Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is unique among most other forms of grappling arts because of its emphasis on and variety of techniques whilst on your back and- more specifically- from bottom positions often referred to as ‘ the guard’.
However, most people starting out in the sport tend to reject this in favor of what they believe to be more “dominant” top positions. In this article I will discuss how this is not often the case and how you can improve faster by playing more guard.
There is a bonus addition to this post regarding my thoughts on Leg locks too 😉
This whole concept occurred to me at the start of 2017… During practice, I stepped badly on my foot and fractured three of the tarsals in my right foot. This kind of injury was not severe enough to stop me training, however it was inconvenient enough to prevent me from standing on my foot for any length of time, especially during strenuous training. I had to work around it. For the next 3 months as my foot healed I played from the bottom, mainly investing time in my guard (which took a lot of strain off my foot).
At first I got smashed every session and became extremely discouraged; how could I have allowed my guard to stay this bad? Then I realized it was because I had so heavily favored investing time in guard passing and top control and far less time in my bottom game. As my foot continued to heal and I continued to play guard, I realized that I was noticing huge improvements in my game; sweeps were easier, my submissions from the bottom became more successful… It started to pay of with persistence. Once my foot had healed, I noticed my guard passing had improved too, as I had come to better understand nuances of guard retention and how to break it down.
The reason for this anecdote is simple. We all want to be on top… This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however we cannot neglect the bottom because of it! Once I saw the value in extensive time playing guard and being on the bottom, my confidence in playing from the bottom went up and as a result my overall Jiu-jitsu improved far quicker than it would have had I not been injured and trudged along just seeking out the top position. Often we spend more time focusing on one aspect that we find is working than investing time in areas we are less effective at. The problem with this is that we often don’t address the holes in our overall game until it is too late. We can improve at anything far quicker if we also invest time into aspects we are not proficient in as this improves our overall performance too.
The other thing I realized is that against a proficient and dangerous bottom player, the top position is no longer “dominant”. As my own guard improved and I started to employ sneakier, more complex guard work; I noticed that training partners would establish their favored top positions, only to be surprised by a sweep or reversal that they had not anticipated. Investing more time in your guard is never bad, being effective on the bottom is crucial to grasping key concepts and details that improve your grappling as a whole. People will start to think twice before stepping into your guard.
Leg Locks… Oh yes, the current vogue in BJJ and submission grappling. So many opportunities await the creative guard player when it comes to leg locks and transitions leading to leg entanglements! I see a lot of people looking to set leg locks up when their passing attempts have failed, personally I prefer not to do this and would prefer to complete the pass to a favorable position. However, leg locks from the bottom are considerably more dangerous, numerous and effective than when set up from a failed top passing situation. This is purely my opinion and some will disagree, but I’ve had a lot of success when employing leg locks in this way.
Thanks for reading, I hope these ideas have given you some food for thought regarding your own practice.