In terms of competition training for jiu-jitsu, stand-up is thought of as an amalgamation of takedown defense, wrestling, and judo. I very rarely see the guard puller’s requirements and skill sets addressed. Stand-up is a world in which people who favor guard pulling also require sound strategies and techniques.
Even if you are a takedown artist, you’re not always going to have those skills at your disposal. Some opponents are too athletic to take down; some are going to inherently be better at takedowns than you are. If the only thing you’ve prepped for is the opponent who is susceptible to your double legs or your hip tosses, what are you going to do when you come up against a third degree judo black belt or an NCAA division one wrestler?
Guard pulling is a skill in and of itself that is often neglected. It consists of some key points:
- The grip set. In order to pull guard, you need to have contact with your opponent. That contact might as well be advantageous to you. Do you go with two collar grips? A sleeve and collar? Maybe you set a grip on a pant leg before pulling so that you can sweep as soon as you hit the ground. A guard pull can in fact functionally be a takedown.
- Foot placement. If you are going to pull guard, do you like to jump guard? Do you keep one foot on the ground and place the other on the opponent’s hip? Maybe you like to pair your guard pull attempts with Tomoe-Nagi (a sacrifice throw from judo that involves dropping back and loading your opponent on your feet to throw them over you.)
- Hip positioning. Once you hit the ground, where do you want your hips? Maybe, just maybe, it would be smart to plan ahead and get your hips there while you are pulling your opponent down to the ground.
- Subsequent attacks. Are you going to try to triangle your opponent? If yes, it might be smart to close that triangle up as you are pulling guard. Same with an arm bar. Do you favor the cross choke? Maybe you should dig your hands in their collars as you are pulling; they are less likely to defend that intelligently if they are trying to avoid falling down.
- A follow-up takedown. One option if you pull guard is to get right back up and take your opponent down while they’re still thinking about your guard. It’s a fantastic bit of subterfuge.
How you pull guard is just one piece of the puzzle. When precisely you choose to pull is another. You need to determine certain factors when deciding when to pull guard.
- Will you give up points for pulling? Some tournaments have this built into their rule sets: a guard pull counts as a takedown for the top player. Other tournaments award a takedown only if the top player has contact with the guard puller’s leg(s). In any event, if your opponent is shooting for a takedown and the guard pull is your last resort you’re giving up two points. That may not be an issue; the top man’s technique may permit you to enter a submission as soon as your back hits the mat. But can you time it correctly?
- Is your opponent a leg locker? If they are, you should make sure that they are not expecting the pull. The last thing you want to do is to offer a proficient leg locker a moment to set up a leg lock.
- Are they a lot bigger or smaller than you? A substantial size difference will make closing up an effective guard difficult depending on the other person’s ability to use their body. Maybe you play a half guard on the guy you can’t close up in your guard, or maybe a spider guard on the tiny feller that can slip out and pass really easily.
- What kind of guard do you want to pull? Different guards serve different purposes. For example: I often like pulling closed guard, but if my opponent knows me and knows how to avoid my closed guard I may pull De La Riva or half guard and work from there. The kind of guard you decide to pull is a crucial element in the strategy of guard pulling
Guard pulling is an art in and of itself. If you plan on pulling guard, train for it. Start standing with training partners and try to get to where you want to be. For me, the best way to deal with a guard puller is to pull before them. If you are a guard puller, learn to detect the signs that you are about to get pulled into someone’s guard.
In self-defense, guard pulling can be a sound option depending on the scenario. I’m not saying it always is, but for example, if you’re already being knocked down you might as well go to a position in which you are not completely powerless. Learn to use this skill to your advantage.
For the guard pullers out there, do you drill entries to positions that you want to play? Or do you just pull guard?