Guard Pass Defense

Filed in Techniques by on July 7, 2013 6 Comments

I want to talk about a concept today that I’ve probably already talked about a hundred times. I want to discuss it again though because it’s one of those areas of BJJ that many of us just can’t seem to get straight. It’s one of those areas that gives us trouble every single time we confront it. We go over it quite a bit in class and each and every time we do, I’m astounded at how poor I am at defending my guard.

I sometimes think that they should have BJJ academies that focus primarily on the guard. Not passing it, but defending it. Some might think that’s a bit nuts, but if you consider how often you or your opponent uses the position, you might begin to agree. I watched a match the other day where the two competitors were locked in the 50/50 guard for over twelve minutes. And with the recent growth of the position, I think that all the discussion I’m willing to offer up is warranted. The guard is huge when it comes to Jiu-Jitsu.

Many people who read this blog are beginners. I’m willing to wager that most of them are either white or blue belts. And at that stage of the game, players shouldn’t be concerned with the many variations of the 50/50, De La Riva or the X guard. What they should be concerned with is the many variations of the basic closed and open guard. That’s it. And that’s it because, as a purple belt, I still have difficulty using and defending those simple guards against better players and I know brown and black belts who feel the same way.

Ask yourself the following question: If you have someone in your closed guard, what do you want to do? I’ll tell you. You want to either submit or sweep. I suppose you can lay there all day squeezing your opponent’s ribs until they tap, but that may earn you a punch in the face afterwards. Now, ask yourself this question: If you are in someone’s closed guard, what do you want to do? I’ll tell you this as well. You want to pass their guard. Why? Because there aren’t many options for submitting or sweeping while in someone’s closed guard. You’ve got to get out of that situation before you move on.

Here’s the thing – if you’ve got someone in your closed guard and they manage to pass it, you’re most likely in a terrible position. You’re opponent has just broken your only line of defense and is now in top position, getting ready to either set up a submission from side control or mount. You’re left on your back, scurrying to defend yourself against someone who’s just worked very hard at freeing themselves from your grips. And in Jiu-Jitsu, when an opponent tears themselves loose of something, you can count on them exacting quick vengeance. The highs and lows come and go quite rapidly during a match and those who are high, tend to like the feeling enough to do everything in their power to keep it. If you’re left floundering on your back after a guard pass, you can bet your bottom dollar that your opponent is going to try to keep you there.

We’ve got an epidemic in the Jiu-Jitsu world that’s called complacency. I’ve fallen victim to this so many times I can’t even count them anymore. I still do, and I’ll admit that complacency is probably one of the biggest battles I wage to this day. I’ll explain what I’m talking about by using an example from real life. Take a look at the picture below.

Jiu-Jitsu Guard Pass Defense

This picture was taken a few weeks ago. It’s of me (on the bottom) versus one of the better players in class (on top). As you can see, I was having a good amount of difficulty defending my guard and was in the midst of having it passed. Granted, I wasn’t totally complacent while rolling during the time the picture was taken, because I did have my opponent in half guard and was attempting a sweep, but the fact remains that I had rolled with this particular opponent many times before and knew that he can blow by my half guard. What I should have been doing was what I’m about to tell you below. And what I’m about to tell you isn’t coming from my own mouth (or fingers). It’s coming from Saulo Ribeiro. I just happen to be reading his section on guard pass defense. I’ve known what he says for some time now, but I’ll tell you, it feels good to have Saulo’s reinforcement on this one.

Basically, Saulo says that if you can’t escape the guard pass, you don’t have a guard. I’ve never seen it termed that way before, “escaping the guard pass,” but I’ll take it for what it is. I think what he’s trying to say is that, while you can lay on your back with your legs wrapped around a person’s core before a match starts, you can’t necessarily call that a guard. If the match begins and your opponent disassembles your guard within the matter of a few seconds, you never had one. Just because your legs happened to be in the position they were in for a very short period of time, you can’t call that a guard.

He continues to say that even if you are a sweep or submission master, those skills are moot if you can’t prevent someone from passing you. It’s the preventative side of Jiu-Jitsu that allows you to situate yourself in such a position as to eventually sweep or submit. Logic is logic and is not easily defeated.

Jiu-Jitsu University Guard Pass Defense

There are tons of videos and tutorials on the topic of how to defend your guard. As a matter of fact, there’s an entire section in Jiu-Jitsu University that’s devoted to it. But that just scratches the surface. You can’t merely leave the topic of the guard to a few pages in a book or some videos online. Defending and using the guard in Jiu-Jitsu is a life-long challenge. But to even broach the subject, you need to know one little peice of information – the entire point of this post.

