When was the last time you did something while sparring that was so crazy it got both you and your training partner laughing out loud, despite the outcome? How about in competition?
It is my humble opinion that we often take BJJ too seriously, and as the highly skilled Jeff Glover said, “if I don’t do a crazy move in training or competition it is as if I haven’t trained at all.”
In light of that, and in an effort to keep BJJ fun, the move we’ll explore today is one made famous by Mr. Glover – the Donkey guard.
The Case For “Crazy” BJJ Moves
Donkey guard, flying submissions, Imanari roll heel hooks, inverted back mount, cartwheel passing, the Twister, the entire #PriitShit Defensive BJJ system… If you take a look at crazy BJJ moves, you’ll see that they actually work. They can even be go-to moves with entire systems built around them! I’d go as far as saying that BJJ would be boring without the fun, crazy stuff!
There is a method behind this madness. Most of the stuff we do in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, especially when it comes to competition preparation, is methodical and logical. We have our starting positions, our end goals, and our checkpoints. For experienced grapplers, even the chaos of scrambles has been reduced to well ordered progressions.
The problem with all of the above is that this can get boring and stale (depending on a person’s character of course). If that is not problematic enough (it is for me) then how about this: your training partners, and eventually your opponents will learn your A-game and adjust accordingly. Over time your best techniques will appear to become less effective as people adapt to them.
That’s exactly where a crazy move or two can brighten up your mood and improve your Jiu Jitsu. Your submission game is suffering because everyone knows you’ll go for the D’arce? Do a flying triangle setup instead.
Your pressure passing is the stuff of nightmares, but you can’t seem to set it up anymore? Try cartwheel passing.
No luck with your regular De la Riva guard attacks? Time to give the Donkey guard a try!
History of the Donkey Guard
The donkey guard is an inverted guard variation… of sorts. I am the first to admit it is out there, and it won’t appeal to everyone. But, then again neither is the Rubber guard, the Worm guard, or even classics like Spider guard!
The position is the brainchild (or brain fart?) of Jeff Glover, one of the most fun grapplers in the entire sport of Jiu Jitsu. As a known prankster, he most likely came up with the Donkey guard as a way to annoy training partners and opponents. It would’ve all been a gym joke had Glover not used it in competition to beat high level grapplers, including Yuri Simoes and Ben Eddie.
The first time ever that Glover used the move in competition was at the 2011 ADCC against Tom Barlow. Many think that the Donkey guard is Jeff’s way of figuring a way to utilize the banned Kani Basami throw. If that was his aim (although personally I doubt it) he definitely found something useful!
Since Glover’s demonstration of the guard, the technique has seen some limited use in competition and has generated mixed feelings. In fact, there were several controversies surrounding the use of the guard, with many deeming it disrespectful given that you’re turning your back to your opponent, aiming your buttocks at them.
Me, I just call it fun and effective.
Exploring The Potential Of The Donkey Guard
The Donkey guard begins with you turning your back to your opponent. Then, you put your head on the mat, and go into a headstand, pointing your feet towards the opponent. You can see why some deem it disrespectful and everyone thinks it is crazy.
The initial goal of the position was to bait people to try and attack the “exposed” back, inverting as they approach to tie your legs around their waist in an inverted full guard. A simple wheelbarrow motion from there allows you to get between their legs and behind them, thus executing a takedown or a back take.
Of course, Glover took it further, creating an entire system around the guard that includes submissions, sweeps, takedowns, and entries into other guards. He even went so far as to publish an entire
What Does It Offer?
If you’re thinking about giving the Donkey guard a try (I think everyone should) then know from the beginning that it is not a guard you can retain for long. In fact, it is the exact opposite – a guard you get into by surprise, that offers opportunities for immediate attacks.
Takedowns / Sweeps
Getting to the Donkey guard from standing, as Jeff Glover originally did, can provide you with ways of getting the fight to the ground. In fact, you might even score takedown points with it.
