Grapplers Graveyard

Mastering BJJ Guard Retention: Building Strategies for Success

bjj guard retention

Guard retention is essential for a well rounded Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) game. Whether your a guard player, a pressure passer, or somewhere in between, a comprehensive understanding of how to maintain your guard is integral to a developed jiu jitsu game.

Understanding Guard Retention

To understand guard retention you have to understand the different principles that are at play. Like everything in BJJ, its not about memorizing a lot of different guard retention positions and techniques its all about understanding the principles.

What is Guard Retention and Why is it Important?

Guard retention is important because without it you’re up a creek once you’re on your back. Even if guard is not your game, you can’t avoid being put on your back forever.

Key Principles of Guard Retention

The key principles of BJJ guard retention involves understanding that guard retention is as much about maintaining contact with your opponent as it is about maintaining a traditional guard. In this day and age, there are so many different guards. The only thing that qualifies something as a guard is that they involve intentional contact with your opponent to maintain control.

Mastering Body Positioning for Guard Retention

In BJJ, body positioning is fundamental to guard retention. Correct body positioning makes sure that you can effectively maintain and quickly recover guard, preventing your opponent from passing. The key to excellent guard retention lies in understanding how to position your hips, legs, and upper body in relation to your opponent.

Keeping your hips mobile and aligned with your opponent’s movements allows you to create and manage distance effectively. Your legs should act as barriers and frames, always ready to block or redirect your opponent’s attempts to pass. Meanwhile, your upper body must be relaxed yet responsive, capable of bridging, shrimping, and repositioning to maintain the proper angle and optimal guard.

bjj guard retention

Dynamic Leg Movement and Control

Leg movement is the cornerstone of an effective guard retention strategy. Your legs are your primary tools for creating distance and controlling your opponent’s approach. Techniques such as the “shin shield,” “knee shield,” and “spider guard” involve using your shins and feet to block, push, and off-balance your opponent.

Dynamic leg work allows you to transition between different types of guards seamlessly, whether you’re switching from closed guard to an open guard position or transitioning into more advanced positions like De La Riva or lasso guard. By keeping your legs active and engaged, you maintain control over your opponent’s posture and movement, significantly reducing their chances of passing your guard.

Utilizing Core and Hip Mobility for Effective Guard Retention

A strong core and flexible hips are crucial for maintaining and recovering guard. Core strength enables you to perform movements such as shrimping, bridging, and inverting, which are vital for creating space and re-establishing your guard. Hip mobility allows for smoother transitions and adjustments, making it difficult for your opponent to pin your hips or pass your guard.

Drills like hip escapes, Granby rolls, and inversion techniques are excellent for developing the necessary flexibility and strength. By incorporating these movements into your training routine, you enhance your ability to control your body and respond dynamically to your opponent’s actions, ensuring your guard remains resilient and adaptable in any situation.

Mastering the Half-Guard

The half guard is an interesting position between offense and defense. While there are clear submissions and sweeps that are available there is also definite threat of getting passed and submitted.

To master half-guard retention skills is to master the art of timing your submissions to your opponent’s actions and balance. For example, many sweeps available from the half-guard are only available when your opponent is off their balance or expecting something else.

Principles of Half-Guard Retention

Maintaining a strong half-guard position requires a deep understanding of fundamental principles that revolve around positioning, leverage, and timing. One of the key aspects is the control of the underhook. Securing the underhook on your opponent’s far side is crucial as it prevents them from flattening you out and opens up opportunities for sweeps or transitioning to a more dominant position. Your other arm should be used to shield and frame against your opponent’s upper body or neck, creating space and preventing them from advancing. Additionally, the positioning of your legs is vital; your inside leg should be hooking your opponent’s leg tightly while your outside leg provides a shield or a means to push off and generate movement.

Timing and hip mobility play equally important roles in effective half-guard retention. Reacting promptly to your opponent’s movements and anticipating their attempts to pass or apply pressure is essential.

Hip mobility allows you to constantly adjust and reposition, making it difficult for your opponent to establish control. Drills that focus on hip escapes, knee shields, and transitioning between different types of half-guard, such as deep half or Z-guard, help build the necessary agility and fluidity.

By mastering these principles, you ensure that your half-guard remains a dynamic and resilient position, capable of thwarting your opponent’s advances and setting up your own offensive maneuvers.

