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Guard Retention and Recovery Principles
Have you ever asked your instructor how to to escape a certain position and without hesitation they say to you, "Don't get caught in (insert position)"? As painful and callous as that response can seem at the time, there is a small element of truth in it. Before we ever think about how to escape a position, a bigger and more fundamental question might be, how or why am I always ending up here?
The same is true for every type of guard. Whenever someone is playing any type of guard, they are attempting to control their opponent's advancement or perhaps attack a submission or sweep from that guard position of their choosing. The opponent's goal is to thwart that guard and get around, through, and over, in other words to pass the guard and secure their next position, whether that might be some sort of bodily control (side control, mount, back mount, etc.) or perhaps even secure a submission of their own.
One of the most common questions from a guard player's perspective is simple, How do I stop someone from passing my guard? The second most common guard player question is, If they pass, what do I do to recover?
In the video below, 5 time world champion, Bernardo Faria breaks down a number of principles that help him earn his way to the top of the competitive podiums all over the world. For more on one of the guards Bernardo Faria has become well known for, the Z Guard, check out this article from BJJ Fanatics!
Let's take a look at the video and then break down some of Bernardo's principles for better understanding.
Guard Retention--Stay as tight as possible
There may be a tendency with certain types of guards to play a more lazy, passive, and relaxed game where you let the person attempting to pass expend all of their efforts trying to get through your guard. Let's take half guard or Z guard for instance, as demonstrated in Bernardo's video above. It's easy to settle into a position where you are letting your lower body sustain the brunt of the guard passer's efforts and just kind of "hang out" to quote Bernardo.
This approach may eventually allow the guard passer to figure out a way to smash or circumvent the legs and begin to pass, putting you in a bad spot as you scramble for what to do next. For Bernardo, it is key that you stay as tight as possible no matter which type of guard you are using. So in the Z guard example, even though the knee shield is still maintaining the brunt of their force, by pulling them close to you with a controlling bottom arm and also framing against their throats can make your Z guard much, much more effective.
This approach gives your opponents must less space to work their passes within. It can seem a bit counter intuitive to try to keep the guard passer close, but by clinging to them and taking away their space to launch a pass, you add to the list of problems that they must address which at bare minimum is going to increase the processing time they will need to launch their pass. By being more active and controlling from the bottom, the opponent on top feels some of the "pressure" that they are trying to dole out on you. Tom DeBlass, for instance, is fond of always saying that at NO TIME should your opponent be comfortable.
So in the example just discussed, engaging your upper body more in your guard game will go a long way to making your Z guard that much more fearful. Bernardo also gives the examples of butterfly guard and maintain a strong upper body to upper body connection between you and your opponent. This tightness will make it much easier to sweep them without using strength for instance. For spider guard, you can lazily sit your foot in their bicep or you can use the length and power from a simple straightening of your leg coupled with your sleeve grip to maintain an intense guard that will have them unbalanced and wondering how to pass. The same goes for the lasso guard. There is lazy lasso and then there is the lasso guard of world class players that Bernardo has trained with in the past. Guess which one is easier to pass.
Guard Recovery: Turning in or Turning out
Bernardo goes on to describe two of his favorite things to do if a person should begin to pass, but not quite establish the pass by securing the position. This is the time where maybe you've not been as tight or active as you possibly could have been or you simply made a mistake and they're starting to pass.
Bernardo's favorite technique as someone begins to pass in an attempt to secure side control is to use his arms to frame, which buys him enough time to make his next move. That next move is to hip escape away, while framing to allow him to scissor his legs and come up to his knees. The arms that were framing work to secure the opponent's leg and hips for a sweep or possibly Bernardo will use his legs to grab and control the opponent's legs and pull them into the quicksand known as his half guard.
In the event that he does not have enough space or time to turn inside towards the opponent, he will actually roll away from the opponent. This is not to be confused with turning away in a way that would expose our backs or opportunities to place hooks. Think of it more as an escape reminiscent of old fire safety drills when we were told to "stop, drop and roll". Bernardo will quickly roll away flat on the mat until he has created sufficient space to be able to insert his knee and legs and establish some form of guard again.
Remember in the case of both of these reactions, the turning inside and the turning outside, are our last chance to not have our guards passed, when the heat is on and the opponent begins to overtake us. The good news is that if you take some of the principles described by Bernardo in his video and improve the overall "tightness" and intensity of your guard game, chances are you will begin to minimize the need to switch over to recovery mode, but it is always good to have both elements in your arsenal. So the next time a newer student asks you how to stop someone from passing your guard, you can, without hesitation, tell them "Don't let them."
If you want to get more of Bernardo Faria's tricks and techniques, you will want to check out his "Battle Tested Half Guard" series available here in 4 On Demand volumes from BJJ Fanatics. This is just one of the amazing DVD and On Demand instructionals available from Bernardo Faria. At BJJ Fanatics, you will find instructionals from Bernardo on Escapes, Submissions, Closed Guard, Pressure Passing, and Omoplatas to just name a few!