In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, guard passing is one of the most important aspects of the game. If you can’t pass the guard, you can’t win. There are many different strategies we can use to pass effectively, but some techniques work better than others in certain situations.
The guard is a position where someone on the bottom can use all four of their limbs to stop their opponent from advancing, while also threatening attacks and sweeps.
So, it is likely not surprising to you that passing the guard is one of the most difficult elements of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. What makes this more difficult still is the number of guards your opponent can play against you!
Rather than learning a BJJ guard pass for each different guard you are up against, the best way to pass the guard is to learn several passing positions.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the most effective guard passing techniques and discuss when it’s best to use them.
Passing Guard: The Most Difficult Task in Jiu Jitsu?
Anyone who has played against a good guard player knows that passing the guard is not an easy task. Even if you know which passes work best, a skilled opponent will be able to counter them! In order to pass the guard successfully, you must not only know the techniques but also be able to identify and exploit weaknesses in your opponent’s game, as well as present them with difficult choices.
This takes effort and the right mindset. You have to learn to like it when you’re trying to pass the guard. In other words, “you have to enjoy playing Jiu Jitsu.” If you feel like you’re losing when you’re working on passing the guard, it will make it harder for you to try. Remember that completing a BJJ guard pass is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to do in Jiu Jitsu.
The truth is, Jiu-Jitsu is a sport in which timing and control prevail more often than simple techniques. Rather than learning different passes for each guard you encounter, it’s better to learn these five passing positions instead.
There are a few different ways to get past someone’s guard in BJJ. Once you have a good grip on them, they can still do a lot to stop you. However, if you learn these positions well, you will have more control and be able to pass more easily.
5 Essential BJJ Guard Pass Positions
They are sorted in terms of what I think is the most effective.
The knee cut is one of the most common BJJ guard passes in modern Jiu Jitsu, and it happens to be my favorite. Getting into the position is easier than leg drag or double unders, but staying balanced can take some practice. The goal is to get one leg in between your opponent’s legs, using it to staple one of their legs to the mat.
The position is somewhat unstable, particularly if your opponent can turn onto the side you are passing to. To prevent this keep their far shoulder pinned to the mat, either with an underhook or a strong stiff-arm.
Once you’ve developed a sense of the balance this position requires, it will enable you to pass nearly any guard.
This powerful passing position uses smothering pressure and control over your opponent’s legs to set up the pass. To get it, you need an underhook on one leg – similar to a knee staple, but placed lower – with your grip on the hips. The second arm controls the bottom leg by going over it; this can be done with a pants grip or by gripping their shin.
The trick with this pass is that it is the only one on our list here that will have you go head down and butt up to pass.
If you drive your weight through your shoulder and into your opponent’s diaphragm, they will be unable to stop you. Stay focused on their hips (on the side away from the one you are passing guard), and keep your elbows close to your body.
To counterintuitively pass your opponent’s guard, walk your legs back to the center. This position will give you the leverage to make a subtle hip shift and take them down into side control.
This is a very powerful position that gives you the option of passing not just to side control, but directly to mount or even transitioning straight to the back.
To do the leg drag, hold your opponent’s leg and pull it across your hips so their knee is behind yours and their bottom leg is under your shin. There are a few ways to stay in this position, but for all of them you’ll need a good grip on their collar and to keep pressing down on their top leg.
One mistake people often make is to hastily pass the guard instead of first securing the leg drag position. Remember, the leg drag is a strong control position, so take your time locking into it. Only once you feel comfortable and in control should you move on to passing the guard.
This guard pass position is effective in both Gi and No-Gi. It is also highly uncomfortable for your opponent, making it even more efficient.
To perform the pass, start by placing both forearms underneath the legs of your opponent. Eventually, you will need to place their shoulders on your own. The goal is to have the back of their knees on your shoulders and your hands clasped in front of their hip.
When a guard player has their opponent’s shoulders and neck stacked on top of each other, the passer gains control over them while also causing additional pain for the guard.
This BJJ guard pass is as old school as they come, yet remains tremendously effective.
Where the knee cut has you cutting your leg across their far leg, this pass begins by pinning their leg with the same side leg. Put another way, the knee cut has you pass your right leg across their right leg while the knee staple has you pass your right leg across their left leg.
As you enter into this position you’ll want to secure an underhook and a cross face. Passing guard without these is possible – but your job will be far more challenging!
Be sure to keep your opposite (non-stapling) leg actively tensioning their free leg. This will prevent them from putting you in half-guard as you initiate your pass.
How To Get Better At Passing?
I’ve gathered a list of things you should do and skills you should master to get better at guard passing.
Have A Good Grasp Of Basic Positions
Many people, both beginners and advanced practitioners, focus on learning more advanced techniques instead of improving their basic positions (side control, mount, back control). However, if you cannot maintain a dominant position once you have passed your opponent’s guard, then all your efforts will be for naught. For example, imagine working hard to open your opponent’s guard, passing it, and establishing side-control, but then your opponent quickly re-acquires his guard—you would not get any points for that move.
Spend more time doing positional spars and learn to hold these basic positions solidly. Once you can do this with minimal effort, you will see a dramatic improvement in your ability to pass the guard.
Have At Least Two Go-To Methods To Open The Closed Guard
In order to become a successful guard passer, you need to be versatile. There is no one technique that will work against all opponents. In order to open the closed guard, you will need to be prepared for your opponent’s defense. Adding another technique to your arsenal will help you succeed in passing the guard.
Posture Up – The Right Way
When you have good posture in the close guard, your opponent cannot do very many things. They cannot do arm bars, sweeps, or kimuras. But they can do some things like kimura sweeps. You have to watch out for these things. If you have good posture, your reaction time will be faster and you will be able to counter more easily.
