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Three Effective Guards for the Smaller Grappler

Three Effective Guards for the Smaller Grappler


Being the smaller grappler can be very difficult.  It is never easy to go against your training partners with a big weight or strength advantage but if you know what guards to play it can make life easier.  When you’re a smaller guy people expect you to be very quick and agile and this leads to many bigger guys trying to slow you down by playing a pressure based passing game or a tight guard game.  In order to alleviate any pressure and not allow your opponent to distribute their weight properly, you have to be very picky about what guard you play.

The problem with being small is when you allow your opponent to start to smash you it can be very difficult to come back.  If your opponent gets into positions like the over-under pass, under hook and cross face pass, half guard passing positions, or any position where the weight distribution is in their favor it can pose a problem.  So how do you pick and choose your guards and what are the best guards to play?

This is subjective and up to speculation, but the idea is to play a guard that does not allow your opponent to put their weight on you, so you need to play a distance based guard.  Three of the best guards to play in Brazilian Jiu jitsu when going against a bigger opponent (given you have a kimono) are spider guard, De La Riva Guard, and the X-Guards.  All of these guards have been proven effective time and time again against much larger and stronger opponents and many of these guards have even been deemed “light weight” guards.

Spider Guard

So lets start with the spider guard.  This is an excellent choice of defense and offense for a lighter guy that is going to be going against a larger opponent.  Why? Well, simply put, this guard is all about distance management.  When you choose to play the spider guard you have to get double sleeve grips, once you have achieved the double sleeve grip you will proceed to put your feet on your opponent’s biceps and this will keep them off of you.

When you have your opponent in a good spider guard it is nearly impossible for them to close the distance and utilize their weight advantage, this is because your legs are separating your opponent from you.  The thing with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is that typically when passing, you want to close the distance and when you are playing guard (especially if you are a smaller) you want to create distance.

When playing the spider guard you will be able to maximize the distance and still be aggressive.  Some people consider this position stalling or think that is not worth learning because it cannot be utilized in the street.  This is ignorant thinking, how often do you use your Jiu Jitsu in the street?  How often do you use your Jiu Jitsu at the academy?  Exactly, you use it much more in your gym.  This guard can be an excellent option for submissions.

When you are playing the spider guard it becomes very difficult to pass and next to impossible to smash you.  This leads to your opponent getting frustrated and when this happens, you can use arm bars, triangles, omoplata’s and sweeps from the spider guard.  Contrary to popular belief, Spider guard is not stalling and has been utilized successfully at the highest levels of competition.  Romulo Barral is a multiple time Black belt World Champion who has used spider guard successfully to win black belt World Championships.  Check out this video below showing how to properly apply spider guard and some spider guard drills.

De La Riva Guard

De La Riva guard can also be an excellent option for the lighter bjj fighter when faced with a weight disadvantage.  The De La Riva Guard has quickly risen to popularity at the highest levels of competition because of the effectiveness.  This guard is also extremely based on distance control.  When you are a smaller guy this can be an excellent guard.  De La Riva has exploded with popularity in the competition scene in the last 5 years due to several reasons.

For the smaller guy this is one of the best guards to play because it does not allow the heavier opponent to put their weight on you, it is easy to get to, and it is an extremely great guard with many submission and sweeping opportunities.  The De La Riva Guard is primarily based on getting a De La Riva hook in, once you have the hook you will slow down your opponent from passing and it will be much more difficult for a larger opponent to put their weight on you.  Once you get your hook there are several different ways to use your grips.  Today the collar and sleeve is very popular, the ankle and the cross collar is popular, and the double sleeve is popular.  All of these grips are great for different things.

The De La Riva is great to control distance, but it is also an excellent position to sweep and submit.  There are so many different submissions that you can apply from this position.  There are omoplata’s, triangle chokes, arm locks, ankle locks, heel hooks, calf slicers, the possibilities are endless.  This guard has a bad rap because many people do not know how to deal with it so it causes frustration.  Check out this awesome back take from ADCC and IBJJF Champion, Felipe Pena.

The X-Guards

When we mention the X-guars we are actually referring to 2 different guards, the traditional X-guard and the single leg X guard, both of which are excellent options for the smaller opponent. These guards were both popularized by the legend, Marcelo Garcia who was a middle weight contender that defeated many larger opponents including Andre Galvao, Rico Rodrigues, and Xande Riberio. 

The X-guards are both absolutely amazing for the smaller guy.  There is a pattern here, and yes these guards follow that pattern.  The X-guards are both excellent for controlling the distance, if you are playing X Guard or single leg x guard it is next to impossible for your opponent to smash pass you.  These guards can be very complex and difficult to learn the mechanics, but if you take the time do so, they are excellent options for defeating larger opponents.

The X guard is a great position because you are completely underneath your opponent and they cannot put their weight on you.  There are many leg locks from here but the X guard is primarily used for sweeping.  Sweeping from X guard is virtually effortless.  Single leg X guard is an excellent position for sweeping as well, but the single leg X is simply unmatched for leg  locks.  From the single leg X you can do ankle locks, toe holds, heel hooks, estima locks, knee bars, compression lock, pretty much any lower body attack and lower body attacks can be an equalizer against larger opponents.   So if you are struggling to find a good guard, check out the X guard or the single leg X guard especially if you are at a weight disadvantage.  This is also an excellent position to learn if you want to get into leg locks.

So the pattern was simple, you need to find a guard that allows you to keep some distance between you and your opponent.  There are several other guards that may be able to accomplish this task but these three are excellent options and they have all been proven effective at the highest levels of competition.   Despite what people say about being small can be an advantage, there are weight classes for a reason.  It’s simple, if someone is bigger than you, it can be more difficult to beat them unless you know. Check out this weep from one leg x below for an intro to the position.

So you’re a smaller person and you really want to learn how to beat up the bigger guys… well look no further, here at BJJ Fanatics, we have a solution for you.  Matheus Gonzaga is a light feather weight Purple belt World Champion at IBJJF.  If you’re not familiar with weight classes that means that Matheus won the 137.0 lb weight division.  He has also won numerous open weight divisions; he is a very small guy and has shown the ability to beat much larger opponents successfully.  Check out his DVD Set “The Light Weight Guard” if you want to learn some of his best techniques.  This entire DVD Set is dedicated to helping you learn how to defeat that bigger and stronger opponent.


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