Solving the Mysteries of the De La Riva guard

27.08.2021 by

The De La Riva guard is one of the oldest open guards – yet despite its age it remains a staple in high level competition. This is understandable as it is a highly effective platform for launching myriad different attacks in both gi and no-gi Jiu Jitsu, as well as a great tool to prevent guard passes.

While considered by some to be an advanced guard variation, I believe the De La Riva guard (sometimes just called DLR-guard) is easy to understand and use by beginners when shown as a simple system. This article will break down this sometimes confusing position and give you the knowledge necessary to add it to your open guard game!

Brief History of the De La Riva Guard

The De La Riva guard bears the name of the person who popularized its usage: Ricardo De La Riva. The position was not invented by Ricardo, given that it was being used in Judo long before De La Riva started to experiment with it. However, in BJJ circles, Ricardo’s use of this guard to secure a victory over Royler Gracie in 1986 forever connected his name to the position. 

Ricardo trained in the Carlson Gracie Academy during the ’80s, a school notorious for hardcore guard passers. Being a featherweight himself, De La Riva had to resort to playing guard and was experimenting with open guards a lot. As a brown belt, he figured out that placing an outside hook really impacted the top player’s balance. 

He went on to experiment with the ‘new’ guard against some of the best passers in the world in training, refining it constantly until he presented it to the grappling world in that famous Royler Gracie final match at the ‘Copa Cantão.’

Evolution of the De La Riva Guard

The De La Riva guard worked so well for Ricardo mostly because it allowed him to off-balance opponents with relative ease. In the early days, it was mainly a sweeping guard, although it did provide a certain level of security as well since it is not an easy guard to pass. 

One of the biggest innovations stemming from the De La Riva is the Berimbolo, which the Mendes brothers used to dominate Jiu jitsu competition for years. The launching pad for their impressive new move was the tried and true De La Riva guard. 

The reverse DLR is another huge step in the guard’s evolution. For this famous variation, the hook goes on the inside of the leg, rather than the outside, opening up completely different sweeping and transition options. 

Last but not least, modern lapel guards, most of them developed by Keenan Cornelius, all build and expand on the highly effective De La Riva mechanics.

De La Riva Guard Basics

How does the De La Riva guard work? All the talk about hooks and inversions probably scares most people into thinking the guard is difficult and complicated. The truth is, it is a fairly simple guard to set up, hold, and attack from.

The Role of the Legs

As you might have gathered until now, the legs play a crucial role in the De La Riva guard. In fact, they are actually the key element in any BJJ guard, open or closed. 

In order to make the De La Riva guard simple, you should think of each leg as having an assigned role. The leg establishing the eponymous De La Riva hook (going around the opponent’s near leg) is the passive leg. It has the task of connecting you to your opponent and preventing them from passing easily because one of their legs is kept trapped by the hook. 

The other leg is the active leg – or the one that you will place at different spots on your opponent’s body to elicit different reactions. A common place to start is placing this active leg on the far side hip (the hip that is on the opposite side of the leg you’re controlling with the hook). 

Other spots include the inside or back of the far leg’s knee, behind the ankle, on the near side hip, the opponent’s elbow, shoulder, etc. In other words, anywhere where it will serve a specific purpose. 

Which Grips Do I Need? 

The grips for the De La Riva guard allow you to accomplish so much with the legs. Basically, they reinforce the legs and are assigned similar roles of being active or passive. 

The grip that reinforces the hook leg controls the opponent’s foot, grabbing at the back of the heel. 

It is imperative that your pinky and the side of your palm touch the ground when you place this grip. It is also very helpful to wrap your grip as far as possible around the heel so that your palm controls the foot, rather than your fingers. This arm, just like the hook leg it reinforces, is passive – once you grip, you won’t let go until you achieve a specific goal. 

The other arm is your active arm, whose position  will depend on your current goal. As such it may grab either of your opponent’s sleeves (or wrists in no-gi), either gi collar, the lapels, or even the belt. Just like the active leg might change positions when playing the De La Riva guard, the active arm will change the spot it grips too. 

Body Positioning

The body position during the De La Riva is what pretty much dictates whether or not you will have an easy or difficult time working from the guard. It is vital to learn the optimal angle for playing this guard.

If you try to place the hook leg while laying directly in front of your opponent, you won’t be able to get the hook deep enough to actually gain control of the leg. 

Instead you should aim to establish the hook leg and the heel grip while angling to the side of the leg you’re looking to control. There is no precise angle to hunt for, as it depends on the length and flexibility of your legs, as well as your opponent’s build. 

You should also ensure your hips are mobile, which is easy to accomplish if you use the active leg to push and lift your opponent in order to move in any desired direction. 

A Simple De La Riva System For The BJJ Newbie

As someone who is brand new to the De La Riva guard, and BJJ in general, once you understand where your arms, legs, and body go, you’ll need to figure out what to do with the guard you’ve now set up. 

The order of operations for any open guard goes like this: 

  1. Establish your guard
  2. Make sure people can’t deconstruct and pass your guard
  3. Use a direct attack or combination of attacks to score points or get a tap. These attacks include sweeps, transitions towards back control, or submissions 

Pass Prevention

Staying in the De La Riva guard is not difficult, as long as you understand that preventing people from passing means you need to be proactive rather than reactive.