If you’d like to defend your guard – for all the reasons I’ve already discussed in this post – you must remain active. Just because you’re laying on your back and have some of the largest muscles in your body working for you, you can’t be complacent for one moment. Your opponent will acknowledge that sentiment and will pick you apart faster than you can imagine.

Now, let’s talk about what I mean when I use the word “complacent.” I know I’ve already thrown it out there a few times and by this point, you’re most likely asking for a definition. I’ll tell you what I mean, but first, you have to look at the photo above again.

In the photo, I was well aware that this particular opponent could escape my half guard. Still, I chose the stay in that position, simply squeezing my legs harder and harder, as if that was going to make a difference. Also, as my opponent was slowly re-gripping and moving towards his goal, I continually re-situated my hand on his collar. Now, as you can see, that collar grip would do nothing to defend against the guard pass he was working against me. He’s a very determined pressure player and holding him in stasis is never a good strategy. He’ll wait it out and continue to clamp down. Even if I could manage to conjure up the idea of placing my right hand on his left hip to work a hip escape, I was locked in by my incessant and very stubborn leg squeezing. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that my complacency kept me where I was, to only watch and wait for my demise. I knew what was happening, I knew what to do to fix the situation, but I failed to execute the proper actions. I had the deer in the headlights syndrome – a lucid mind with a paralyzed body.

What should I have done with the situation above? Well, for one thing, I should have focused. I should have focused on one thing – the defense of my guard. If I was aware of my opponent’s goal and his ability, why on earth was I going for a sweep? I should be considering a sweep after, and only after, I have the ball squarely in my court. Why on earth would I be attempting an offensive move in a defensive situation? I should have taken my own advice during this scenario – fix the problem first, then move on to greener pastures. I should have also remained very active with defending my guard. I should have perceived every single movement my opponent was making as a threat and countered accordingly. And what I should have really been doing, was to actively re-guard. Something called “straight line theory” that’s covered here.

Do you have suggestions on how to defend your guard? A trick, a strategy, a technique? Have you found yourself getting your guard passed too many times and have solved the problem? If so, please share your story below.

Comments (6)

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  1. SoulRoller says:

    I play a lot of open guard/”open half guard” and I’ve had to learn how to defend passing attempts and counter them. I got a trick that has been working well for me. The trick is to always stay in a frame (so that my back is not flat on tha mat), outside of the passer’s pressure. For example, when a guy tries to run around the guard with toreando, just scoot your butt and push the opponent’s head, redirecting his pressure away. That way you will stay connected to the opponent, but at the same time your hips will be free to move around. Works well even when a guy is clamping down your legs. Just redirect the pressure off to the outside (push the head away from your body) and pull your knee straight towards your head, then square the frame again. From there, you can work on sleeve and collar grips and decide which guard you want to try.

    • Jay Gaulard says:

      Excellent comment. I see what you’re saying and I’ve worked that a few times. As my opponent is passing, I push the head all the way to the mat, hips escape and re-guard. Unfortunately, some of the bigger guys in class caught on to that and now pass, get pushed to the mat, stall and clamp. Then, they continue to climb to my upper body with pressure. I’ll continue working on it.

      Also, I was watching some videos on the toreando pass and found a goo done on how to block the hips (if you’re the guy passing guard).

      • SoulRoller says:

        That’s a good tip to the pass. I’ve learned how to counter it though just by using body mechanics. Just sit up, post with your inside hand, the one on opponents side do a technical stand up-kind of movement. You will end up on your knees or toes facing the opponent, who should be stumbling on his knees by that time. One of those counters I mentioned before.

        When the guys keep clamping on your legs, just keep pushing the head and remember to lift your top leg straight towards your face, knee up first. Sometimes it helps if you kinda lift the shin to the same side where you’re pushing the opponent’s head. The opponent may get an under hook on your leg, but that only gives you the attack. And of course you could keep on sitting up and end up taking the guy’s back. Happened for me a lot.
        Another thing to do if you can’t lift your top leg free, is to totally change directions and kind of scoot under the guy, reaching for the under hook with your bottom arm. Then continue scooting for the under hook, switching your “frame” to face the opponent That will give you the opportunity to counter the pressure because you will be totally under the guy and his weight is going over your body. It’s kinda like a butterfly deep half guard. It’s hard for me to explain in english. This works even against my brown belt instructors if I act quickly to their pressure. Should work on anybody if you get the flow of the movement.

        Then again, I’m only a blue belt. what do I know, right?

        • Jay Gaulard says:

          Excellent tips. I’m going to be working my guard pass defense in tomorrow’s class. I have to get back into it because I’ve been playing to win far too much lately. I think it may be time to go back to putting myself in bad positions to re-work my defense and escapes.

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