “What if” Nazis

As hundreds of new concepts, techniques, tricks and traps are created each day, there’s never really an absolute concept or rule for each position.

This guide is for those looking to gain a basic understanding of the positions and what to expect. More advanced players will have tweaks and tricks to each position that may differ from the concepts in this guide.

Keeping this in mind, we need to then look at these concepts by their percentage of probability. If 99 people find success with a certain concept, but one person has discovered a secret counter, the concept should still be considered a viable practice, just never an absolute.

Please, keep this in mind when reading and practicing these ideas. If you become one of the 1% who creates a new counter, congratulations – you’re on an early path to your black belt.


Part 2: Under Hook Position Concepts

Half Guard Bottom

half guard bottom

As a general rule, gaining the under hook on your opponent from the bottom half guard position should be your first point of call.



The risks of not under hooking in this position include:

Under Hook Flat Shoulders


You are at risk of having your shoulders pinned flat to the mat.



unde hook head arm


Susceptible to being smashed by the head arm control




The benefits of the under hook in this position include:


sweep back take


Provides an opportunity to take the back and is the initial control for many sweeps



re under hook


Side note - Head position is key. You must have your ear flush to your opponent’s body to avoid having your head pushed and counter under hooked.



Passing with the Knee Slice

This tip should be viewed in opposition to the previous concept.


The risks of not under hooking in this position include:



No under hook opens a path to your back



Benefits of the under hook in the knee slice pass:




Can flatten opponent’s shoulders





Can secure the head arm control





The Omoplata


Many beginners make the mistake of securing their opponent's leg with an over hook to prevent a rolling escape.




In reality, they only place themselves in danger by opening the path to a position I call the Double Ying Yang 69 Omoplata.




Better control options:



Over the back





Over both the legs




Deep Half Bottom

The general rule of thumb for safety in the deep half guard involves placing your inside arm under your opponents stretched leg to prevent kimura attacks.


Butterfly Guard Top





Double under hooks work well when standing, but are costly when trying to pass the butterfly guard. Aim to at least pass to the half guard, or side control, before committing your arms in this position. 

In the butterfly guard, your opponent has the ability to stretch you out with their legs and trap your under hooks with their arms. 


Being stretched out reduces the strength of your base and makes you susceptible to sweeps.




Closed Guard Top

This is definitely a common fault for beginners that needs to be tackled early. 

When trying to pass the closed guard, more attention should be placed on the opponent’s arms, hips and legs in order to open the lock.


Far too often beginners will grab their opponent’s head either out of frustration, fatigue or from a lack of experience.



This only leads to arm locks and further frustration.




Side note - There is a pass from the full guard that uses an under hook, though, I know less than a handful of people that have success with it. With this in mind I’d rather show you the safest high percentage options.


Smash Passing



Reaching too early to secure an over hook on the shoulder before clearing the hips can present your opponent with an early Christmas present.




To avoid gift wrapping a straight arm bar for your opponent, work to pass in increments and never over commit your arm to an over hook.


Side Control Top

Over hooks and under hooks have different advantages once the guard has been passed and you can utilise them to suit your goal.



Over hook the shoulder to pin and control




Under hook when you want to turn your opponent and take the back (Added tip - move their far elbow in towards their body to stop it blocking the turn)




After Class Drinks at the Bar




Over hook, Ok.










Under hook, never.







There are many more positions and concepts relating to the over and under hook that haven’t been mentioned in this article. Though, I hope the information in this list will help you recognise them in the future.

If you have any more positions related to these concepts, please feel free to comment below. I do read each of them and would love to know what you have to add.

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