Mastering the Art of Guard Passing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Jan 31, 2023Jiu-Jitsu

Guard passing is one of the essential skills for success in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Being able to effectively pass an opponent’s guard allows you to advance to a dominant position and ultimately achieve a submission. However, guard passing can be extremely challenging, especially against skilled opponents with solid defensive guards. In this article, we’ll break down some of the key heuristics and principles for developing excellent guard passing technique. Follow these tips and you’ll be smashing through guards in no time!

Make Your Opponent Face Away From You

One of the first things you want to do when passing guard is turn your opponent away from you. When facing you, your opponent can engage all four limbs to block your progress and maintain their guard. However, when facing away, there is less for them to defend with. This opens opportunities for you to move around to their back or pass to side control. Try to control their hips or upper body and reposition them to face the opposite direction as you look to pass.

Use Staging Positions

Rather than trying to pass the guard in one big move, focus on achieving strong “staging” positions along the way. These are positions of stability that allow you to hold temporarily while setting up your next attack. Some examples are headquarters (overhooking the leg), knee slide, and cross knee pin. Move methodically through layers of the guard, advancing to each staging position until you can complete the pass.

Make Your Opponent Hip Escape

When your opponent hip escapes to create space, it often separates their knees from their chest. This gives you an opening to pass their legs and secure a dominant position. Bait your opponent into hip escaping by pressuring into them. When they hip out, be ready to slide through the gap.

Force the Half-Guard

Nearly all excellent guard passers are adept at passing the half-guard. Work on techniques that let you force half-guard as you pass. Options like the leg drag, knee cut, and leg weave are great for this. From half guard you can flatten them out, trap a leg, and move to side control or mount much more easily.

Avoid Leg Entanglements

Don’t let your opponent control your legs. If they can secure grips above your knee or scoop a leg across their body, it significantly impedes your passing. Be proactive about keeping your feet and knees out of range of their grips. If they start to grab for a leg, be ready to pull it back or drop your weight to clear their grip before they can establish control.

Advance When Controlling Grips

Passing the guard is often a grip fighting battle. When you have dominant grips, look to advance forward. For example, securing an underhook and crossface is a prime time to pressure through their guard. However, if your opponent strips your grips or establishes strong frames, take that as a sign to transition to a new position rather than stubbornly trying to force your way past their defense.

Stay On Your Toes

Balance on the balls of your feet when passing guard. This allows you to be light and mobile. If you are flat-footed, your movement will be sluggish. Dynamic footing gives you the ability to pressure in and drive through your opponent’s defenses. Drop your weight and dig into your toes to maximize the pressure you apply.

Control Your Opponent’s Bottom Leg

The bottom leg is key for your opponent to retain guard, frame against you, and even stand up to escape. Make controlling and neutralizing this leg a priority. Trap it between your legs in half guard. Grab the pant cuff and extend it away to limit their movement. Sit on the shin or ankle to immobilize it. Taking away their bottom leg shuts down many of their defensive options.

Avoid Underhooks

Never allow your opponent to secure an underhook on you during passing. Underhooks allow them to control your posture and off-balance you. Be proactive about denying underhooks. Any time your opponent reaches for one, block and intercept their arm. Win the underhook battle yourself by securing dominant underhooks first. This will stick you to their torso and shut down their ability to push you away.

Look for the Crossface

The crossface is another integral control for guard passing. By sliding your shoulder under your opponent’s chin or neck and connecting your hands, you can turn their head away while stapling yourself to their upper body. This limits their mobility and lets you flatten them out more easily. The crossface and underhook together give you the control needed to smash through most open guards.

Cook Your Opponent

Some guard passing positions require your opponent to constantly work to simply maintain their guard, even if you aren’t actively attacking. Positions like the leg drag, knee on belly, and stack pass make your opponent carry their own weight and gradually wear them down. After cooking them for a while, their defenses become weaker and passing becomes much easier.

Learn to Pass Standing

Develop your ability to open and pass guard while standing. It is very difficult to generate enough leverage and pressure to pass effectively from your knees. Standing upright allows you to better break their grips and posture up. Practice opening closed guard and then immediately looking to pass once the guard is opened. This limits their opportunities to re-establish control.

Control Your Opponent’s Hips

Your opponent’s hips provide them mobility and space. Take away their ability to hip escape and it shuts down one of their main tools for recomposing guard. Look to pin their hips to the mat with pressures. Options include a cross knee pin, knee on belly, and headquarters pinning the leg down with your knee. Taking away their hips limits their movement and ability to create space.

Use Windshield Wipers to Change Sides

The windshield wiper leg motion is essential for tightly changing angles during passing. For example, if you smash their legs together and then want to pass the other direction, windshield wiping your legs allows you to switch sides while staying compact and avoiding getting your legs grabbed. In general, small dynamic movements with your legs triangulated in the “windshield wiper” position provide excellent mobility.

Keep Your Head Up and Post

Don’t be content just hugging onto your opponent. Get your head up and drive it into them to force their hands and attention upwards. This leaves their hips and legs more exposed for you to pass. Additionally, “post” your hand and head when needed to retain your base. Ready yourself to post at any moment your opponent looks to sweep or off-balance you. Posting allows you to stay heavy on top.

Take Away Preferred Positions

Observe your opponent’s guard to determine their preferred style. Do they like playing open guard with their feet on the outside? Try to force half guard. Do they rely on getting underneath you for sweeps? Pressure down to flatten them out. Taking opponents out of positions they want to play makes imposing your gameplan much easier. Force them into uncomfortable positions and then capitalize on their weakened defense.

Catch Them Mid-Transition

The midway point when your opponent is transitioning between their back and seated is prime for you to take control. When tilted back but not fully grounded, their base is compromised. When moving to seated, they often must take a hand off the floor. During these transitions you can more easily knock them down and flatten them out before they get settled in a strong defensive posture.

The guard passing game requires both skill and savvy. Learning to apply heuristics and principles like the ones covered will accelerate your development. At Apex MMA in Brookvale, we incorporate these essential guard passing concepts into all of our Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training and coaching. Implementing these tips will make anyone’s guard passing more formidable against even the craftiest guard players. Now get out there, smash through some guards, and work towards those dominant positions!

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Team Apex MMA Martial Arts Coach
Apex MMA is a specialist mixed martial arts gym focusing on Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Led by an experienced team of instructors, Apex MMA offers comprehensive training programs for students of all ages and skill levels. With Apex MMA's systematic teaching methods, passion for martial arts, and strong community relationships, you will gain the tools to succeed in the gym and beyond.
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