Showing posts with tag: guard retention

How the internet helped me create a BJJ instructional

So my very first digital product was released by BJJ Fanatics recently. So I’m going to leave the link here. 

So the team over at BJJFANATICS reached out to me to do a video with them. After winning the 2018 Abu Dhabi East Cost trials. 

Since I live Sweden and BJJFANATICS is based out of the US. I knew that it would be a while before I would be filming. So I used this time to my advantage in helping me pick the topic that I wanted to cover. 

The first thing I did was start researching topics. 

Topics that I was confident in showing  and then cross referencing them with the BJJFANATICS database. 

This coupled with talking to their main team and some of my marketing friend helped me weed out more competitive topics. 

Topics dealing with leg locks had already been done. 

I remember that I really wanted to do a no gi passing video focusing on the knee cut pass, but then Gordon Ryan released a no gi passing dvd. 

So I had to really change up my thought process. 

What was a topic that didn’t get a lot of attention but would probably be applicable to the the largest audience?

If you guys follow me a lot. I post regularly to the social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Reddit. 

Most of the content that I make is geared toward basic techniques for a few key reasons. 

1// There are more and more people starting Jiu Jitsu than at any other point in history. In large part thanks to the UFC and mma. This also is aided by the Joe Rogan podcast and Hollywood as a whole embracing Jiu Jitsu into its world. That means a whole lot of white belts. 

2// It’s hard to convey complex techniques in under 1 minute. Of course, some of the other social media platforms allow for more time. But even then, more complex topics and moves only cater to a very small minority of viewers. I teach almost daily and even then I have to constantly revisit basic techniques over and over with my own students. There’s no way that a person will get the moves I show just from watching a video once or twice. 

So I had to go back to the drawing board. Luckily, my friend that I mentioned earlier is a marketing wiz in addition to being an avid consumer of Jiu Jitsu content. So he sent this to me. Which I later forwarded to the crew at BJJFANATICS:

“I think more and more “gi only” guys are starting to get into no gi. However, there aren’t solid no gi 101 DVD’s that I know of.

I feel like every no gi DVD is either advanced leg locks or focused on one specific submission like anaconda / kimura / gullotine. 

There’s a gap in the market for dudes who are into lapel guards / spider guard / collar sleeve, trying out no gi, and being completely lost because we don’t have our grips.

Which is interesting because you’re a spider guard / gi guy, yet have success at no gi with a different game.”

Reading this definitely helped me to decided to focus on no gi basics. 

But I still needed to narrow down my topic some more. Since the basics could be anything. 

That’s when I decided to go and see what Reddit r/bjj had to say. 

If your not familiar with Reddit bjj. It’s probably one of the largest Jiu Jitsu online communities. 

All those funny memes and viral videos tend to get posted there before any where else.  

That’s why it’s such a great resource. Once you get the hang of it. 

And they gave me some great advice. 

Guard retention was something that I had been working on since I moved to Sweden. To teach along side Jon Thomas. So I was super confident in this lane. 

That just left testing the topic. 

My biggest way of testing the topic was just two fold. 

The easiest way for me to test the subject matter was by teaching it in my classes. 

This is one super benefit of being an instructor. Since the class format and instruction can be very similar to variables in an experiment. Meaning that I could change around the class as much as I wanted to get more experience working on my subject matter. 

The only downside was that the students guards got a lot better. Making it even harder to attempt to pass lol. 

So for guard retention. I would have the students focus on the very basics. 

I would have them perform techniques like shrimping, arm framing drills along side introducing common guard retention situations. 

Then I would observe my class and watch to see what were some of the sticking points giving the students issues. 

For instance the forward shrimp was a big sticking point. I had to keep going over the forward shrimp since a lot of my students were not familiar with it. 

So I would used this process over and over again to refine my knowledge of the topic of guard retention. Along with a lot of positional sparring too. 

And then I would use the sticking point to create videos on my no gi guard retention and see how it performed.

Performance metrics included the number of likes, shares, upvotes, comments and views that the video would get. 

