I was watching my friend Jon Thomas teach a class while training at his academy in Gothenburg, Sweden.
For those of you who don’t know Jon. He has one of the best spider guards in all of Jiu Jitsu. So much so that he got the nickname “macarrao” which means spaghetti in Portuguese.
Partly because of his red hair but mostly because of his awesome ability to recompose his guard by utilizing his feet in even the smallest of spaces.
So I’m just observing the class.
It was a small class but those are sometimes the best because you have your instructors’ full attention.
Any way, the students were reviewing spider guard and the different situations that arise when you play that type of guard.
It was at that moment when I came to the realization that playing guard isn’t easy.
You have to know all the possible outcomes that can occur.
All of the defenses.
All of the attacks.
Developing a good guard is no easy task.
In the beginning, you get passed a lot. There’s just no other way. You don’t have the coordination or the experience yet.
And I think a lot of people become afraid.
They become afraid of having their guard passed and being crushed on bottom or being put into an even worse position.
From Giving feedback:
Getting feedback from training partners and instructors is an important aspect in the life of a martial artist. Feedback is how we correct holes in our games. Feedback is how we help our training partners get better. Feedback keeps us honest and humble.
Guard development usually begins in earnest at the blue belt level but I’m starting to witness more and more people putting off developing their guards until higher belt levels. Much to their own disservice. And it’s this observation that I want to focus on in this post.
I’ve been there before as well.
When I was a blue belt I didn’t have a guard. I was okay on top. Tough and athletic.
But if I was on bottom. It was only a matter of time before a decent passer would slide through my guard like a hot knife through butter.
My solution at the time?
I couldn’t get my guard passed if I turtled.
And this strategy worked for a while. At least until I went up against someone with really good back control or someone bigger that could stop me from rolling to turtle.
So I didn’t really solve my problem of not having a guard. I just kept putting it off.
No matter how good you are on top. If you don’t have a comparatively good bottom guard. You will never be able to tap into your true potential.
It’s not a coincidence that the best guard passers in the world also have good guards.
Having confidence in your guard makes your passing that much better. You can commit 100% of your focus on passing and if your opponent manages to sweep you. It’s okay.
But if you don’t have that duality. Being good on top and bottom. Then the fear of being swept or just the fear of playing on bottom will always be in that back of your head and it will cause you to hesitate. Especially when you go up against a tough guard player.
There is no right or wrong here, but I believe that if you want to be good at Jiu Jitsu. Whether or not that includes competing. You will need to develop a workable guard and the earlier you start to build that foundation up, the better off you will be in the long run.
It’s better to put in the ground work now (at lower belts) than to have to address your guard game at a higher belt. Because at that point you will be far behind your peers.
Your body type will play a major role in your guard development.
Your body type won’t limit the guard(s) you will play but it will determine which guards you will be able to do easily.
Much like an IQ test.
Your body type represents your potential to play certain guards and not your actual success in playing those guards.
EX. Short guys that play spider guards or tall guys that play butterfly.
A useful guide is to find a competitor, higher belt, or an instructor with the same or similar body type as you and study their game. Then try to add elements of their style to your own game.
Flexibility is an often overlooked factor in the development of a guard. A common misconception is that you have to be flexible to play guard.
While this is not the case. Being flexible does make playing guard easier.
With flexibility, you will be able to get into the right positions faster and have more strength in those positions.
Even if you’re not naturally flexible you can work on it and after a few sessions it will payoff.
This is more for advanced guard players.
Jiu Jitsu is constantly evolving so you will need to keep updating your toolset/guard game.
If you get to the point where the majority of your training partners cannot pass your guard. Then that is a sign that you need to start developing the other aspects of your guard.
If you have a great half guard. Maybe try working on closed guard or an open guard.
But if you find that everyone you roll with gives you a hard time when you play on bottom or everyone passes your guard. Then you will need to invest more time and effort in studying the bottom game.
Studying can mean watching competition footage of really good guard players.
Studying could be taking a private lesson.
Studying could be meeting a few times a week with a partner to positional spar with you solely focusing on your bottom game.
Whatever the case, Jiu Jitsu is very democratic. You get back what you put into it.
If you want to develop an effective guard you’re going to have to put in the work.
Even if you have the best instructors and training partners in the world, and access to private lessons and online tools.
That can only take you so far.
Eventually, there will come a time when your instructor will no longer have to hold your hands through techniques and instead become more of a motivator and mentor.
When that time comes, it will be up to you to take charge of your training.
You will have to take the initiative in learning new positions.
You will have to decide what techniques you will need to improve upon.
You will have to push yourself in creating a game unique to yourself.
Very much like a role playing game (rpg), the more time and energy that you invest in your Jiu Jitsu the quicker you will be able to level up and learn other skills.
Developing your own guard game
The ultimate expression of Jiu Jitsu is the creation of your own style.
Only you will be able to master your unique body type.
From my own personal experience. I was only able start developing my own guard game when I acknowledge that my guard was a weakness of mine. Then I had to make the conscious decision to actively work on it.
Even if it meant starting on bottom or pulling guard.
Of course, I got my guard passed a lot.
But I was able to work my side mount escapes and my guard recomposing. Eventually being able to hold better guard positions and advance from there.