This article was written by Nicolas Gregoriades, who is a 3rd degree Jiu-Jitsu black Belt under Roger Gracie. Nic is an instructor at Subconscious Jiu Jitsu.
The guard is the defining position of the gentle art, and without a solid understanding of it you cannot consider yourself a proficient jiu jiteiro. Here are several tips that I’ve picked up over the years that have helped my bottom game immensely. If you internalize your understanding of them they are guaranteed to improve your guard too.
1. Live Hips
Although your grips and and upper-body play a role in the bottom game, your guard is ultimately powered by your lower-body. With most sweeps and submissions, power is almost exclusively generated and applied through your hips and legs. Here’s a good drill to help you understand this:
Have a training partner sit in your closed guard, and get him to interlace both of his hands behind his neck. Do the same yourself. Now try to flip him using a basic scissor sweep. Unless you can take him over cleanly, you are not efficiently applying the power through your hips.
Learn to move your hips through as many different planes as possible and practise them by using drills. Two basic examples include the bridge and the shrimp, but there are several others available.
2. Learn to Identify & Use Angles
Like other functional martial arts, in jiu jitsu you usually require angles to apply leverage. There is nowhere that this is more evident than in guard position. There are several different ways these angles can be used, whether it be the angle of your hips to the floor (see above), or the angle between your hips and your opponent’s hips, or the angle of your torso to your opponent’s torso.
Most of the time I’m looking for 90 degree angles, but as of late I’ve found that 45 degree angles work well too.
3. Trap the Hand, Wrist and Elbow
If you’re going to sweep somebody laterally you need to take his hand, wrist and elbow on the side you are sweeping to out of the equation. Having taught, trained and watched thousands of hours of jiu-jitsu, it’s my current perspective that neglecting to do this is the cause of more failed sweeps than anything else. Think about it: when you trip or fall over, the first thing you do is stick your hand out to brace yourself. It’s the exact same with a sweep. The hand and arm is the most dexterous part of your opponent’s anatomy and the first thing he will use to stop himself from being toppled. The cool thing about training in the gi is that it’s far easier to tie up his arm and prevent him from doing this, thus improving your chances of completing your sweep.
4. Keep Your Opponent’s Posture Broken
A good opponent will always try to engage good posture before passing the guard. This is because he knows that initiating his pass (by standing or any other means) without it will usually result in him being tipped forward, swept or submitted. So by not allowing your sparring partner to get his posture, you will always be one step ahead. This means that you can be proactive with your attacks (especially with trapping and binding attack patterns like rubber guard) instead of having to first ‘put out the fires’ of his passage attempts.
5. Don’t Allow Him to Grip
High-Level opponents will also never move without first setting grips, especially in guard. Why? Because if he doesn’t have grips, he cannot maintain good posture and cannot control your torso or hips. This is similar to the tip above in that if you don’t allow him to grip (and even better, engage strong grips of your own), you keep him on the back foot and are more likely to be able to impose your will with a submission or sweep attempt.
This is a trick originally taught to me by my first judo teacher taught me when I was eight years old and it works like magic in bjj, especially the guard. If you want to sweep your opponent in one direction, start to off-balance him in the opposite direction. This often results in him overcompensating his weight towards the direction you want to tip him, making the subsequent sweep much easier. This tip works especially well with the Xande sweep shown below:
7. Utilize the centre-line concept
Imagine a line running down from the top of your opponent’s head to floor, bisecting his body into left and right halves. This is the ‘center-line’. When playing guard, if you can get one of your opponent’s arms all the way across this center-line he becomes very vulnerable to not only the back-take but also several different armbars and sweeps. There are different methods to getting the arm across, but most of them rely on a) using both of your arms against the one of his and b) shifting your hips to the same side of the arm you’re trying to drag across. You can see this concept in action below:
8. ‘Topple the Head’
We spoke of disrupting your opponent’s posture earlier in the article. This concept is similar in that it also usually results in compromising his posture, but it’s more concerned with breaking his balance. Picture your opponent sitting upright in your guard with good posture. Think of his head as a ball bobbing on the top of spout of water. Your objective should be to try and knock the ball off of the spout. If you can do this, you will completely break his balance, priming him for a sweep or submission. There are many ways to do this, whether it be pushing into his neck with your wrist/forearm, reaping the behind his armpit with the back of your knee or tugging him forward from a lapel grip. Anything you can do to move his head off of this ‘central pillar’ is going to make his life more difficult and yours easier.