Tournament Guard Passing Mistakes

Observing the blue belt bracket at a submission competition recently, I noticed some patterns in the techniques and strategy of the competitors. The majority of matches were decided in the area of guard passing and defending the guard.

These mistakes in passing strategy can appear at different belt levels, but I notice it happens primarily at blue belt.

Here are some of the mistakes I noticed.

Not Breaking The Grips And Hooks

The various hooks and grips in the open guard are the primary tools that guard players use to inhibit the movement of the passer.

I witnessed several passers trying to rush the pass even though the opponent had solid grips and hooks.

Here is where patience is needed. Frequently, the passer must pause, reset their posture and remove the troublesome hook before resuming the pass. While it is tempting to try to rush through and pass anyways, those attempts are often unsuccessful. Guard players have the leverage to block the pass if they have hooks.

Observe the high level black belts who will patiently break grips and wait for the correct opening to try their pass. Patience!

Throwing The Legs

Instructor Roy Harris likes to call this style of passing “the Speedy Gonzales” technique of passing the open guard, named after the fast mouse from the old Looney Tunes series.

The passer tries a sudden move of throwing the legs aside and trying to run around quickly before the guard player can square their hips up again or replace a hook. Sometimes it works, but more often than not, the person on guard is just as fast and instantly moves their hips and replaces guard. The passer has zero to show for their energy expenditure.

My first BJJ instructor said succintly that passing the guard was about the ability to control the opponent’s hips. The ability to retain the guard conversely, is the ability to move the hips and create angles.

The essence of most successful pressure passing is to control the opponent’s hips before performing the pass.

Having A One-Dimensional Pass

When you are battling am experienced opponent, single, straight forward attack strategies are seldom effective. Your opponent can recognize the threat and quickly muster an effective defense.

This is when you need to use combinations of techniques. If you think about it, many basic BJJ techniques may be organised in pairs. That is to say that when the opponent blocks technique A, they open up B. And if they block B, the opposite holds true.

Look to train your passes in combination. Find the pass that complements your A pass. For example, the bullfighter pass and the leg drag complement each other. This way, you have a 1-2 attack instead of the more easily defended one-dimensional attack.


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