Class 2014-03-19: Elevator Hook Sweep

TransitionsThe elevator hook sweep is a common sweep. . .for beginners.  It’s rare to see this exact sweep executed at  higher levels, but that doesn’t mean that it’s just a low percentage sweep to fill out another checkbox in your training.  The main reason I want to show this sweep is to show how even a sweep that isn’t often used can teach us all kinds of lessons that are applied to other positions. 

Sweep Details

This sweep is usually thought of in the context of going against an unskilled opponent.  The reason is that a skilled opponent isn’t going to be broken down, have an arm trapped, and feel that same side leg blocked, then decide to step up the leg that’s needed to execute this sweep.  It’s not impossible, but unlikely.

A great setup for this sweep is when you have your opponent broken down with an overhook on one arm and your other arm controlling their head.  This is a standard self defense position that limits your attackers ability to strike.  Because their head and arm are trapped, the unskilled opponent will tend to step a leg up on the opposite side.

When they post their foot on the ground like this, it gives you a convenient pivot point for a hip escape.  Once you have your hips out to the side, rotate your foot back on that pivot side and insert your foot just behind the knee, making sure to curl your toes back to create an effective foot hook on their leg.

While the sweep can be executed from here, it is more powerful and places you in a better position if you establish an underhook on the side you’ve got your foot hook on.  With all the pieces in place, elevating their leg while you drive your underhooking arm will start the sweep, and hooking your blocking leg on their leg will ensure that they can’t post their leg out to stop the sweep.

This sweep is effortless when you have each element in place, and you are virtually guaranteed to land mounted with multiple attack options.

Derived Lessons

Going into this class, I was tempted to teach the technique without much comment.  When I started thinking about the steps and details of why the sweep works, I realized that so many of the individual elements are used in other places, and the elevator hook sweep could actually be used to demonstrate a lot of general theory.  A fairly uninteresting sweep could be turned into a launchpad for very interesting instruction.

