Other than the berimbolo (which Kron Gracie has called "shit"), few positions are as maligned as the 50/50--a position that "disgusts" the great Rodolfo Vieira. As readers of this blog know, I am no fan of this type of conservativism in jiu jitsu--which I think impedes progress (while at the same time flying in the face of the actual history of the progression of the martial art). The most common complaints are that the 50/50 guard is (a) boring, and (b) wouldn't work in a "real" fight. So, I want to attack each claim in turn.
Is the 50/50 guard boring? Well, that depends a great deal on the context and rule set. In an ADCC match where heel hooks (both regular and reverse/inverted) are allowed, the 50/50 guard is a very dangerous position which can be quite exciting to watch. But in the IBJJFF--where heel hooks are never allowed and toe holds are only allowed at brown belt and black belt--the 50/50 guard can grind the action to a halt. Does this say anything about the position itself? No, of course not. It just shows what happens when artificial rule sets effectively neuter a position by limiting the applicable techniques.
If the IBJJF were to allow heel hooks, the 50/50 would cease being a "stalling position" and it would become an exciting position instead. If two people are forced to battle for straight ankle locks from the 50/50--which are easy to resist and hard to get--then it will indeed be a boring affair. But don't blame the position, blame the rules! To get a feel for what I am angling at here, take a look at the following 50/50 highlight from IBJJF matches:
Two things are worth pointing out: First, even with the neutered rule set, there are some exciting exchanges here--that is, the 50/50 isn't essentially boring. Second, if you pay close attention, you can see the ankles dangling in ways that open up the inverted heel hook several times. But because you are not allowed to use this technique, the competitors don't go for them even when they're opponents heels are obviously in jeopardy. Contrast this video with the following video from a NAGA event--where inverted heel hooks are allowed. The competitor who wins hits an Iminari roll to 50/50 guard to inverted heel hook. It is beautiful and exciting!
And here is a breakdown of Joao Miyao's 50/50 inverted heel hook against Ricardo Vieira at ADCC (2013):
Magically, when heel hooks are allowed, the 50/50 suddenly becomes exciting. Strange that. Here is Ryan Hall explaining how to go for heel hooks from the 50/50--which helps further highlight the fact that the position is only a boring, stalling position when you prohibit people from using the most obvious technique to use from the position!
So, I think it should already be clear that the 50/50 isn't intrinsically boring, etc. It can be boring, but only when certain rule sets are in place that eliminate the most obvious submission from the position. What about the second complaint lodged against the position--namely, that it is ineffective for self-defense?
First, I just want to point out that tons of popular techniques from sport jiu jitsu are not especially helpful from the standpoint of self-defense--the De La Riva guard, the spider guard, the lasso guard, the lapel guard, the turtle guard, and the list goes on. Yet you don't see people constantly complaining about these positions. Second, the 50/50 guard actually is an effective technique "for the streets." Here is a simple take down from a common standing position that takes you right into the 50/50--which can then be used to set up the inverted heel hook:
Notice this take down keeps your head perfectly safe with respect to touching the concrete/ground. Notice, too, that any untrained assailant in the streets will have no idea what you're doing before it's too late. All you need is a simple duck under and then you can use this take down. How do I know that untrained assailants are going to be baffled by the transition and subsequent submission? Because Ryan Hall used the 50/50 to inverted heel hook in two professional MMA fights against trained opponents:
So, there you have it folks. The case against the 50/50 is now closed. If you allow heel hooks--and why in the fuck wouldn't you among consenting adults--then it is a very effective technique that leads to one of the most effective submissions in all of grappling. So, if you don't like the 50/50 guard, blame the IBJJF and not the position itself. Then, quit your complaining and learn the position. Otherwise, you will have a huge hole in your game that the crafty grappler will easily exploit.