The forward shrimp being a great example of this development. 

So I would teach the move. The students would have trouble with a particular sticking point. Then that sticking point would get filmed later on. Sometimes directly after the class had ended. 

Of course, there are a ton of variables out there to account for such as: title, thumbnail, posting time. That can all affect how well a video does. 

But to keep it simple. I would post the main video to YouTube/Vimeo. 

While making smaller clips from the same video and turn those in to clips for Instagram and Facebook. 

This was a super simple way to market test whether or not there was any interest in what I was showing. 

If a certain topic just didn’t perform well. That just meant that there wasn’t enough interest in it.

Which can definitely kill a product launch. 

There were many times when I thought a video would resonate well with my audience only for it to flounder. 

And other times when I didn’t want to film but did so any way and those videos would take off. 

Instead of just showing my favorite techniques. My goal was to merge my knowledge with what people really wanted to see and learn. 

And eventually put out a great product. 

So if you guys would like to check out my new release. Please click the link below. 

If you have any feedback. Good or bad please send it my way so I can use it to make my next product release even better. 

Focus on recomposing first

Lots of beginner students want to develop a berimbolo or a spider guard or a De la Riva guard right from the start. 

It’s a classic example of wanting the shiny object. Or wanting dessert before dinner. 

You see that a move is very effective or a position is very common and of course you want to practice those moves or those positions. 

But I believe for beginners especially,  you should focus on learning how to retain your guard first. 

Guard retention is such an under appreciated skill that will form the foundation of your guard play. 

If you have good guard retention you will have a great guard. 

So many higher belts neglect or have neglected this and it always comes back to bite them. 

If nothing else it will be easier to start off with guard retention first and build up from there versus learning how to play a particular guard and then having to train and un-learn bad habits. Just to focus on those same basics. 

Basics are something that a lot of people don’t want to focus on. It’s not cool, it’s not fancy, it’s very bare-bones, very utilitarian and sometimes boring. 

And I see this with higher level competitors as well. They might be advanced in many positions but have very low skill in the fundamentals.

It might not seem like a big a deal because you can be a top competitor without the fundamentals. However, this is only true for the top 1% of athletes doing Jiu Jitsu. 

For the rest of us, it’s probably better if we develop those basics early on because it will pay off in the long run.  It’s very similar to saving. If you learn how to save when you’re young — you know saving has a compounding effect — by the time you’re 60 if you’re saving since 15 you will have accrued a lot of wealth. Versus if you start saving at age 50. By the time you’re 60 it will not have grown as much. 

What I’m getting at is time is key.

The time that you spend learning how to recompose is going to pay off later on. Of course, you’re going to get you guard passed learning how to recompose properly. That’s just a part of the process until you become more confident and you develop a sense of where to position your self so you can fight to keep your guard. 

Developing your guard to the next level

Playing guard for a beginning student isn’t easy.

In fact, starting a new activity or study comes with a lot of trial and error. In Jiu Jitsu, that means a lot of tapping.

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.

I think that’s why it’s important to study instructors and competitors at high levels of mastery.

Study how it seems like they know all the possible outcomes that can occur from their guard(s).

All of the defenses.

All of the attacks.

Developing a good guard yourself is a challenging task.
Throughout your entire life, whether that included other sporting activities or just sitting at a desk studying. The movements of Jiu Jitsu on the ground are strange and foreign.

Getting down the basic movements like shrimping, rolling, and bridging will keep you preoccupied for a few months (or years).

In the beginning, you will get passed a lot. There’s just no other way. You don’t have the coordination or the experience yet.

So many beginners and intermediate students become afraid of playing on bottom.

They become afraid of having their guard passed and being crushed or being put into an even worse position.

Guard Development

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 great guards.

Leandro Lo

Rafa Mendes

Lucas Lepri

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.

Body type

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.

Constant Study

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.

Whatever the case, Jiu Jitsu is very democratic. You get back what you put into it.

Mindful Practice

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.