The Importance Of Underhooks In BJJ

Figuring how much of a difference underhooks can make when ground fighting is one of the first epiphanies new BJJ students have. Underhooks are everything in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and other grappling-based martial arts. Watch enough BJJ and MMA matches, and you’ll overhear instructors and corners screaming at their students to secure underhooks. A fighter is said to have an underhook when an arm goes under their opponent’s armpit. 

Underhooks are king in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and that’s one of those things you’ll eventually figure out as you gain more experience on the mat. For example, many new BJJ students struggle with escaping bottom-side control until they figure out that an underhook is all they need to escape or take their opponent’s back. 

Underhooks also give you an advantage in clinch positions. Securing double underhooks on an opponent while clinched makes it significantly easier to execute takedowns while limiting your opponent’s options. The underhook helps to negate any size advantages your opponents have and allows you to control the pace of the fight.  


Taking Your BJJ Game To The Next Level With Underhooks

Underhooks give you an excellent return on your investment compared to many other techniques used in BJJ. It takes almost no time to learn since securing underhooks really isn’t a technique. It’s just somewhere you put your arms in static positions, so it requires little effort on your part to secure them. 

Underhooks can be secured from almost any position like side control, back mount, guard, and half guard. Securing underhooks in most scenarios is a prudent decision that makes it easier for you to sweep to a better position or get back to your feet. Securing underhooks also makes things harder for your opponents. Even if you don’t do anything with it, it still makes things more complicated for them and limits their options. 

New BJJ students are typically eager to learn the cool submissions they’ve seen on TV, but any competent instructor would tell them to focus more on fundamentals like not being flat on their back, using elbow control, and securing underhooks. 


Some of the situations you should look for underhooks when grappling include:

1) Side Control

You should always look to secure underhooks when you’re in side control regardless of if you’re the top or bottom. The person who secures it first typically has more control over the position. If you’re on the bottom, you want to secure an underhook with the arm that is furthest away from your opponent. 

Doing this makes it easier to use the classic hip-out escape, and you can also use it to take your opponent’s back. Keep your elbows tucked to your body to make it difficult for them to establish their underhook. If you’re the person on top, underhook your opponent’s far arm to limit their options to escape and open up submissions like the kimura. 

Underhooks are also essential when applying pressure and controlling opponents in side control. Securing one helps to keep your opponent’s shoulders pinned on the mat and allows you to go chest-to-chest as you would in the top half-guard position. Establishing a solid pin in side control requires you to cross-face your opponent and use underhooks.

Knowing how to keep opponents pinned down in side control is a useful skill for all BJJ players. Besides giving you a lot more control over your opponent, you want to quickly establish underhooks as a precaution in case your opponent regains their guard. That way, you already have one of the most important grips used to pass the guard. 


2) Back Control

The most effective way to control a person when you’ve taken their back is by using an underhook on one side and an overhook on the other. You can use two underhooks for maximum control of your opponent’s body, but that limits your offensive options since it keeps both hands busy. 

Of course, you should also look to secure hooks or a body triangle to keep your opponent right where you want them after taking their backs. 


3) Guard Passing

One of the first things you should do when passing guard is to secure an underhook on the arm farthest away from you. This prevents opponents from getting to their shoulders and using their hands as a base. Watch high-level BJJ players rolling, and you’ll notice many instinctively go for underhooks as soon as an opportunity presents itself. 

You also look for underhooks when you’re in half guard position regardless of if you’re on the top or bottom. Securing underhooks at the bottom of half guard opens up the classic half-guard sweep, the electric chair, and back take. On top, it prevents your opponent from using their arm as a base, making it more challenging for them to escape. 

The underhook is one of the best grips for passing most guards used in BJJ like the X, single leg X, deep half, De La Riva, and reverse De La Riva guard. Some BJJ players use underhooks to force opponents into half-guard, that way they just have to pass the half-guard to get to a more dominant position. 

The hardest part of securing underhooks when dealing with guards that create distance like the De La Riva guard is getting close enough to your opponent to thread your arm under their armpit. Once you secure an underhook, you can use basic passes like the knee cut and pressure pass to transition. 


Scenarios To Avoid Underhooks

As useful as underhooks can be in BJJ, there are times when using them doesn’t provide any benefit or, even worse, puts you in danger. These include:

  • Bottom Mount: Underhooking from mount bottom is like giving your opponent a birthday gift. It requires you to extend your arm which leaves you vulnerable to arm bars. However, doing so is sometimes a necessary step for some mount escapes so don’t stay there for long when you do use an underhook
  • Avoiding Strikes In Your Closed Guard: Securing underhooks doesn’t do much to stop opponents from smashing your face in with strikes. Overhooks are way more effective in this situation. Just look at how excellent grapplers defend themselves in bottom guard in mixed martial arts


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