Playing guard is what makes BJJ special among all grappling arts but understanding how to do it can be difficult without a good understanding of the key concepts involved. It’s easy for new starters to feel lost when first playing off their back, because they’re often taught specific guards one at a time over a period of weeks and months. Because small errors in foot positioning or grips can lead to dramatic differences when dealing with a resisting opponent, this often leads to disaster at the beginning. Focusing on maintaining a single position means that any deviation from that position is diving into the unknown and without a good understanding of how to play guard to fall back on, that isn’t going to go well.
5 Key Concepts For Playing Guard In BJJ
Although there are dozens of specific guards you might hear discussed, it’s best not to think about that at first. One of the best ways to come to terms with the way that playing guard works in BJJ is to first understand a few simple concepts that come into effect with every single guard that you’ll encounter. Focusing on the specific named guard can often lead to you feeling lost once things start to go wrong, and can make connecting guards together more difficult than it needs to be. Rather than trying to memorize every single guard, understanding the concepts that underpin them will not only be significantly easier but it will also help you continue your development down the road.
Inside v Outside Control
One of the most important BJJ concepts that can be used to differentiate between different positions when playing guard is whether they allow you to have inside or outside control. This key concept relates to the space in between an opponent’s thighs, as your own legs can either be inside that space or outside of it. The reason this is so important is because it is incredibly difficult to transition between an inside control guard and an outside control guard. Instead, most transitions will be between guards that are both offer either inside or outside control. While high-level grapplers should be competent in all areas and able to teach from all positions, competitors will often specialize in either inside or outside control and play guards that connect to each other easily.
Half v Full Guards
This one of the simplest BJJ concepts used when playing guard and is generally the one that most people would be introduced to first, even without realizing it. All of the BJJ guards available can be considered either half or full guards, based on how much of the opponent you are able to control when using them. A full guard will have control of the both of the opponent’s legs, whereas a half-guard will instead have the control focused on one of the opponent’s legs. While many new grapplers might get introduced to ‘half guard’ and ‘full guard’ as specific positions, they are in fact very general descriptions that you would use instead. Because a half guard has one leg using outside control and one leg using inside control, half guards can be used as the bridge between outside and inside control guards.
Open v Closed Guards
This is another simple concept that many new starters are introduced to early, but again as names for certain guards rather than as an overall concept. An open guard will mean that your legs are not connected and are working independently of one another, whereas a closed guard will mean that your legs are connected and are working together to maintain the position. Closed guards are generally easier to hold but open guards generally offer significantly more maneuverability for the bottom player. This is one of the concepts that most new people BJJ practitioners often ignore entirely, choosing to cling to a static position when playing guard instead of opening it on their own terms. Knowing why you’re opening and closing your guard, and when to do so, is vital to succeeding on your back.
Range is probably the most overlooked of all concepts when it comes to playing guard in BJJ, particularly at the lowest levels. Every guard can be considered as either long-range, middle-range, or close-range, and it’s important to understand what effect that has on the position. Long-range guards are for when your opponent is standing above you at a distance, middle-range guards are for when your opponent is closing the distance and is able to pressure you more, while close-range guards are for when an opponent is on top of you and is completely connected to you. It is important to be able to play guard in each of those ranges, and to understand how to maintain the control you want as your opponent progresses through the layers of your guard.
Playing Guard Is Offensive, Not Defensive
All guards work in two ways, as they are both a defensive tool used in order to not be stuck under controlling positions and also an offensive tool to sweep or submit an opponent. Every single guard must first be thought of offensively rather than defensively though, in order to ensure that you are able to win off your back or progress to a top position. This is one of the most important concepts in BJJ because being on your back and simply preventing your opponent from passing is not actually playing guard, it’s just delaying the inevitable. Being stuck in a defensive cycle is a surefire way to get your guard passed, and likewise being able to keep up an offensive cycle is a surefire way to sweep or submit an opponent.