Any time an opponent tries to break your guard, simply use your legs to push, pull or twist. The guard’s structure is such that even the slightest motions will off-balance your opponent, making them scramble to stay upright and forget about passing. This also happens to be the best time to look for your own attacks. 

Some common passes include backstepping, using the hooked leg as an axis, or looking to control your active leg and force a leg drag pass. The DLR-hook will help you turn backsteps into back takes. This will require a slightly modified position where the leg is threaded through more deeply – and will be discussed in more detail shortly.

Dealing with leg drags can be trickier, depending on how far along someone is in the pass. As long as your hook leg isn’t pinned, you can prevent the pass. Keeping your hips heavy will make it difficult for an opponent to drag the leg across in the first place. A sleeve or collar grip will also prevent your opponent from getting to the position in the first place.

De La Riva Sweeps

One of my personal favorites is the “skull crusher” sweep from meth De La Riva, done with the help of a deep DLR hook. That is when you extend the knee of your hook leg so that you have more reach and can place the top of your foot against your opponent’s far hip. Your free leg will post on your opponent’s far knee.

The passive grip remains the same as before, holding on to the heel firmly. The active hand can grip either of the sleeves or the collars, but a grip on the far side arm* is preferred. 

All it takes to force your opponent’s head to the mats is a push on the knee with the active leg, a tug on the sleeve or collar with the active arm, and a tilt with the DLR hook leg/heel grip. The result is an easy sweep.

Sitting up from the De La Riva is a very effective and simple way of getting sweeps, as long as all your grips are in place. For an easy rollover sweep, starting in the DLR guard with the active leg on the knee and the active arm holding the near side sleeve (cross-grip).  

First, give a quick push on the knee to destabilize your opponent. From there, your goal is to sit up, pulling yourself with your grips. 

Once seated, you should let go of the heel grip and pass the sleeve grip from one hand to the other. You’ll want to let go of the heel grip but leave your hand behind their leg! You want to trap your opponent’s arm around their own leg. Your newly freed active arm can then wrap around your opponent’s far side knee as you roll under the opponent for a very easy sweep. 

Another sweep option from a seated De La Riva uses a lapel grip with the active arm. 

After you sit up, follow the steps for the previous sweep, instead handing off the lapel instead of the sleeve from one hand to the other. For the finish, you want to switch your legs so that the active leg is now wrapping around the near side leg. This will allow you to stand up to a single leg takedown – finishing it however you please.

De La Riva Guard Back Takes

Taking the back from the De La Riva guard is a great alternative to sweeping. Before you start turning to Berimbolos and other inverted or spinning back takes, consider these simple yet effective options:

Against standing opponents, the deep hook with the passive leg is your best ticket to a smooth and effective back take. 

With an active grip on the far side sleeve and your active leg to the ground, your main goal is to get your DLR hook as deep as possible, i.e. straightening your passive leg as far as possible towards the far side hip. Next you’ll use this leg to force the opponent to step back, getting access to the far side leg with your passive arm. 

From there on, you are just a belt grip and a hook away from launching your opponent in the air and having them land directly in back control.  

A similar option is available against kneeling opponents, although with some modifications. The deep hook won’t be easy to establish here because their hips are so low to the mats. Instead, look to establish a grip on the near arm with the active arm (this will be a cross-body grip) and then swing your active leg around that arm and behind your opponent’s knee. 

This allows you to tilt your opponent over on the ground, exposing their back. There are different ways to get to the back from there, but gripping their belt to pull yourself up to a seatbelt is a simple and reliable one. 

Submissions from the De La Riva

When it comes to submissions from the De La Riva guard, there are not too many direct options. After you destabilize your opponents to sweep them or take their back, finishing opportunities will arise, but they are not direct submissions from the guard per se. 

One reliable submission that you can set up directly from the De La Riva is a triangle choke. When opponents decide to hold on to your collar with their near side arm, you simply use that grip against them. Grip the sleeve of that arm with your passive arm, and get a collar grip with the active arm. Place the active leg in the crook of the far side arm’s elbow, like in spider guard.

Once you have the opponent’s posture broken, you just go throw your passive leg over their back, followed by the active one and you’re in the diamond position that pretty much secures you a front triangle choke. 

One more thing to catch opponents off guard from the De La Riva is going for a straight ankle lock. This one was popularized by Caio Terra and is often referred to as the Terra lock.
For the Terra lock, grab the ankle with your passive arm as deep as possible under your armpit – just like you would do for a straight ankle lock. The active leg goes behind the far side knee, while the active arm may be in any position that is comfortable for you. 

Pushing both heels towards the ground will not just get your opponent down, but also trap them in a very nasty, and fully legal straight ankle lock.

Closing Thoughts

All in all, the De La Riva Guard is an extremely powerful guard even in modern Jiu JItsu. Once you understand how the guard works and how to stop people from passing it, you can focus on your sweeps, back takes, and submissions. While it may take you some time to get the hang of everything outlined above, becoming proficient at DLR is obtainable even for beginners