When you need to stand up, it is better to push on your opponent’s chest with your hands and arms, rather than using your lower or mid-back muscles. This way, you will use less energy. When you push on the chest, it is important to lock your elbow so that you don’t use too much energy. You should also try not to activate your triceps muscles too much, since this will use up more energy.
Open The Closed Guard Efficiently
One of the first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu moves that you learn is to push on your opponent’s chest with one hand and push on their knee with the other. This will move their body and make it easier for you to get up. If you are looking for closed-guard opening techniques online, this is a common move that you will find. It is easy enough to do, but it can be hard if your opponent is stronger than you.
Remember: you don’t always have to open the guard right away. You can hold the position for a while, put pressure on the opponent’s hips by framing on the knee, and get their legs tired. This not only goes for this specific technique, but for a lot of other guard-opening moves as well. The lactic acid build-up in their legs will cause the guard to weaken and eventually open. Take your time, and don’t give up if a technique takes too long to execute. Expend less energy by using frames.
Once you open the close guard, do not let your opponent close it again. If they try to pull on your collar hard, bring one knee up and wedge it between their legs to stop them from closing the guard again.
Strip Grips And Control The Hips
There is a saying in Jiu-Jitsu: “Grips and hips are everything.” This is especially true if you are playing bottom guard. Having good grips and using your hips well will make you a strong guard player. So, when passing someone’s guard, you should manage their grips and hip movement. Don’t let them get good grips before you do. If they reach for your collar, push their hand away as soon as possible. If they manage to grab your collar, try to strip that grip away from them.
Although we would all prefer to establish grips before our opponents do, there will always be moments when your opponent gets a grip on you first. If that happens, you either use strength to push through with your guard pass or look for openings where their grips won’t hinder you.
For example, a cross collar grip is less effective against a leg drag because your hips will be near the opponent. Their hips will be facing away from you, but your upper body has enough room that the collar grip will not be able to restrict their movement.
Have A Universal Guard Pass And Position-Specific Passes
There are some techniques that you need to know which will help you get past your opponent’s guard, regardless of what type of guard they are using. These include over-under or bulldozer passes, double under or stack passes, and the knee slice. You can get into these passes as soon as you open your opponent’s guard, or as soon as you strip their grips.
In addition to knowing these general passing techniques, you also need to know specific passes for different types of guards. For example, a long step pass from reverse de la Riva guard, or a modified toreando pass from spider guard – Leandro Lo’s favorite pass.
You will need to learn most of these position-specific passes and counters as you get exposed to more opponents playing different kinds of guards. Truly, this is where the fun in the guard passing game lies.
Manage Your Distance
If you don’t manage your distance well, you might miss a perfect opportunity to pass. For example, if you’re too far away when doing a toreando pass, your opponent will easily escape and get back to guard. If you go too far forward when trying to pass someone’s spider-guard, they will sweep you with an overhead movement.
Distance management is important for finishing passes and countering your opponent’s attacks. Pay attention to your center of gravity and make small adjustments in the distance of your feet, hips and knees depending on where your opponent’s hip is.
When you are fighting someone as good as you, it becomes harder to pass their guard. This is especially true if they are flexible and can quickly get back into position. However, by using specific passing positions that force your opponent to expend energy, you can give yourself a chance to rest and recover before attacking again.
An example of this is the knee slice position. If you are tired from a series of unsuccessful passes, do not stay in the middle of your opponent’s guard. You can go into a knee slice position, and from the knee slice, do not attempt to finish the pass. Stay in that position as the opponent will not be able to establish guard, and you will be able to pressure them without expending too much energy. Once the opponent is tired, simply finish the pass.
There are a few other techniques that you can use to pass the opponent’s guard. For example, the over and under/stack pass and side smash positions. While you are in these positions, you can apply a lot of pressure which will make the opponent exhausted. When you need to rest, stay in a staging area so your opponent cannot set up any form of guard structure.
Сhain Your Passes
Passing guard is different from playing bottom guard. When you are playing bottom guard, there are more techniques you can use. There are more sweeps and submissions. But when you are playing bottom guard, you can be successful if you know a few techniques and use them perfectly. When you watch high-level Jiu-Jitsu, you will see that most of the fighters only know a few signature moves from guard.
The top game is different. When you are playing the top game, there are fewer techniques that you can use. But when compared to playing guard, you need to know most of the techniques. You also need to be able to connect a technique to another technique.
If you use a toreando and the opponent recovers by shrimping, it would be a bad idea to reset in a neutral position. He can get back to closed guard easily from there. You will need to go into a smash pass instead. If he counters the smash pass by shrimping again, you may need to go into a stack pass or leg drag. You will need to use different techniques depending on what your opponent does.
Start off with two passing techniques that you like doing, and add further techniques as you learn more about Jiu-Jitsu. Learn how these moves work together and in relation to each other, and you will be able to chain your passes together very easily.
Gravity Is Your Friend
Pressure is key in Jiu Jitsu; apply it whenever possible, and prioritize pressure over speed. Remember that while speed will help you pass someone’s guard, gravity is always working against your opponent.
In order to be successful when passing the guard in BJJ, it is important to use a variety of techniques that will be effective against different types of guards.
You also need to be able to chain these techniques together so that your opponent cannot get back into a defensive position.
Gravity is always working against your opponent, so make sure to apply pressure whenever possible. With enough practice, you will be able to successfully pass any guard using the techniques we have provided.
For those who are in the early and intermediate stages of their Jiu-Jitsu journey, the best way to get better in Jiu-Jitsu, is to practice more.