3 Tips to Help Your Guard Passing

In recent weeks Gracie Barra Blog has published several articles on developing your guard. Perhaps the greatest innovations in sports bjj in the last several years have come in the number of different styles of guard games: spider guard, butterfly guard, De la Riva guard, Galaxy guard, lapel guard, cross guard…ands even more are being developed as you are reading this article!


Each style requires different grips and hooks, each with their own strategies, sweeps and submission threats. The passer in turn, needs some principles that will assist in passing any of the guard styles that they encounter (in addition to the specific guard passes).

This week, let’s look at a few ideas on how to pass those frustrating guards and get you into position to submit.

Here are 3 tips to help your guard passing.

1) Break grips & remove the hooks

Flavio-Almeida-GB-Dana-PointIn order to control the guard position, each guard style has its specific grips to inhibit the passer’s attempts.  In most cases, if the passer can break a collar or sleeve grip, or remove a butterfly or spider hook, the guard player’s control is dramatically reduced.

Attempting to pass a guard while the guard player has their key grips will likely be falling directly into a trap for a sweep or triangle.

The first advice is to obtain a good upright posture to prevent your opponent from breaking your balance. Be patient and remove the grips and hooks that are giving you the most trouble before attempting your pass. Often you must stop your pass; remove the troublesome hook/ grip; reset and restart your guard pass. Trying to just blow past your opponent’s guard with their controls intact will allow them to follow you and block your pass. You get tired and make costly mistakes.

2) Change your distance / range

Majority of guard passes fall into one of 2 types: 
a) pressure passing 
b) passing at distance with speed

spiderguardsmI watched two students rolling this week and one was trying a pressure pass against the opponent’s butterfly & half guard. Despite the passer being bigger and heavier, they were frustrated and unable to break down the defense of the guard player. Coaching from the side of the mat I called out for the passer to change tactics. Step back and disengage and try passing at distance with a Bullfighter / Torreada pass.

Within 20 seconds the passer had achieved side control and could now attack with submissions.

Why did it work so well?
Because when the opponent can predict what you are trying to do, they can set 100% of the their defense against your technique.
The guard player was very comfortable in butterfly dealing with a pressure pass, but much less competent when defending a distance passer who could move faster. When you change your tactic, they are forced to defend differently in response, change their guard style, and they  can lose their grip or leverage advantages!

3) Pass on the opponent’s weaker side

Jiu_Jitsu_Closed_Guard.jpWhen it comes to passing, most of us have a dominant side and prefer to pass to our left.  I will go as far as to say that 90% of people pass to their left 90% of the time. As a consequence, most guard players’ defense is well practiced and sharp defending on that side. This is similar to an orthodox fighter confronted with a “south paw” / left handed fighter. Their familiar patterns are now confused and they are less effective.

If the passer changes direction and passes to their right, the guard player is forced to defend on their much less familiar side.
A purple belt becomes a blue and belt and a blue belt becomes a purple belt on that weak side. The next time that you are drilling your favorite guard passes, try drilling the pass to the opposite side so you are prepared to pass to the opponent’s weaker side.

Next week, we will discuss the top 3 white belt guard mistakes.

Please share your favorite guard passing tips in the comments.

Credits: Mark Mullen 
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Taipei, Taiwan
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