The Zany Z-Guard
There is a style of guard play that has become extremely popular in recent years in jiu jitsu, the Z-Guard. The Z-Guard is a position in which the guard player has an open half guard with their top leg framed at an angle across their opponent. Why is this guard so effective? And what does the future hold for it?
For starters, Z-Guard offers its users the ability to manage distance in their half guard with greater efficiency than using hands and arms to frame. The ability to frame and the versatility and variability of frames will ultimately determine many guard styles’ efficacy and efficiency. Basically, in order for a guard to be effective, one must be able to manage distance readily with it, and the Z-Guard’s knee shield framing is ideal for this purpose.
Z-Guard has its place both in gi and no gi grappling. In the gi, grips make it a fantastic sweeping position. The guard player’s ability to shift their opponent’s weight is amplified by the knee shield. The knee shield turns the guard player’s body into a lever and the point of contact acts as a fulcrum, this provides entry points into various sweeps and other guards.
In no gi, Z-Guard is a bit more risky if leg locks are acceptable, but it also provides some interesting leg lock entries. The guard can be transitioned to a single butterfly hook to create elevation providing some very interesting transitions that can be offensively significant. Another option would be entry to deep half which many of this guard’s players utilize synonymously with Z-Guard.
As with most positions and situations in jiu jitsu, Z-Guard relies heavily on the choices in reactions from the opponent. If the opponent is more interested in backing away than engaging the situation, it may be wise to transition to other available guards or to try to find submission entries, while if the opponent is crowding, the guard offers its user some interesting options, specifically a myriad of sweeps.
One of the most active players of this guard is Bernardo Faria. Check out this video breakdown of Faria using the Z-Guard successfully in competition.
Z-Guard pairs nicely with spider guard and lapel guard. Given the knee’s position relative to an opponent, the guard player can readily fan their knee out and begin to play spider guard or expose their opponent’s lapel in order to play lapel guard. However conservative the initial positioning of Z-Guard may look, it inherently lends itself to easy transition to other kinds of guards.
Interestingly, in spite of its modernity, Z-Guard is also an effective self defense method as it allows the person playing it to manage distance and control their opponent’s physical positioning. It also works nicely to provide proper framing to allow the person on bottom to actually throw strikes of their own (though that should probably not be the main objective, rather sweeping should be.)
Z-Guard lends itself to relative ease of drilling. Many guards require far more dexterity and flexibility but this guard is appropriate for someone with physical limitations or someone inexperienced. Because it is relatively intuitive and requires little to no athleticism, it is more versatile than many other more labor intensive guards.
Another interesting factor that makes Z-Guard useful is its lack of dependence upon size. There are some guards that are more effective for use by smaller practitioners, and some that are better for bigger practitioners, but it has its benefits for all sizes. A smaller practitioner can use it to play a half guard game without worrying about getting squashed, while a bigger practitioner can use it to slow a faster opponent down.
Z-Guard’s utility lies in its compatibility with other guards. A practitioner who has a well practiced and drilled Z-Guard can make transitions to other guards easily making it sort of a chameleon of guards changing its form to suit scenarios.
Bernardo Faria has continuously made effective use of this guard, both as a transitional position as well as an attacking one. If you are interested learning a bit about how Faria plays guard in general, he has put together a fantastic DVD covering the details of his closed guard. You can check it out here https://bjjfanatics.com/product/dvd/closed-guard-4-dvd-set-bernardo-faria/.