  • Overhook: Getting an overhook on the arm is a good way to keep someones posture broken down, especially if you combine it with a lapel grab.  When using a gi, it also creates a good threat of an armbar if your opponent tries to withdraw their arm.  This overhook also blocks your opponent’s ability to post their arm out or to shift their weight effectively.
    Another way to treat the overhook is to think of it as part of a drag.  If you want your opponents shoulder closer to the mat, you aren’t going to underhook their arm.  You will overhook and rotate into the arm to drag their shoulder.  This pattern is also seen in butterfly sweeps, and is also demonstrated by the hip bump sweep.  The pattern is that you are trying to drag that arm with an rotation of your body, and the overhook gives you the ability to fully engage the arm while the followup twist only makes the engagement tighter and more effective.
  • Hip escape: Using your opponent’s leg as a pivot point gives you excellent hip mobility without having to open your guard as much.  If they drop their knee before you get the hook, nothing is lost and you can go back to a closed guard.  This hip escape also puts your body out to the side and your opponents center of gravity already towards the sweeping side, which will help you rotate them for the sweep.  Lastly, and most importantly, the hip escape makes it much easier to insert your hook.
    There are many scenarios where you need to establish a hook with your foot, either with your toes or your heel.  I often have students asking why they aren’t able to get their hooks, and most of the time it is because their hips are in the wrong orientation to make it easy.  Your knee does not rotate, so if you want to alter the angle or your shin, you have to rotate your upper leg.  If that’s not enough, and it often isn’t, your only way to get more rotation is to rotate your hips.
    It’s not always obvious that a problem down at your feet is caused by a problem at your hips, but this sweep is a perfect example of the difference that a rotated hip can make.
  • Foot hook: As I mention in the video, when I started jiu-jitsu, I was convinced my black belt had invisible velcro on his instep.  If he hooked my leg, I never got my leg back, and a sweep was close behind.  Having an aggressive foot hook allows you to not only manipulate your opponent’s balance, weight distribution, and base, but it also gives you a way to follow their motion as they attempt to escape.  Feeling their motion with your foot attached to their knee will give you insight to what they are planning next, and if you have developed your game enough to automatically react properly to their motion against your hook, their leg motions will let you hit the perfect sweep for how they are changing position.  This hook is so important to my game that I selected it for drilling at the end of this class.
  • Blocking leg: This leg position is common to many sweeps, and the details can be a bit subtle when you see it used.  First and foremost, this leg prevents your opponent from simply sliding their knee out to the side to block the sweep.  Hooking your leg all the way over instead of just blocking on the floor also helps guarantee that your opponent can’t just step over your blocking leg, and it helps lock your body weight onto their leg, which will prevent them from raising their hips and making your elevating hook require more elevation to tip your opponent over.  This hook is a detail of the scissor sweep that I neglected until I saw my black belt automatically doing it as part of his scissor sweep.  The leg hook is something that I am actively working on in my own game right now.
    The blocking leg is also used to help extend your opponent’s leg away from you, further compromising their base and making the sweep easier.  It’s easy to understand this aspect of extending the leg away when you have your foot on the knee and you are pushing the leg as far away as possible, but even using your thigh to extend it back a short distance can be very beneficial to your sweeps.
  • Underhook: Underhooks win.  They must be an automatic part of guard passing, sweeps, escapes, and attacks.  One way I think about underhooks and overhooks is that underhooks are part of a pushing component of a sweep, and overhooks are part of a drag.  In this sweep you are using your foot and leg to rotate your opponent’s lower body, and you are using the underhook to rotate their upper body.  The underhook also allows you to further separate your opponents arm from their body.  This may be part of your followup attack once you land mount for this sweep.
    Another aspect of the underhook is its utility in preventing someone from establishing their own underhook that might be used for back takes or to do nothing more than deny you an underhook.  Being in someone’s half guard without an underhook on their outside arm is just an invitation to a back take, and pummeling from standing is nothing more than someone getting an underhook and the opponent turning that around and getting their own underhook in exchange.
    I can’t possibly do underhooks justice, and listing all the ways an underhook is used is out of scope.  However as you are in class, take note of each instance where an underhook is part of the equation, and you’ll start to see just how critical this one control is for all of grappling.  Although foot hooks on the knee are near and dear to me, there is no way to overstate the importance of a good underhook.
  • Sweep rotation: Of course a sweep involves rotating your opponents body in some fashion.  For sweeps where your opponents body is above yours, most of your sweeps involve rotating their body as you follow over and establish either mount or side control.  This sweep has a number of elements combined to make very efficient rotation.  The overhook on the arm and leg keep your opponents body as close as possible to the mat while maintaining maximum control.  You can do this sweep with two underhooks on the arm, but controlling the arm on the side you are sweeping towards is not as easy as the overhook.  Likewise you could use a knee push to get their hips lower, but you risk an agile opponent that is able to get their hips back up and their leg over your leg.
    On the push side you are treating their opposite elbow and knee as the fulcrum point.  Once you get their center of gravity past the line between their knee and elbow, most of your work is done, and only minimal energy is required to finish the sweep.  Rotating their lower body with your foot hook does the bulk of the work, where you can utilize your largest muscle groups.
  • Sweep finish:  Like many other sweeps where you land mounted, this sweep encourages good foot hook discipline (avoiding half guard), as well as maintaining control of other control points for your followup attack (overhook, and to a lesser degree the underhook).


This is one of the things I love about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  You can take a technique that is relatively boring, deconstruct it, and learn a half a dozen sublessons.  Every technique in BJJ is based on what works, and if it works, there’s something valuable beyond the technique considered in isolation.

Next time your instructor is showing something you’ve been taught half a dozen time before, don’t look at it as review.  Review is a valuable and necessary part of your training, especially for a fundamentals student.  There’s a much broader world available to you if you examine all the small details and look at control points, weight distribution, and what leverage is being applied and how it’s being applied.  Look for common elements and you’ll start to understand common BJJ phrases such as “create space to escape, remove space to attack.”

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