Years ago, before I trained in BJJ, I was an avid UFC fan. I used to religiously watch “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show in it’s first few seasons.
In one episode Tito Ortiz was coaching a fighter during a match. He kept screaming “UNDERHOOKS!!” again and again. It was pretty annoying, because I really didn’t understand what he was talking about
In between rounds, as cut-men were applying vaseline and assistant coaches providing water, Tito continued like a broken record
“Hey man, LISTEN TO ME!”
I leaned in close to my television screen, not wanted to miss some epic motivational speech.
“Underhooks win fights!” said Tito with a straight face.
What the hell? Why won’t this guy shut about about the goddamn underhooks?!
Fast forward a decade, I have become the very underhook evangelist I used to despise. I’ve seen the light. Underhooks are the truth. If I could EAT them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I would. Underhooks are all I need, and when a new student is having problems with a position, I always start with asking them a simple question,
“Have you herd about our lord and savior, The Underhook?”
The Best ROI for the new student
Why are they so important? For one, you get the best ROI (return on investment) from applying underhooks. They take almost no time to teach, because they’re not really a technique. Just a place to put your arms when you’re in a static position. So the investment is low.
Second, you can apply underhooks from nearly any position. Guard, half guard, side control, the back. In 90% of cases, it’s going to be a smart decision. It has a wide utility.
Finally, underhooks can be a real impediment to opponents, even if you have no idea what to do next. Just having an underhook can close off options for them.
So when a new student asks what technique they should learn, I often steer them towards a concept with a high ROI. Concepts like “Two on one”, “elbow control”, “never be flat”
But most of all, I talk about underhooks. Don’t just take my word for it, here’s some of the top teachers in BJJ showing moves that rely on the underhook.
“I usually always want to have my arm underneath his arm. So if I have my arm under his armpit, this already makes my escape ten times easier. I’ll be out in two seconds.” -Henry Akins
In the video above, Henry teaches a classic hip-out escape from the bottom of side mount. When you’re on the bottom of side mount, you should be working to get your elbows attached your ribs to deny your opponent the underhook.
If you’re on top in the side mount, immediately move to underhook the far arm. It will prevent easy escapes and open up the path to several arm submissions.
John Danaher breaks down back control from his “strait jacket” system. From the back, you must have at least one underhook to control someone. And although you don’t see it a lot, you can even have two underhooks for maximum control, although you will not be able to submit someone that way.
The first thing you want to do to secure a guard pass is to underhook the arms farthest away from you. It will prevent your opponent from getting to their shoulder, elbow, and ultimately hand to pop up.
Watch how Craig Jones is always, almost subconsciously, moving for an underhook at the soonest possible opening.
“A lot of people, as soon as they give up underhooks, I feel, they panic and they end up getting their guard passed.”
Tom DeBlass shares the truth: half guard is all about the underhook battle. Get it, and you’ve got the back take, the old school sweep, the dog fight position, the electric chair, and more. For when you lose it, here are some great tips for how to recover and fend of your opponents cross face from his butterfly half guard DVD.
Disclaimer: When NOT to use underhooks
For those of you smashing your keyboards, I will concede there are times when underooks are the false prophet, meant to deceive us into a life of ruin and tapping out.
Bottom of mount: Underhooking from bottom of mount can put you at risk of an armbar. That said, it’s often a necessary step for certain mount escapes. If you have to do it, don’t hang out in the position for too long.
Punch blocking from the closed guard: If you’re training MMA or self defense, overhooking the arms is the best option to keep your opponent’s posture under control so they cannot punch you.
Now that you’ve been enlightened go forth and share the gospel of the underhook. It’s always there for you. It’ll never let you down.
I didn’t mention the mount game in this article, but You JiuJitsu has another great post talking about the Henry Akins mount system. And yes, underhooks are essential there too.
Also, I have a black friday deal coming up on my book, The True Believers, which will run from now until Christmas. It’s a great read on martial arts, with 100% five star reviews on Amazon.