Passing Guard for the (Small) Win

If you want to get better at guard passing, get swept a lot.

Dwayne Bowie helping Robert Van Valkenburgh with a guard pass at Kogen Dojo. Photo credit: Mike Oswald Photography

An essential skill in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is the ability to pass an opponent’s guard. That is, the ability to get past a downed opponent’s legs in order to attain a dominant position on his or her torso and from which to isolate and attack the arms, neck, or head. While this is an essential skill, it is often overlooked because guard passing itself does not win a submission grappling match, submissions do. In training, in day-to-day practice, however, there are multiple ways to look at the idea of winning with submitting one’s opponent being only a superficial goal.

Practice is about improving, specifically improving incrementally in the face of greater amounts of resistance. It is about being better than you were the day before at the thing you are trying to accomplish. The Japanese refer to this principle of incremental improvement as kaizen. If we look at BJJ training from a kaizen perspective, submitting one’s opponents can be seen as a longterm macro-goal that can be broken down into many smaller and more easily achievable micro-goals to be faced and overcome along the way. Mastering guard passing is simply one example of a micro-goal in the face of the overwhelming whole of BJJ.

By focusing on one small aspect of BJJ, it is easier to track progress and make adjustments as you go. So long as it is okay with your instructor and partner, when free rolling, instead of starting from a neutral position, begin from the position you are working on. If you are working on guard passing, start from guard. At first, you will likely get submitted and swept a lot. Take note of how and why. Get back to guard and try to pass again. Over time, your guard pass will improve and you will find yourself getting submitted and swept less often. In practice, this is winning and it feels good to win.

“As in life, so too in budo. As in budo, so too in life.”

-Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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