The Guard makes Brazilian Jiu Jitsu distinct from all other grappling disciplines. Providing one with the ability to control distance and disrupt their opponent’s base, the guard is crucial for self defense, sport and combat. The ability to reverse roles from attack to defense- change positions from bottom to top- is a cornerstone in making the art as effective as it is.
However, with the rise of sporting formats such as the IBJJF, ‘playing guard’ has become incentivized by points systems that rewards this just as equally as takedowns, which are perceived to be too much effort or risk by many sports practitioners.
It can be seductive to play guard. There are a few objections to the argument for playing guard that we seriously need to consider if we wish to see BJJ continue being considered as an effective martial art.
The most thoroughly raised objection is the one for self defense. Every physical confrontation holds within it an inherent risk for injury and even loss of life. Despite an attacker’s abilities for harming you in a confrontation, it’s never advisable to put yourself into a position that’s more dangerous than what’s already presented to you.
With that said; pulling guard for self defense would not be a strategy that many, if any at all, would suggest. There are simply too many variables. An attacker isn’t playing by rules, they are going to stomp your head, slam, punch & kick and do whatever they can to cause you harm. There is something to be said for having the ‘higher ground’ in a physical confrontation, being on top- and staying on top- is the surest way to effectively defend yourself and neutralize an attacker.
I’m not even adding weapons or multiple attackers to this equation yet! The best self defense for either of these situations is simply having damn good cardio.
We have seen the effectiveness of the guard in MMA on many occasions. The Diaz brothers, Anderson Silva and even Frank Mir have showed us the defensive and offensive merits of a savvy guard in the Octagon.
When adding strikes to the equation, your guard has to be tip top magoo. The guard is not a place to chill out, especially when elbows and fists are raining down. Having your head bounced off the mat seems to be a pretty good motivator for developing a strong guard. The aforementioned have all shown exceptional skill, dexterity and timing in their implementation of defense and offense in the guard.
I still think that you are unlikely to see De La Riva, X Guard or many other styles of guard play becoming popular in MMA however. There is simply no incentive to play a guard that allows an opponent the opportunity to freely hit you in the face or body.
Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts now. The principle laws of grappling do not swing in the guard player’s favor. Wrestlers, Judokas, and indeed grapplers from any other discipline, will only be disappointed that they didn’t get to put you on your back themselves when you decide to pull guard.
Everyone’s guard has been or will be passed. It’s just a matter of time. Gravity is one hell of a force to resist for any amount of time, and it doesn’t favor the guard player. No matter how crafty a guard may be, someone will figure out a way to pass it or disable it.
Chris Haueter put it best in his golden rules of grappling:
Rule 1: Be on top, stay on top.
Rule 2: When on bottom, have an impassable guard.
Rule 3: Never forget Rule 1 (avoid the seduction of the bottom guard)
The guard has a very important place in grappling, there’s no arguing that. However, it’s vital that we understand that place in the larger picture of grappling as an entire discipline. Why is the top position, the ‘pin’, so sought after by all grapplers? Because it’s effective in any number of circumstances. The guard is effective, however less so across an entire spectrum of circumstances.
Author: Jahred Dell