If you are training BJJ long enough someone probably asked you already what do you prefer: to roll from top or bottom. Maybe you even heard that sacramental question: are you guard passer or guard player. If you are still not sure which one are you, want to improve your game or you just have no idea what’s going on, this article is for you.
As the name suggests guard passer is someone specialized in guard passing. Which is said to be one of the hardest parts of BJJ. Forming a solid guard passing game is one of the most challenging things to do in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The process of guard passing itself consists of various tactics and strategies. Some of the most common essential guard passing ideas include posture, pressure, and timing. Pressure passing is probably the most popular method of guard passing in the BJJ world right now.
How to become a good guard passer?
If you want to be better at guard passing you really need to focus on your posture. It may be one of the most important aspects while improving guard passing game. When you develop good posture from every position it will make it much more difficult for your opponents to apply submissions or sweeps from any guard. And that’s is really important, because your number one priority in passing your opponent’s guard is to not get swept or submitted.
Also, if you want to become a great guard passer you cannot forget about pressure. The pressure is understood here in several ways. There is pressure where you smash your opponent, but it can be also relentlessness or pace. You can press your opponent by continually moving so that they will be reacting to you. However, regardless of understanding pressure, the goal is the same. You just can’t leave your opponent space. If you are passing the guard don’t give your opponent time and place to establish positions. To have good guard passing, you also need to remember about timing. You must be capable to hit your pass at the accurate moment.
Don’t be one-sided
Another thing that we often forget and it’s really stopping us from becoming a good guard passer is passing the guard at only one side. Of course, everyone has one better side, but if you want to improve your guard passing game you must be adaptable. As a guard passer, you must be patient, too. Remember, while passing guard take care of posture first, then remove the hooks and break the grips. Only after you do that you can start your pass.
Last, but not least tip for how to become better at guard passing: you need to be good at passing every guard. It might sound a bit odd but without knowledge of how to pass not only a few guards but all of them you cannot become a great guard passer. To do this you watch videos on every guard and then you drill and drill and drill every guard. It could take a long time, but it is worth it.
Examples of some of the greatest guard passers
Black belt, great instructor and competitor with many successes such as World Champion. Despite the fact, he is best known for his deep half-guard, Bernardo Faria is also famous for his pressure passing. He is practically capable of passing any guard he’s faced. You can say his secret is using old school style techniques of passing and controlling the opponent’s hips.
While talking about great guard passers you must mention both Ribeiro brothers. Saulo Ribeiro is a Judo and BJJ black belt, by many considered to be one of the greatest grapplers, who made a career squashing guards. While not being the biggest man on the mat, thanks to his fight style focused on top control and pressure Saulo won many championships such as ADCC.
Alexandre, commonly known as “Xande”, the younger brother of Saulo, for many BJJ fans is known as a “the passing machine”. He is a legendary competitor, who won numerous grappling tournaments, including IBJJF World Championship and ADCC. Xande is famous for his pressure passing, utilizing the destructive breaking pass the Ribeiro brothers are recognized for. Xande is also know for his impassible guard.
There are many great guard passers from the Gracie family. However, as one of the most successful competitors in BJJ (14 World Champion, 10 times as the black belt), Roger deserves special attention here. He got one of the best pressure passing game anyone in the BJJ world has ever seen. Rogers’s secret is putting attention to even the smallest details while passing the guard. It can be putting weight on the carotid artery with a shoulder or special way of using the gi.
The guard player is someone who has the guard as a preferred position. There are several ways of using this position, some more orientated towards sport BJJ (both gi and no gi), others for more for self-defense or MMA. Guard can be used both offensively and defensively, or even to slow down the opponent or the momentum of a fight. Your main goal while playing a guard is generally to either get a submission or to sweep.
How to become a good guard player?
Firstly you need to know how to control the guard properly and how to get back to it when someone will try to pass it. Guarding your grips is extremely important here. When you got a solid grip on your opponent you can control their posture. And once you have someone’s posture, you can go about applying any open guard attack you want. It is a simple equation, no grips mean no guard.
However, that’s not the only thing to remember if you want to improve your guard game. If you want to be a good guard player you need to remember about your hips. You cannot let your opponent control your hips, because this will make playing guard very difficult, almost impossible. The reason why it is so important is that your hips decide how much you can move your legs. And with your legs, you can attack/control an opponent from the guard and you should care about this range to be as wide as possible. So, if you want to improve your guard game you should take care of hip mobility.
Last but not least, if you want to be good at guard playing you just cannot let your opponent catch his breath. In guard, the attack is the best defense. As long as you’re a constant threat, your opponent won’t even think about passing your guard. You just need to be constantly attacking, you have to take the initiative, don’t wait for your opponent’s move. Remember here about grips. Get one and go for something, it can be a sweep or a submission. Whatever you choose as long as you have a good grip, you can move your hips and you can launch an offensive. Just don’t lay flat on your back and be passive, instead keep moving and you will be good.
Examples of some of the greatest guard players
Master Helio Gracie
The legendary founder of BJJ and a big fan of playing guard. Helio Gracie was the master of the grip game. According to him, a simple collar grip can get you a crucial advantage every time.
Ricardo De La Riva
One of the legendary BJJ black belts and one of the most creative guard players to have ever competed in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Ricardo revolutionized guard game with the creation of the “De La Riva guard” (originally called “guarda pudim”).
Talented grappler with many wins at various competitions, mostly known for his guard abilities. He is extensively skilled at maintaining his guard and using unorthodox guard positions to sweep and submit some of the world’s greatest guard passers. Keenan is also a creator of one of the newer guards such as the worm guard. He even created his Lapel Encyclopedia in which he explains his guard playing system.
Another great grappler that is well known for his excellent guard abilities. Multiple ADCC and IBJJF champion Marcelo Garcia is famous for his Butterfly and X Guard. He is using his guards mostly to sweeps.
Choose your guard game
To pass or to play, to be a guard player or a guard passer that is the question. Usually, when starting BJJ you really don’t know what you want, you don’t have the entire development path, you are just doing what your coach is saying. At this point, you don’t really know what’s gonna suit you. The best you can do here is just to absorb knowledge. Later, when you understand more you can focus on choosing your guard path.
If you are already at the moment of wondering which guard approach to choose you need to look at your physical attributes. They will define your game. At the beginner level, it is physical advantages that compensate for the lack of technique. It can be your strength, speed or flexibility. Whatever it is, your strongest physical quality will determine if you better suited for a top or bottom game very early on.
Another thing that can affect your choice of being a guard passer or player is your previous experience. If you trained wrestling, Judo or some striking martial arts before you are more likely to prefer to roll from top. Where instead people with Sambo or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu or no experience at martial arts/combat sports at all seem to prefer guard playing. It is also said that guard considered as a relatively safe position is mostly preferred by lighter/smaller people.
Whatever the case, these are all factors that decide your guard game very early on. After you gain some experience, like getting a blue belt, you may continue on your path, or decide to try something new. It is just said before getting a black belt you will probably stick to your main theme.
Guard player vs guard passer at a competition
If you want to compete in BJJ just remember it is said that the top-based game offers a higher percentage of success in competition. This is due to the fact that there are points for passing the guard, and there are no points for e.g. pulling into a closed guar. However, as the above examples of some of the greatest guard players show, you can still prefer to roll from the bottom and be successful. So, just remember about this slight advantage of guard passers at tournaments but don’t be discouraged and just practice what you chose. After all, no matter if you choose to be guard passer or player, it’s just practice that makes perfect. So, just keep drilling and you will be fine with your game.