Against the Grain: Josh Hinger

By Matthew Gioia

I take those motherf*ckers down. I don’t pull guard on anybody. Ever. Unless I’m training, I try to take everyone down — that’s my A-game. I wrestled for four years in high school; I was top ten in California in my weight class. I won the regional CIF tournament. I was pretty good.”

Nothing about Josh Hinger is traditional. In a sport where bonafide legends such as Leandro Lo are considered past their prime after the age of 30, and GOAT candidates such as Marcelo Garcia stop fighting at that same age, Josh Hinger has to be considered an anomaly. At 34 years of age, an age in which most competitors are restricted to the Masters Division, Hinger won the IBJJF World No-gi Championships, a feat he would repeat over the next two years. 

While Hinger may have taken the long route towards becoming a No-gi World Champion and an ADCC medalist, grappling was not a foreign concept when he started jiu-jitsu as Hinger was a stand out wrestler in high school, winning the CIF 145 lbs division.

Hinger’s no-gi game is predicated on dominating the stand up exchanges against his opponents. When upright, Hinger looks to implement a collar tie on his opponent with his right arm. Once he acquires the collar tie, Hinger often looks to control his opponent’s opposite side wrist before exploding into a snapdown.

At the end of a grueling match with Gabriel Almeida, Hinger employs a collar tie and starts to hand fight with Almedia. Since Almeida is standing upright with his upper body far in front of his feet, he renders himself extremely vulnerable to the snapdown. As he starts to pull Almeida down, Hinger takes a jab step with his back foot to generate the necessary power, before taking Almeida down and securing the back control position.

When Hinger is not able to complete the snapdown, he pairs the technique with a duck under to get to his opponent’s back. These techniques work in concert because once the snapdown occurs, it encourages his opponent to lower his base and attempt to create a collar tie of their own, giving Hinger the avenue to use his duck under. 

As both competitors have collar ties on one another, Hinger opts to look for the duck under. To start the sequence, Hinger moves both his feet back in order to create enough space between him and his opponent. Once this occurs, Hinger controls the elbow of his opponent’s arm before pulling it up, creating the requisite space to shoot. As he shoots, Hinger continues to keep control of the collar tie, so that he is able to keep himself attached, as he searches for the back.

Hinger’s wrestling is not limited to his no-gi arsenal as surprisingly, in a sport where most athletes favor judo techniques, Hinger brings his wrestling experience to the gi. Due to the risk of having an opponent simply jump guard or pull guard once contact is made, Hinger adjusts his standup strategy. 

Instead of employing collar ties on his opponents, Hinger seeks to make a grip on his opponent’s collar and uses a combination of sweep singles and front headlocks to wrestle his opponent to the ground. 

Wrestling expert, Ed Gallo, sums up the strengths of the sweep single succinctly in his article about Jordan Oliver when he states, “The swing single entry is best for outfighters, those who are more often working on the outside or on the wrists, more often than getting tied up in over-unders. Speed is essential on this entry, it’s an extremely precise attack.”

Once Hinger gets control of his opponent’s collar, he pulls them into the open space while monitoring the free hand of his opponent to fight against any gripping attempts. From there, Hinger shoots away from his opponent’s leg so that he can wrap around and make contact as he uses his collar grip to pull his opponent into him. This significantly lowers the chance of his opponent being able to grab a front headlock to sprawl on Hinger, while giving him an avenue to the back, which he takes.

If his opponent is able to sprawl and stop the first attack, Hinger is in prime position to launch into his signature attack, the front headlock. 

Against Keenan Cornelius, as Hinger feints a single leg shot, Cornelius is forced to sprawl, putting his base lower than Hinger. With both on all fours, and Hinger having the higher position, Hinger goes for the collar tie while pulling Cornelius’ far side collar down, giving him the perfect entry to set up the front headlock. Once secured, Hinger goes for an overhook with his free hand to continue to break down Cornelius’ posture and go for his signature submission, the Hingertine, otherwise known as an arm-in guillotine. Cornelius defends by posting on Hinger’s hip and pushing on his lapel, which prevents him from truly being able to get under Cornelius in order to finish the choke. To counter this, Hinger jumps to full guard and since he has complete control of Cornelius’ upper body, and uses the momentum to roll Cornelius over to establish the mount. 

While Hinger is known as a takedown threat, his real bread and butter is defending against the takedown with his vaunted Hingertine. Hinger signature move oddly didn’t originate in the jiu-jitsu room, but from his MMA career, as he stated in a Jiu-jitsu Times piece, “ I had a buddy I used to train with every day. He was a super heavyweight and a wrestler. He used to shoot this low single on me all the time. He was so big that if he got in on it, he would bulldoze me down every time and just crush me. We trained together every day for like three years. You know when they shoot the low single it makes your knee collapse, right? I would sit down to my butt and I would try to figure out what I could do. I figured I could grab his chin. I grabbed his chin, put my chest on the back of his head, and held the arm. He was like a blue belt, purple belt, MMA fighter, good wrestler. He started flailing around and I would just hold on to his head and go for a ride. I would just hold on to that thing as long as I possibly could until my arm was on fire. I glued my chest to the back of his head, tried to cup my hand on his chin, and just make him choke. Just make his life suck so he would stop shooting that single leg on me. But he never stopped, and I just kept grabbing his chin, and eventually, I would just start choking him over and over. Or if I didn’t choke him, I would end up in a good position. He’d try to roll out and I would land on the mount. That’s kind of how that came up.”

