De la Riva Guard (pronounced day la heave-ah for the uninitiated) is one of the most effective guards available to you in the gi. This guard was popularized by Ricard De la Riva in the late 1980s, although its usage in judo dates back much earlier. In the early days of BJJ the De la Riva guard (often shortened online to just DLR) was one of the few well developed open guards available.
While open guards have multiplied in the interceding years, DLR’s popularity has persisted as the guard has continued to reinvent itself as the sport changes. If you’ve practiced BJJ for even a few months you have almost certainly come across this guard either in instruction or in rolling. This guard is incredibly versatile and is an essential part of everyone’s BJJ education!
What Is The De la Riva BJJ Guard?
The De La Riva guard is an open guard that is defined by its usage of an outside leg hook. The other leg typically is placed on your partner’s hip, but less traditional DLR guards like De la Spider situate the other leg differently.
DLR guard, like many open guards, is often taught as an advanced technique. This approach is reasonable, although it is arguably misguided. It makes sense to treat the position as advanced because starting without any context the position seems artificial and difficult to get to. Anyone who only knows DLR as a guard will have an uphill battle ever getting to the position as the foundations of their open guard would be insufficient to get your legs into the positions necessary!
However, it doesn’t take much practice to realize that closed guard has a fatal flaw: your opponent will often stand up and back away! When this happens you’ll need resources to reestablish control, and this is where open-guards like DLR truly shine!
The Defining Feature of De la Riva Guard
A guard is any position in Jiu Jitsu that has you on your back and has your legs in between you and the person standing or kneeling opposite of you. And every open guard, regardless of its name or origin, shares the same fundamental leg placement.
Basically, there is a passive and an active leg in any open guard in BJJ. The passive leg is the hooking leg in the De la Riva guard. It has the task of attaching us to an opponent, and mainly, helps protect against guard passing. The active leg is the one that’s free to roam, and in the De La Riva, can be anywhere from behind the knee to the hip and even that shoulder. It is the attacking leg.
Basic De La Riva Guard Mechanics
Since the defining aspect of the DLR guard is the outside hook, often called the De la Riva hook, let’s talk leg placement first. Namely, you place your leg around the opponent’s lead leg by looking to have your shin on the outside of their knee so that you can hook the top of your foot against the inside of their thigh. This hook is what will keep your guard from getting passed while allowing you to disrupt your partner’s balance.
The other leg goes on the hip in most cases, although it may also be placed on the inside of the opposite side knee or even against their far bicep when paired with a spider grip. It will be the leg that gets shifted all over the place, allowing you to set up different attacks.
The hands are equally as important as the legs, especially the grip on the leg you’re hooking with the De la Riva hook. The aim is to grab the heel of the opponent as low as possible with your arm, aiming to have the pinky finger on the mats. This, in combination with the hook will give you the De La Riva guard.
The other arm, similar to the active leg, is quite free to grip anywhere. A cross collar grip usually is ideal, as it allows you to break your partner’s posture with ease; the grip itself is relatively hard to achieve and a savvy opponent will work hard to deny it to you, however. Alternatively, grabbing either of the sleeves will also open up plenty of options.
A key aspect of the De la Riva guard that is often not emphasized enough is angling. You’ll only get a powerful outside leg hook if you are at an obtuse angle to your opponent. Rather than looking at them face to face, you’ll want to create an angle such that you’re looking at their ear (assuming you’re both looking straight ahead!). This angle will provide depth for the hook and make the De la Riva game possible.
As with all other guards, the main goal of the De la Riva is to stop the top person from passing. Only after this is safeguarded can you think about attacking. DLR guard offers a variety of submissions and sweeps and serves as a perfect spot to transition to other articulate guards if your opponent seems to know more about defending DLR than you know about attacking!
The Layers Of De La Riva
The goals mentioned above will help you build an impregnable De la Riva guard game, as long as you layer them accordingly. Thinking in terms of layers is always great when you find yourself playing a guard game:
The first layer is always guard retention – there’s no point in playing guard if you can’t stay in it. The De la Riva guard will help you prevent most passes just by using the outside hook in combination with creating an angle. The key point is to try and keep your knee close to your torso, especially when they pressure in. Provided that the grip on the heel is in place, you’ll find it easy to stay in the gaurd without much effort.
Getting on top should be your priority whenever you’re in guard because even the best guard will let passed eventually. So, sweeping comes next on your to-do list. The outside hook will help you unbalance people by pushing and pulling them. This hook is more versatile than most grips as it allows you to move them in nearly any direction!
Sweeps from the De La Riva are mostly dependent on your grips and the depth of your DLR hook. Your grips determine both the direction where you can lead someone, and where you’ve taken away their ability to post. The DLR hook will then help you off-balance them in whichever direction your grips can support.
One unconventional sweeping route that the De La Riva provides is taking the back. You can be old-school about it, using a deep hook and hip escapes, or take the flashy route and use the berimbolos or baby bolo. In any case, hardly any other open guard provides as many back taking options as the De la Riva guard does.
There are times where a quick finish from the guard is preferable to a sweep and then pursuing submission from the top. While some open guards offer a paltry few attacks, DLR has a wide variety of chokes and arm bars available in addition to the sneaky Caio Terra straight foot lock.
Once again, your attacks are dependent upon your grips and the depth of your DLR hook. A cross grip will threaten their lead arm with omoplatas, arm bars, and triangle chokes presenting your opponent with quite a dilemma. Having a grip on the far arm will provide some interesting arm locking options.
Finally, if your opponent is thoroughly shutting down your efforts, it may be time to abandon the De la Riva for greener pastures. The modern De la Riva guard is a great hub that leads to other guards like spider guard, Reverse De la Riva, X-guard, or 50/50.
Despite being one of the oldest open-guards in BJJ, the DLR is still a common sight in modern Jiu Jitsu. This guard has evolved into a powerful guard that presents options for sweeps, submissions, and transitions to other open guards. Even if you aren’t committed to playing De la Riva, knowing its secrets will help keep you one step ahead of your opponent!
Ogi is a brown belt and very passionate about Jiu Jitsu.
He is also the head coach of Carlos Maia BJJ Macedonia and Globetrotter.