In essence, if you stay in the guard position for longer than 5 seconds, it will be considered a sweep when you finally end up on top. If you jump to the donkey guard and manage to get on top of someone faster than that, it is still considered a standing exchange and you’ll get a takedown.
The difference is largely pedantic as both takedowns and sweeps score 2 points under IBJJF rules.
Hitting a Kani Basami (scissor takedown) is one readily available option. All you need to do is angle a bit towards one side of the opponent’s hips and do the scissoring motion with your legs. Be aware that this takedown is illegal in many competitions and even though the donkey entry is unconventional you’ll be putting yourself at the mercy of the ref.
Another option is doing a “wheelbarrow roll” after establishing the Donkey guard control, ending up behind them, with access to their back. Acquiring back mount means you get top control so you get sweep points for that in addition to getting back points.
Obviously, leg locks are the submissions of choice, given that the opponent’s legs end up in very close proximity to your arms and torso, while your legs are safely around their hips.
Depending on how the opponent’s legs are positioned you can set up kneebars, toe holds, or even go deep into heel hook attacks after acquiring an Ashi Garami that will allow you to pin your opponent’s hip to the ground. Doing a Kani Basami will take you the route of heel hooks while rolling forward will open up knee bars and toe holds.
On a more crazier note, Glover also has a so-called donkey guillotine. While he does not set it up from the inverted guard it is still a part of the system because he enters into it by turning his back. As he turns, Jeff wraps one of his arms behind his own back, using it to bait an opponent so that he can lock a Guillotine choke with both hands behind his back.
I’ve never given this one a try to be honest but I’m looking forward to trying it out in the near future!
You can always rely on the Donkey guard as a way to transition to other guards. In fact, jumping into donkey guard from standing is a great way to start the engagement on your terms. From there, you can use the guard to enter the 50/50, or roll outwards for an Imanari roll.
Alternatively, the Donkey guard can be used to pull an opponent into an invented / tornado guard, allowing you to look for sweeps or submissions from there. The triangle choke is readily available the moment an opponent’s arm ends up in between your legs.
Donkey Guard Controversy
As you would expect, the Donkey guard did not receive the warmest of receptions from the “authorities” of the BJJ community. Several of the old-guard Gracie family decided it was disrespectful and even went so far as to ban it from Gracie tournaments.
Furthermore, there was an infamous incident a few years back in which a competitor got DQed in a match involving the Donkey guard. A purple and a brown belt were matched up at a tournament, and the purple belt decided to try the Donkey guard.
The brown belt found the tactic offensive and kicked the purple belt as he was approaching! This earned the brown belt a DQ, and the guard even more notoriety.
So, bottom line, is the Donkey guard illegal? The answer is “No, the donkey guard is legal in almost all tournaments.” You are free to use it in both gi and in no-gi, at the IBJJF, UAEJJF, ADCC, and EBI tournaments – as well as all of the tournaments which follow their rulesets.
If you want to be completely safe, perhaps shy away from going into a Kani Basami takedown, but outside of that, have your fun with it!
Is The Donkey Guard Worth Your Time?
Definitely! You don’t have to make the Donkey guard your primary position (and you probably shouldn’t). However, you will learn a lot by experimenting with it. For example, you’ll learn a lot about body alignment and how to use inverted positions whether you are on top or bottom. You’ll learn a lot about transitioning and stringing attacks together with weird positions as checkpoints.
Most importantly, the Donkey guard will make you take BJJ at least a little less seriously. That right there is a lesson that most instructors will fail at, or not even bother teaching you. Make your time on the mats fun, and horse around a bit!
BJJ should be fun. Our daily lives are often serious, stressful, and intense – training Jiu Jitsu should be a way to escape everything while play-fighting with friends in order to relax. The donkey guard is just one example of the moves that make BJJ fun, while also helping us learn.
Not to mention the fact that this technique was used successfully by a world-class competitor multiple times against his peers. Just keep an open mind and allow yourself to have some fun while you roll from time to time. Starting with the donkey guard, perhaps!
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.