The Finer Details of No Gi Guard Passing
Effective guard passing is essential to begin developing as early as humanly possible in your BJJ development because nothing is as frustrating as being held at bay by an opponent's guard, whether it is closed or opened. During live training, we can sometimes get lucky or capitalize on a simple mistake by our opponent and get past their legs and guard. For this reason, there is no skill in jiu jitsu where it is more necessary to drill techniques as much as possible to effectively ingrain the necessary muscle memory for the movements and reactions that are necessary. The importance of drilling and focusing your practice on specific skills is a methodology that is advocated by almost all of the top athletes in the sport. Because we may only encounter a specific scenario a few times during training, the act of forcing ourselves to address a problem over and over helps us learn more and more ways to adapt to and overcome the challenge.
One of the most successful BJJ competitors in history, six time world champion featherweight Rafael Mendes is one of the most dynamic and technical jiu jitsu athletes and instructors. Let's take a look at some crucial details of a few of his favorite No Gi guard passing drills. In these drills the opponent has Rafael in Reverse De La Riva and he shows how to transition from side to side to leave both directions available for quick and agile adjustments.
The Importance of Stance and Posture
In this drill, Rafael Mendes stresses the importance of staying crouched low to keep the center of gravity low and allow for maximum pressure, while allowing for the best mobility. One of the key lessons of this drill is that your legs should be burning. They should be tired, because this will best prepare you for the strains and stresses of competition. There will not be an opportunity during a match to stand, to stretch and relax and then resume the guard pass attempt. Instead, we must develop the stamina to be able to attack and make adjustments if the opponent thwarts our pass to one. We have to quickly be able to adjust and attack the other direction or side.
Also, it should be noted that our rear leg stance must be somewhat different then when we are passing wearing the gi. In a gi version of a similar pass, we would be able to utilize collar and lapel control to keep the opponent from reaching for our leg and destabilizing us, but in the No Gi version, if we are not careful, the opponent looking for an advantage will reach out and grab our legs. Therefore, we must keep our rear stabilizing leg back out of harms reach.
The Arms Must Not Reach Out
When the hands are placed on the opponent's hips, we must be ultra careful not to simply back up and straighten them. This could open us up to the opponent weaving their leg in and unhinging our grips, or even for them to step on our biceps spider-guard style thereby also breaking the grips. A good rule of thumb that will save you a lot of hassle in most of the jiu jitsu techniques you will come across is to ingrain it within your psyche that if your arms are straight, you are most likely in a vulnerable position.
While we're talking about controlling the hips, it's important to keep the pressure directed down into their hips and core to best force them to bear the brunt of our force and keep them from being too mobile.
Use Those Elbows
It's crucial to use the spreading outwards of your elbows to keep pressure on their thighs and to also supplement the pressure you are putting on their hips. This will go the extra mile to keep them from breaking the grip and will also allow you to steer them very effectively. This pressure will also be extremely uncomfortable for them and make it that much harder for them to counter your guard pass.
Step Backwards Not Just Sideways
If we only step sideways to try to attack the guard pass, we will not free our thigh from the Reverse De La Riva that we are presented with. Instead, we must step back and at an angle at the same time to ensure that we free our leg. This will allow us to move freely with the help of the hands on the hip and the outward elbow pressure on their thighs. We will easily be able to move to the side and adjust and bring our knees forward to smash their thigh.
By using our thigh to pin the opposing thigh, we will leave our hands and arm free on that side to protect against their arm coming into play. So to recap the drill, we begin with hands on the hip stuck in Reverse De La Riva. We use downward pressure into their hips, outward pressure of our elbows to keep their thighs at bay and we step back and at an angle to free ourselves from the guard. We move quickly to the side in the low hip posture and bring our formerly outside knee to the side to pin the thigh and then we repeat going the other direction back and forth, methodically.
Mendes builds on the drill by adding an underhook grab, head drop and knee to the floor motion. Once you move to the side and pin the leg with your knee, you will use the same side arm to dig for the underhook on the opponent's far side. It is crucial that you do not reach and extend your arm as you are again vulnerable to be caught in a sneaky arm lock. Instead you should keep your elbow close and drop your arm with your upper torso simultaneously. By coupling this motion with the dropping of your head to the side of the opponent's head on the same side you are passing, you will lock of the pressure on them. Don't forget to drop your hips against the opponent and bring the knee to the mat to finish the pass and come back to neutral and do the technique on the other side.
By adding these essential details to your guard passing, your No Gi game will improve dramatically. The great thing is that the time spent working on No Gi passing will also pay dividends in a stronger Gi passing game.
For more on developing an effective guard passing game, check out this previous article from BJJ Fanatics on the topic here!
In the video below, world champion Rafael Mendes demonstrates the two No Gi passing drills that we've been discussing in the article. Pay close attention to the details and the precision with which he explains the drill. Through perfect practice and repetition of this drill, you will improve the way you pass the open guard. Before you know it, you will be slicing through their legs like a hot knife through butter.
Take part of your weekly training routine to add a few drills such as these as warmups and as skill builders. Your legs may burn after a few dozen repetitions, but the dividends to your game will make the pain well worth it as you pass through your opponent's guard like it's not even there.
Now that you've seen some key details of No Gi guard passing from one of the most decorated competitors in BJJ competition history, you will want to check out another of the elite jiu jitsu athletes and this instructional that contains tons (literally and figuratively) of high percentage smash passing details that will take your game to the next level. Rodolfo Vieira's "Smash, Pass, Finish" instructional available here in On Demand format is a must have!