How to Retain Guard in Jiu Jitsu

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You've probably heard it a million times by now, but prevention is better than cure.

In Jiu Jitsu, the guard isn't lost until the passing party can establish a consolidated side control that traditionally consists of:

  • Underhook
  • Crossface/Head control
  • Position held for longer than 3 seconds in IBJJF competition.

Guard passer is successful

The IBJJF defines it as "When the athlete in top position manages to surmount the legs of the opponent in the bottom position (pass guard or half-guard) and maintain side-control or north-south position over him/her for 3 (three) seconds."

It is also worth noting that passing one leg is not necessarily a guard pass as there are many options to maintain a halfguard by the bottom player. 

Guard is defined by the use of one or more legs to block the opponent from reaching side-control or north-south position over the athlete on the bottom.

So how do we build on past blogs that detail fighting the guard pass?

Instead of Defending the Guard Pass by Understanding the Guard Pass and Understanding the Tools We Can Use to Defend the Guard Pass, we can look at preventing the pass and working towards having active artillery should the opponent dare to test your guard's integrity. 

Stay active when defending the pass

Don't be flat on your back.

If you've tried defending the guard pass by being a mummy already you'll understand it is nonsense. If you are flat on your back, your tools (arms, legs, hips) are pointing at the ceiling and not into your opponent who is routing your guard and about to point his tools at you. See above for a terrible attempt at defending which is also armbar bait. 

Effective use of frames against the guard passer

If possible, preemptive frame (see above) sit up and begin to circle your legs into your opponent.

If not possible, hip escape/shrimp to your side and keep your elbows and knees connected to form a barrier of frames protecting your precious torso.

For the opponent to establish genuine dominant control they will need to connect to your torso and have a strong connection

Preemtive frames against the pass

Frame preemptively.

When the guard passer circumvents your guard you must act immediately and go into damage control.

It is imperative that you frame before they can get into you and close the distance as stated above. 

Use your arm to create as much distance between the guard passer and yourself as you can and keep the posted arm on their shoulder, chest or head depending on what the situation dictates.

Framing to get back to your guard

Failure to understand when the guard is lost will result in the guard passer taking the upper hand and cruising to a headstart on crushing you in side control or knee ride. 

If you feel safe to do so, shoot your leg back through and retain guard. 

The beauty of preemptive framing is that the passer will feel like they are challenging a series of walls that are constantly fighting back and adapting to their advances.

This is exactly how you should view your guard retention efforts. 

For an in-depth look into frames and the tools we use to stop the pass, click here for frames and here for tools and the value of space. 

When the guard is lost, keep the barrier

Keep your barrier.

If your framing efforts are all for naught and you find yourself further compromised, always maintain your side barrier position and keep those knees and elbows together. 

This is of absolute importance here as your "shelled" defence is now the only thing keeping away the connection as mentioned before. 

Denying head control and the underhook

Fight their tools.

The meatiest part of the guard pass battle and the last line of defence.

The passer needs some key things here to establish control:

  • Underhook
  • Head control
  • Bottom arm in the hip
  • Hips settled

Your barrier makes the foundation of the last line of defence after the legs are gone and preemptive framing is done but obviously, we can't just stay there.

If this is the case, your opponent will just seek another position other than side control, like your exposed back. 

Back = bad. 

As soon as you can manage it, negate their arms with your own. Deny the underhook and/or deny the arm that will control your head.

You will find it massively easier to disrupt their base if you get these arm controlling frames in place which is enough to stop them.

Underhook escape from side control

If you have the underhook you will find it beneficial to follow it and hastily get a classic escape and into a potentially dominant position at side turtle or even the back. 

Framing the head control arm

If you do not get the underhook and have the head control arm, you can use frames to hip out and reguard or to push it past your head and work escapes to the back.

Either way, you are not staying flat, you are framing to create space and you are not allowing them access to your torso to create connection and begin establishing a settled base in side control. 

Knee ride position without frames

Considerations for knee ride. 

 In knee ride, you will have more time to act in fighting the arms before they consolidate side control, however, you will have less time fighting the knee as it usually slides right in. 

Some side control considerations are:

  • Rebuild your knee-elbow frame barrier whenever possible.
  • Prioritise whatever stage of the pass they're at. If you are early enough to fight the knee coming through to your torso then fight that. If you are late and have to fight the underhook/head control arm do that.

Keep your frames to stop the knee ride

Knee ride is considered a "loose" position. While versatile and great for points in competition, there is room here for reguarding if you keep your barrier and are not flat on your back. 

The rest is up to you.

Avoid being flat, frame early, keep your barrier and fight their tools to become a brick wall in terms of your guard retention. 

Enjoy and stay in the roll!


 Jake Anderson is a Bachelor of Sport Development and Mixed Martial Arts commentator with over 18 years of combined training in various Martial Arts and tertiary education in health & sport. His blogs on the foundations of health and martial arts are dedicated to the communication and education of leading a holistically fulfilling life. 


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