In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, we spend half of our time playing guard – and the sheer number of guards out there can lead to paralysis by analysis.
Which guard is the best in the gi, and which one is better for no-gi? Which one offers the most attacking options, and which one is the closest to unpassable? While looking for the answers to these questions, I kept getting the same answer: the Reverse De la Riva Guard.
Today we’ll explore this versatile guard and learn what makes it so powerful.
What Is Reverse De la Riva?
The Reverse De la Riva is an open guard that has you focusing on just one of your opponent’s legs. In that sense, it is not dissimilar to 50/50 or the single leg X guard. However, for the Reverse de la Riva, you are positioned in front of your opponent, meaning that, unlike the two guards I just mentioned, this is a long-range guard.
Positionally speaking, you want to have one of your legs in between the opponent’s legs while lying supine in front of them. Once there, your inside leg gets a De la Riva hook (your ankle will cross behind their knee and your foot will hook onto the outside of their thigh) on their close leg. Not sure which of the opponent’s legs should you hook? The one that’s closer to your big toe!
This hook is how the guard got its name as it is the same hook used in the De la Riva guard, just placed from a different direction (inside to outside instead of outside to inside) hence the prefix “reverse.”
This hook is what will keep you in place, attaching your opponent so that you can start exploring attacks. The arm that is on the same side of the “hook” leg has the task of gripping the heel of the leg you’re attached to, further reinforcing your anchor.
The other leg is free to roam and cause trouble for your opponent, but the most common placement is at the hip of the same leg you’ve already got hooked. Likewise, the free arm is also not limited to a particular position, but is rather available to grip fight and make needed adjustments.
Reverse De La Riva Guard History
The De la Riva guard is named after the man who popularized its use: Ricardo De la Riva. However, the Reverse De la Riva is not a result of Ricardo’s continuous experiments with the position, but rather credit goes to someone else. The person we have to thank for this guard is Caio Terra, one of the best competitors and teachers in the sport.
Terra popularized the position in the early 2000s using it as a way to prevent knee cut passes and pressure from the top half guard. The position though is not a 100% product of Caio Terra’s efforts. There’s evidence that a form of the hook was used in old Kosen Judo. While rudimentary, it existed long before BJJ came about.
That said, there’s no question that the Reverse De la Riva guard evolved and blossomed in BJJ, like many other old grappling moves. Caio initially used the position instinctively, while trying to prevent a training partner from passing his half guard. As his partner lifted up his leg to knee cut, Caio would grab his own shin to prevent the pass.
Realizing the potential, Caio started experimenting with the the Reverse De la Riva in tournaments as a blue belt, either spinning to the back or doing an overhead sweep.
Later on, other small-stature grapplers like the Mendes and Miyao brothers really took to the position as well, taking it to new heights.
What Makes The Reverse De La Riva Such A Successful Guard?
Diversity. The Reverse De la Riva is such a successful guard because it is diverse enough to offer both sound defensive and offensive options, as well as being reliable with and without the gi. Furthermore, there are no special athletic or size requirements for this guard, making it accessible to everyone.
Preventing the Pass with The Reverse De la Riva Lockdown
Using the Reverse De la Riva guard in a defensive manner is how Caio Terra came up with the position and the same principle applies today: hugging the shin with your bottom arm is still a legitimate way to prevent passes.
However, Firas Zahabi has taken the Reverse De la Riva to new heights, defensively speaking, with his RDL lockdown variation.
Instead of just hugging the shin, he also places his free leg underneath the hook leg, crossing the ankles similarly to a closed guard. This locks the opponent in place, making any guard passing movements extremely difficult. Moreover, it provides easier entries into spinning back attacks and leg locks.
Half Guard Entry
Another defensive option from the Reverse De la Riva is to place your opponent into half guard. Anytime an opponent kneels on the leg that is under your control, they enter the half guard, which, as a medium distance guard is usually more comfortable to play and offers more ways of slowing down the top person.
Attacking With The Reverse De la Riva Guard
As with any other guard, the Reverse De la Riva offers two avenues of offense: sweeping or submitting. Tactically speaking, there is a third option as well, although that one is not always seen as offensive – switching to a different guard.
Reverse De la Riva Kiss Of the Dragon
The “kiss of the dragon” is arguably the most popular Reverse De la Riva attack. It involves inverting as you’re spinning in between the opponent’s legs, ending up behind them in prime position to execute back takes. The RDLR hook is the reason this “Reverse Berimbolo” attack is available.
In fact, this is a much higher percentage move than the traditional Berimbolo, because it requires less movement.
Switching to Single Leg X-Guard
The Single Leg X guard is not far from the Reverse De la Riva. Anytime you can sneak in the free leg inside to hook the ankle of an opponent, you can think about switching. Usually, this is best done against a kneeling opponent that is refusing to come forward and engage with you in half guard.
The leg lock attacks from the Reverse De la Riva are available from the same place as the kiss of the dragon back takes: inverting. Instead of looking to go all the way through and hunting for the back, as you invert, just focus on placing your opponent’s free leg in between your legs.
From there, depending on where you decide to go, you can go for kneebars, get into the 50/50, or into the Honeyhole Ashi Garami.
Sweeping from the Reverse De la Riva guard is not difficult, but depends on what the top person is doing. If you have their posture broken (with a collar grip, for example), you can pull them to the side, using the DLR hook as a pivot point to get into a single leg.
Another option is heading to focus on sweeping the opponent towards the side of the leg that is under your control. Getting your free leg low on their shin will allow you to set up a wedge you can then push your opponent over so they easily fall sideways.
The Reverse De La Riva guard is a very versatile position that anybody can use to achieve everything you’d expect from a guard position in Jiu Jitsu: staying safe, attacking in different directions (sweeps and submissions), and having the opportunity to connect the position with other guards. Throw in the fact that the guard works just as well in gi as it does in no-gi, and you have a guard you can’t afford to skip over if you want to become good at BJJ.
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.