There was a myriad of things I could have put for this letter; “Girls”or “Gi” are the two that immediately spring to mind. In the end, however, I chose to plump for guard, a term that encompasses an awful lot when it comes to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a sport.
The easiest way to describe guard as a catch all term would be a position in ground grappling where the bottom combatant is trying to control the other person with their legs. Hence, when the top person has “passed the guard”, they have passed the persons legs and are therefore in a much more advantageous position. In IBJJF rules passing the guard is worth 3 points. There is something of a misconception that side-control is worth 3 points. This isn’t the case. It’s just that most guard passes tend to end up in side control, and therefore this urban myth developed. If you take someone down, and end up in side control, you only get 2 points for the take down, rather than 5 for the take down + side control. This is because your opponent never had you in a guard, so therefore you never passed it. There are lots of nuances in the rules that I am just learning and getting used to it! Having said all that, it isn’t the case that playing guard is a continuously defensive position. In BJJ there are many attacks and submissions that can be achieved from guard, and some of the top ranked players in the world prefer to play guard.
There was an article not too long ago posted on the ADCC Facebook wall that discussed the merits or otherwise of ‘pulling guard’. The debate was fairly fierce, with many people suggesting that to pull guard is a weak option, and some even suggesting that there should be a points disadvantage given if a person pulls guard. There are also some fairly disparaging memes out there about pulling guard. It’s probably a product of the school that I am lucky enough to train in, but I think that’s ridiculous. Pulling guard is what I do 95% of the time, because I am not a huge fan of being thrown on my head in a takedown. I will attempt to wrestle somebody if they are either the same weight as me or smaller (which is rare!). I do not have great wrestling skills, and would rather take the match to the ground on my terms, rather than on my opponents. I know that the response from some people would be that I just need to improve my wrestling skills, and whilst this is undeniably true (and something I am looking into), pulling guard is still something I much more comfortable with at this point in my game. There are different ways to pull guard, but the most common is simply to grab hold of your opponent and sit down, physically “pulling” them into some kind of guard of your choosing. Sometimes what’s known as a “double guard pull” will occur, where both players will grab and sit down at the same time. Then the players have thirty seconds for one to achieve top position, or the ref will stand them both up and award penalty points to both of them. This was made a rule to prevent stalling out in a position such as 50/50. If the players end up in 50/50 at any point during a match they equally have thirty seconds to advance their positions, or penalties will be awarded.
So many rules. People sometimes get bored or irritated with the rules; finding them stifling and annoying to their game. I think (for the most part at least) that some of the rules can be useful. If you learn them properly, and know how to play them, then you can make your game a lot stronger.
In terms of how players actually utilise the guard, the most common type of guard at lower levels of BJJ tends to be closed guard, sometimes known as full guard. If any of you read my post on my experience at the Newcastle Open, you’ll know how much I detest closed guard. I find it slow and dull. Especially in no-gi. Perhaps in the gi there are a few more options. I sometimes end up in closed guard bottom if I’ve had to quickly recapture my opponent in some form of guard to prevent them from passing. I never stay there long. I usually immediately open my guard to attempt some form of sweep or submission, and then if that fails, go back to my usual half guard game. Even worse is closed guard top. Trying to break open your opponents legs can be tiring and annoying, especially if you’re behind on points. Many people at white belt level are scared of attempting much from closed guard, because it involves open your guard, thus making you much more vulnerable to a pass. This sometimes means that entire matches can be stalled out in closed guard, making them dull to be in and even duller to watch. Harsh, maybe, but so so true.
There are many other types of guard as well, far too many for me to mention in a single blog post in any type of detail. I will, however, mention a few of my favourites. The one I tend to work from the most is half-guard. I’ve already done two posts about different nuances of half guard that I like and it is a crucial part of my game. I’ve been working on it a lot more in the past month as well, trying to iron out the tiny details and improve upon the issues I had been having. Other guards I particularly like are x-guard and (in the gi) de la Riva. X-guard is amazing if executed correctly. Your opponent, unless they’re extremely good, has very very limited options, and most things they try can be countered into some form of sweep. I also find that I can hang out in x-guard without too many energy problems; your opponent isn’t going anywhere fast, so I use it as a chance to catch my breath for a few seconds. There are also loads of transitions from x-guard; either to single leg x, to various sweeps, to 50/50 and others. On the flip side, de la Riva is particularly powerful in the gi, yet limited in no-gi (reverse de la Riva is much stronger). It is a very long range tool, and yet also provides a relatively large amount of control.
Most BJJ players have a guard that they ‘prefer’, one that they will have worked on more, or one that plays to their strengths. Some BJJ players prefer not to end up on the bottom at all, instead working on top position passes and submissions. The only problem with focusing on this part of your game over guard, is that if you do get swept or taken down, then you might have problems preventing your opponent from executing their game plan. I think that’s the biggest thing about guard for me; it gives me a game plan. I know what I want to do when I step onto the mats, and I try my hardest to work through those steps. It gives me the control, rather than being reactionary to my opponent. Of course, you do have to react to your opponent, that’s part of the fun of it; but in having a game plan it provides a solid base to which to return to, an area of the sport which you are good at. One of my teammates is exceedingly good at deep half guard, and she will doggedly hunt for it when playing guard at all times. I have had to step up my work on deep half guard counters, just to be able to play with her.
Every BJJ player will have their strengths and weaknesses, areas of the game they like and dislike. Most players will train some form of guard on a daily basis (or however often they train), although some will just see it as a method of defence before they can achieve top position again. It varies from player to player. There are so many nuances to the different aspects of BJJ that it’s impossible to be a master at all of them, so most people pick and choose an area that they prefer.
I’m sure many of the points I’ve made here will cause some people to nearly spontaneously combust with anger or outrage. Well, I’d like to hear your opinions on guard playing…
Until next time,