Stopping Your Opponent from Passing Your Guard

Preventing your opponent from passing your guard hinges on a combination of proactive defense, strategic grips, and constant movement. To start, maintaining a strong posture with active hip movement and proper leg positioning is essential. Your legs should always be ready to block and redirect your opponent’s attempts to bypass your guard.

Utilize grips effectively; controlling your opponent’s sleeves, collar, or pant legs can disrupt their balance and limit their mobility. Staying active with hip escapes and shoulder bridges creates the necessary space to recover guard positions. Additionally, employing a combination of frames with your arms and legs can create barriers that are difficult for your opponent to penetrate.

By constantly adjusting and re-establishing your guard, you can keep your opponent on the defensive, making it challenging for them to create space to attack and find openings to pass.

The Importance of Drills for Guard Retention

Drilling your guard game is the only way to prepare for guard retention in a live round. The art of guard passing is drilled over and over, so it makes sense that in jiu jitsu to keep from getting your guard passed you need to drill over and over and over and over again.

Top Drills to Improve Your Guard

  • Cross Over: a solo exercise that helps improve guard retention skills.

  • Guard Retention Drill for Leg Drag: helps improve guard retention in situations where opponents use leg drag guard passing technique.

  • Inverted Guard Retention Drill: a way to retain guards in a leg drag situation.

  • Backward Hip Escape: a drill that helps improve guard retention skills.

  • Forward Hip Escape Knee Shield: a drill that helps improve guard retention skills.

Solo Drills for Improved Guard Retention Skills

While training with partners is important sometimes the largest strides are made while training alone.

Hip Escape Drill (Shrimping):

Perform continuous hip escapes down the mat, focusing on creating space and repositioning your hips. This drill enhances your ability to move your hips away from your opponent and recover guard.

Leg Pummeling:

Lay on your chest or back and continuously pummel your legs inside and outside to practice preventing your opponent from getting around your guard. This drill improves leg dexterity and timing.

Granby Roll:

Practice rolling over your shoulders from side to other side, which helps you develop flexibility and fluidity in transitioning between different guard positions and escaping pressure.

Inversion Drills:

Practice inverting by rolling over your shoulders to get your legs back in front of your opponent. This drill is crucial for retaining guard when your opponent tries to pass to your side.

Technical Stand-Up:

Practice the technical stand-up to return to your feet from guard. This is useful for creating distance and resetting the position if your guard is compromised.

Solo Hip Bump Drills:

Practice a hip bump from seated guard to improve your off balancing technique and core strength. This is an especially helpful drill for both guard retention and sweeping out of a guard later.

Partner Drills for Improved Guard Retention Skills

With the solo drills aside, its still important to train with a partner to make sure that what we are training alone is actually effective.

De La Riva Guard Transitions:

Drill the transitions into and out of De La Riva guard, focusing on maintaining control of your opponent’s leg and sweeping or transitioning to other guards as they try to pass.

Spider Guard Retention:

Work on maintaining spider guard by keeping your feet on your partner’s biceps and adjusting your grips. Practice switching between different spider guard variations as your partner attempts to pass.

Knee Shield Retention:

Start in knee shield guard and have your partner try to pass. Use your knee to block and re-establish the knee shield and retain your guard whenever they attempt to bypass it. This improves your defensive positioning and timing.

Partner Hip Push Drill:

With a partner standing, place your feet on their hips and practice pushing them away and regaining guard. This drill helps you manage distance and maintain control.

Toreando Pass Defense:

Have your partner attempt Toreando (bullfighter) passes while you focus on your guard recovery blocking their attempts with your legs, re-establishing your guard each time they try to get past.

What Helps the Most?

While a combination of everything discussed above is essential, there are a few keys that have helped me to better develop my guard retention techniques.

To preface this, I am definitely a pressure passer by nature, so developing guard recovery and retention has taken time. I started with the solo and partner drills for a few months and wondered why I was not really seeing any real progress while live rolling. Then I decided to add in a crucial detail….

Positional Sparring

While everyone knows what this is and has likely tried it at one point or another in their jiu jitsu journey, it was a game changer for my guard retention. I stopped being an easy target for a quick guard pass after training this way for a few months.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a bit miserable for the first 20 or so rolls. I felt like I had just started jiu jitsu, but then it started to click. Once it clicked I started to get new submissions and my guard passes improved as well.

  • Denali Keefe

    Denali Keefe is a mental health writer, focused on the intersection of science and experience. He is currently perusing graduate studies in psychology, regularly trains Jiu Jitsu and currently holds a Blue Belt.

    View all posts