Therefore, it’s no surprise some of his best moments have come from defending his opponent’s shots and demoralizing them with his chin strap game. In no-gi, this chin strap defense works even better, as it is one of the only grips an athlete can make on their opponent. By having a strong grip on his opponent’s chin and the overhook, Hinger is able dominate one side of his opponent’s upper body while forcing them to completely focus on defending the Hingertine, often allowing him to sweep his opponents and end up in a dominant position.

Bahiense enters onto Hinger’s leg with a beautiful armdrag, yet as he latches on to Hinger’s legs, he allows Hinger to get square with him, allowing Hinger to secure the chin strap. As Hinger is controlling the head and spine of Bahiense, when Bahiense attempts to continue the takedown he is easily flipped over by Hinger. From there Hinger rides out Bahinese’s attempts to get to top position before securing it for himself.

One of the most interesting parts of Hinger’s overall game is his emphasis on overhooks. While you will see him occasionally use extremely shallow underhooks, the overhook position is what really sets him apart from his fellow competitors. Marcelo Garcia, who in addition to being one of the three greatest jiu jitsu athletes of all time is widely considered the sports premier guillotine artist, always advocates to make sure your opponent’s arm is on the outside your guillotine grip.

The front headlock position is also an extremely optimal position to pass from as it allows a passer to completely control his opponent’s spine, therefore limiting the amount of possible directions a guard player can go. If an opponent’s back is already flat on the mat, a front headlock combined with gravity, puts the guard player in a tough position as they are forced to fight the hands while staying flat as if they fall to their side it is highly unlikely that they will have the proper leverage to survive a guillotine onslaught. Hinger uses this tactic primarily when passing half guard as it allows him to effortlessly slide into the mounted position.

Throughout his career, Hinger has primarily used his front headlock series to pin, pass, and submit his opponents, yet in the rare instances where his opponents are able to escape his most infamous attack, Hinger usually resorts to fundamental, chest-to-chest half guard pressure passing. This pass similarly functions to his front headlock pass as it gives him complete control over his opponents spine, limiting movement opportunities.

Another reason why Hinger employs the chest-to-chest half guard pass is that on the way to mounting his opponent his is also able to isolate one of his opponent’s arms with a deep underhook, giving him the perfect set up for his other favorite attack, the monoplata.

Hinger credits renowned grappler Marcelo Garcia for his interest in the monoplata as he stated, “The monoplata… I saw a Marcelo Garcia video online one time. I was just looking for something different. I saw this move, and it looked different. I didn’t really believe in it, at first I thought it was kind of bullsh*t. I took it to the gym that night and boom — it worked perfectly. And I just did it again and again. It fit right into my game perfectly. That was it. Everyday I would just monoplata people. And then what I started doing was using the Hinger-tine and the Monoplata together. When I guillotined people, I would trap the arm behind my back. That’s where I needed the arm for the monoplata. Once those two fit together, that was it. My two different A-games came together in harmony and that was it. I have tunnel vision.”

Hinger often pairs the monoplata with the Hingertine, once he gets into the mount position, as the overhook is the reason both of these moves work in concert.

As he is not able to obtain the overhook in the scramble, Hinger opts to use the short underhook as he attacks the chin strap in an effort to pass. As Marques attempts to turn in on Hinger, Hinger uses the opportunity to grab the overhook and step his leg over into the mount position, with Marques’ underhook pinned between Hinger’s knee and the overhook. Hinger then attempts to go for the monoplata, but Marques counters by exploding up and attempting to get his shoulders back on the mat, which allows Hinger to transition to the Hingertine and secure the ACB 85kg Grand Prix Championship.

On this website, metagame is something we discuss in depth. In no-gi grappling, the metagame for the last few years, has revolved around wrestling and leg locks, where leg lockers such as Craig Jones, Garry Tonon, and Eddie Cummings have dominated. Through his chin strap set ups, Josh Hinger has found a way to exploit the current metagame, especially under IBJJF rules, on his way to becoming a 3-time IBJJF no-gi World Champion, a ADCC North American Trials Champion, and a ADCC Bronze Medalist. In addition to his chin strap game, his overhook game takes advantage of every grapplers’ natural instinct to go for the underhook, has led to Hinger being one of the most underrated gi grapplers in the game today. Hinger should not only be seen as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion, but a pioneer of no-gi grappling as his chin strap game will be a staple of the no-gi metagame far after he submits his last opponent. As an instructor at ATOS HQ, Hinger has shaped the way some of the sports brightest stars including the Ruotolo brothers approach the mat as both typically favor front headlocks as their primary method of attack. Josh Hinger’s legacy in jiu-jitsu runs far deeper than his overall accomplishments and he will forever be a significant figure in the history of no-gi grappling.