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BJJ Instructional Videos
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Ultimate Guard Retention with John Danaher

Ultimate Guard Retention with John Danaher


Guard retention. Its quite possibly the most important skill in BJJ. Whether you’re speaking in terms of self defense or sport, failing to properly retain the guard can have disastrous consequences. In a self-defense situation, your guard retention is your first line of defense. It keeps an assailant from closing the distance, which in turn may also prevent us from sustaining damage from strikes. In a sport scenario, the guard pass can be the beginning of the end if you’re on the other end of an exchange with a proficient player. 

I made guard retention a huge priority very early in my training. Not because I was given a heads up to its great importance, but more out of necessity. As a smaller player, I found myself on my back constantly. I was consistently being smashed, run over, and moved around by guard passers. Unfortunately, I did not have a systemized approach to guard retention, but I did start to develop a better guard from experience, and then later I discovered some guard retention drills that helped me tremendously. 

So, what is the best approach to guard retention? Can it be systemized? How can we successfully identify and provide answers for all the different stages of guard passing? 

John Danaher has you covered once again! In this video, Danaher explains the 6 stages of guard passing, and how the guard player must respond to each different stage. I learned a TON from watching this and I absolutely love the way its presented. Take a look for yourself!


Danaher begins on the other end, with the requirements for the passer to successfully dismantle and pass the guard. He discusses an older method briefly that includes identifying what guard pass is being used, associating it with a weakness, and then applying a counter. There is still validity to this sort of approach, but with an extremely savvy player on the other end, its likely you will not have the time to pick an answer for each of these difficulties. 

If you enjoyed Danaher's Enter The System series You will LOVE Go Further Faster! Click Learn More!


Danaher begins by explaining the role of the guard passer and the six stages of guard passing that must be completed to cement a solid guard pass. They are as follows.

  • Break the four Connection points

If the bottom player hopes to keep the guard passer from advancing, the establishing of four points of connection will be crucial to their efforts. Danaher gives an example of this connection by controlling both sleeves, applying a lasso, and placing his foot on the bicep. With four connection points established, the passer cannot create angles, and all of their movements are shadowed by the guard player as they attempt to move. The passer must shed some of these connection points to begin passing. This brings us to the next requirement.

  • Establishing working grips

This could any number of different grip sets. Without a working set of grips, it’s nearly impossible to advance to the next stage of guard passing.  you can see here that Danaher’s partner is gripping the pants near the knees for a toreando style pass, which is very common. 

  • Creating an angle

With the points of connection broken, and grips established, the passer can now begin to create an angle. In this case, with secure grips on Danaher’s pants, his partner can begin to move to an angle with little threat of Danaher following him using his legs. 

  • Closing the distance

As the pass progresses and begins to become more imminent the passer must begin to close the gap between himself and the guard player. The passer has now completed four stages of the guard pass, and is dangerously close to completion.

  • Level and chest to chest connection

As the distance is closed, the next order of business for the passer is to achieve a chest to chest connection with the bottom player. A knee on belly position would suffice as well, but as Danaher states, chest to chest connection offers a bit more control. Once this connection has been established the pass is almost imminent. 

  • Establish control of the head and shoulders

Controlling the head and shoulders is the final phase of the guard pass. Danaher explains that the passer must create a set of wedges around their partner’s upper body for at lest three seconds to establish control and cement the pass. 

Ok, so now that we understand how the perfect guard pass manifests itself, Danaher turns to the other end of the spectrum. One of my favorite tips here, is the way Danaher explains defense. The further the progression of the guard pass, the more extreme the measures that must be taken. This is a very important concept to keep in mind. 

In the first guard retention example, Danaher’s partner has successfully worked his way through the progression to the third phase of passing, creating an angle. At this juncture Danaher answers with a forehand frame at the bicep. He explains that the ultimate goal of the passer is to secure the head, so this is a good place to focus his initial framing efforts. Danaher then brings his knees into his chest and transitions his top leg to the other side of his partner’s body, creating a scissoring effect that encapsulates his partner’s body. With the scissor in place, Danaher’s partner cannot drop his level, nor can he run around to either side. All that’s left to do is to simply square back up and reset once again tot eh four points of connection. 

Danaher then begins to touch on the different ranges of framing. IN the previous example a forehand frame was implemented. IN a scenario where his partner is bale to get much closer to Danaher a forearm frame will be used instead.

With his partner in close proximity Danaher employs this second method of framing with his forearms. As he sets up his frames, he couples them with a reverse shrimping motion, using his far leg. Danaher then spins under his partner, landing in the same scissoring position on the opposite side. Again, he is now afforded the ability to reset and reconnect to his partner. 

Even further down the path now, Danaher’s partner has achieved a position very close to Danaher, and the threat of the pass is more imminent. This requires Danaher to employ a back handed frame. Danaher rests his far arm on his chest and his other hand on his head to maintain the inside position. He then looks to achieve an under hook and begins to retreat to his knees to hunt for one of his partner’s legs. Keep in mind that the acquisition of one of the legs is key to not allowing the back take to occur, as it is exposed and vulnerable here. Next, Danaher slides his knee to his partner’s knee, hooks his partner’s foot with his outside leg, and begins to lay back, once again reestablishing his guard. 

I enjoyed this immensely, as I do with all of Danaher’s work. Of course, there are things here that you may know, or already do. But I find with Danaher’s instruction that he is able to systemize everything in a manner that makes a tremendous amount of sense. Another great piece of instruction from one of the best instructors on the planet.

BJJ Fundamentals Go Further Faster by John Danaher is the new series set to completely ENHANCE your game. The first installment is focused on ESCAPES! Don't get pinned down anymore!



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