What differentiates BJJ from other grappling styles? A strong argument can be made for the BJJ guard! Whether open or closed, every match will inevitably include someone using their guard, which means the other person is going to need to get past it.
Passing guard in BJJ is one of the most difficult obstacles you’ll face in grappling – partially because guards are simply a challenge to pass! But, commonly people find guard passing a challenge due to a simple flaw in the fundamental way that passing is commonly taught. Today we’ll remedy that and provide you with 3 steps to elevate your passing game!
What is Guard Passing in Jiu Jitsu?
First of all, any position in which the person sitting or lying on the ground has any part of their legs in between them and their opponent is considered a guard. While this definition is really broad, it encompasses every possible guard out there, from closed guard to the donkey guard.
In terms of top and bottom position, whoever is playing guard is in the bottom position. This leaves the other person with a top position, regardless of how they are positioned in relation to their partner or opponent.
Passing the guard refers to any action that takes the top person past the bottom person’s legs. Passing earns 3 points under most competition rulesets, which as the second-highest amount of points you can be awarded is in itself is an indicator of how difficult a task passing guard can be.
Why Is Passing Guard in BJJ So Hard?
The answer to this question is easy: passing is hard because we make it hard.
One of the main reasons why people struggle with guard-related problems is the sheer amount of technical information they are expected to understand, process, and implement in very little time.
There are tons of different techniques to pass guards, all of them with different names and different levels of efficiency against different guards. In other words, it is a nightmare for anyone to try and sort through all that information. Trying to have a specific passing solution for every specific guard is simply not tenable.
The most important thing I have come to realize apart from trying to find a specific passing answer to every specific guard is how we communicate on the subject of passing guard. The formulation of the phrase “passing a guard” is overly simplistic.
You can’t expect to simply pass someone’s guard as the guard is an elaborate position which allows the bottom person to control the movements of the top person and set up sweeps and submissions. As such, whoever has a guard set up has the advantage, hence trying to pass a guard per se means you’re playing right into the opponent’s hands.
Let me offer an alternative way of thinking.
How to Pass the Guard Without Fail: A 3 Step Formula
Rather than thinking about passing the entire guard all at once, you should view your task as a having 3 distinct steps:
- Neutralize the dangers of the guard
- Deconstruct the guard
- Pass the legs
Neutralize the Dangers of the Guard
As the passer sweeps and submissions are the main threats you face. However, if you do not try to go head-on against the guard itself, you will make it quite hard for someone to get either of those attacking avenues to work.
How do you prevent sweeps from taking place? People like to use elaborate terms like base, and then use even more physics and biomechanics terms which further confuse everyone. I can make it really, really simple: If you are standing, keep both your feet in a straight line in relation to one another. If you are half-kneeling, keep the knee touching the ground and the foot in such a line. If you are kneeling on both knees, then keep both of them in a line (the red line in the images below).
Here’s the key part of the puzzle: try and keep your hips (think about it as the knot of your belt) over that straight line that your legs are forming (the yellow line in the images below). Whenever your hips shift over that line in either direction, you’re prone to falling.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is a very dynamic thing. As opponents attempt to off-balance you, you’ll have to keep adjusting this alignment. Do so, and you’ll kill most sweep attempts without even breaking a sweat.
What happens with submissions? Two things you already know, but have also been presented in a complicated manner. The first one is what people refer to as posture. Again, let’s simplify it: keep your head over your butt at all times. If you can’t raise the head high enough then move your butt under the head. Same result.
The second detail is to keep your elbows close to your body. Using the two of these concepts you’ve just turned into an unsubmittable object. In combination with keeping your legs and hips in one line, you’re now impervious to both sweeps and submissions.
Deconstruct the Guard
The second step in our passing process is deconstructing the guard. Remember, your focus is passing the legs, not passing guard. As long as you are safe from attacks, you can do it quite simply.
You will need to get a grip on one of the opponent’s legs – it doesn’t matter which one, nor what kind of guard someone is playing. Then, remove the foot of that leg from you and either get it past your hip (think about throwing their foot behind you), or try to push it to the side, or even better, towards the opponent.
Gripping the foot is a great place to begin, but you can grip anywhere you find works for you. Don’t forget to keep your elbows close to your body as you deconstruct the guard! The reason this step is important is that no guard is going to work when you have control over an opponent’s leg.
Pass the Legs
Getting past the legs should actually be the easiest part of the puzzle, yet somehow, people seem to struggle with this concept the most in practice. I cannot give you a precise direction to use for passing the legs as different guards, different body types, and opponents with different athletic abilities will all need different tactics.
What I can do is make your end goal extremely simple once again:
What will help you complete a pass is getting both your legs to one side of the hip of an opponent that is on the bottom. Whether you are standing, half-kneeling or kneeling, if you are next to the opponent’s hip with both your legs, you have successfully passed their legs. In essence, most guard passing techniques you already know address this final part of the puzzle – getting past the legs, so how you get past them is down to your personal preference.
However, trying to jump straight into this part without first neutralizing submission and sweep threats and breaking the structure of the guard means you will at the very least encounter significant difficulties when dealing with guard players.
Making it Work
Now that you know that passing guard actually means passing the legs, you will also need to understand that the three-step process explained above will take some time to sink in. My advice is to spend some time at every step, ironing out the details in a way that works for you.
For example, become unsweepable and unsubmittable (I am using these terms really freely) before you take the time to figure out how to break the structure of guards and control a leg.
When both these steps become second nature, you can start thinking about passing the legs in whichever way you see fit. Expect things to be difficult before they become easy, but if you stick with it, the reward is going to be huge – you’ll be able to deal with everyone’s guard using a universal formula.
Just to put things into perspective, choose any guard pass you know and look for the three steps outlined above. You’ll find that neutralizing the dangers of a guard, breaking the structure, and getting past the legs are present in almost every BJJ pass worth your time.
So, next time you’re thinking about passing guard, remember that this task is too unwieldy. Instead, break it down into these three steps instead! Still looking for more guard passing advice? Check out our article on the best positions for passing the guard!
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.