A famous adage in sports goes: the best defense is a good offense. In Jiu-Jitsu, to have an impeccable defense means to become unstoppable with your transitions. Leveling up your guard is challenging, as it requires time and patience.
While some grapplers prefer to spend more of their time on the standup and guard passing skills, improving your defense is integral to your development as a grappler, this is so you can successfully defend regardless of position. Today, we will discuss four ways to improve your defensive game in BJJ.
How To Improve Your Defensive Game
According to John Danaher, good defense forms the foundation from which you become offensively strong. The pathway to offense is through your confidence in your defense. Because of this, every grappler’s long-term goal should be to become the best attacker they can be – and to do that, you must keep your opponents from controlling you.
To Danaher, you must develop the necessary skills to get out of any pin, submission holds, and to break all kinds of controlling grip the opponent may apply. This is so that the opponent can never impose their will on you. And when they can’t do that, you can, in turn, impose yours upon them. Below are the four skills you must have to develop a high-level defensive game in BJJ.
1) Pin Escapes
The first aspect of having a good guard is your ability to escape pins like the mount, side control, and north-south. Most finishes in BJJ result from getting pinned and held down for some time. Knowing that you can get out of pins, you develop the confidence to attack from the bottom.
In escaping pins, you must find a way to create space between you and the opponent. You can do this by focusing on fundamental movements such as framing, shrimping, and bridging. Doing so creates distance and buys you time to recover your guard from the pin. In a match where both grapplers are equally skilled in offense, the grappler with the better defense will come out on top. Spend time working on pin escapes by doing positional drillings, as it should be your first goal of mastery in BJJ.
Guard retention is another crucial skill to master in BJJ. If you are a smaller grappler, you will find yourself underneath bigger and stronger grapplers most of the time. After escaping pins and recovering your guard, you must develop the ability to retain your guard.
Pin escapes and guard retention are the first two skills you need to master in BJJ. Proper utilization of your legs plays a massive role in guard retention because if the opponent can’t get through your guard and pin you, they will have a hard time controlling and submitting you.
Typically, after creating distance and escaping the pin, the opponent will follow through by re-passing your guard and running around your legs. A general reminder is to keep your defense tight by connecting your knee to your elbow right below your armpit as you frame not to expose the space between your torso and hip. It would be best to also employ your mid-range defense to stop them from passing. Remember that if the opponent can’t get to their preferred pins and positions, they will have difficulty finishing you.
As Danaher said, the guard is your shield and sword in the bottom position. To become a dangerous bottom player, you must escape pins and maintain them with your guard retention skills. If you can do so, it offers an unfair advantage that allows you to constantly attack from underneath, neutralizing the opponent’s ability to control you. Train your guard retention together with pin escapes, as these two can significantly determine the outcome of a match.
3) Grip Fighting
Grip fighting is also a vital part of guard retention. Grip fighting on the ground means you have to tie yourself to the opponent by applying controlling grips. While retaining your guard as you fight off your back, grip fight by using controlling grips that control the opponent’s collar or sleeve. This allows you to transition to guards like the lasso, spider, and de la Riva. You can also sit up (wrestle up) and start grabbing their collar and sleeves to work on attacks like the collar drag and snap down.
Keep in mind that in BJJ, everything starts with the grips. Getting a superior grip over your opponent while denying their ability to apply one is among the predictors of who will dominate the exchange. While grip fighting may not be an exciting technique to practice, it is a significant aspect of a match as it can fend off your ability to execute your moves. Make grip fighting a part of your training routine so you can study the different grip setups for your favorite techniques.
4) A Strong Guard/Position
Lastly, it comes down to how good you are at controlling your position and your opponent’s. This implies your ability to control the opponent while they are on your guard. Using the closed guard as an example, you should develop the ability to hold the opponent and stop them from opening your guard. Even more so, the closed guard is a position where the opponent is at your mercy, so developing attacks while you have the guard is essential. If the opponent can open your guard, guard retention comes into play, and you should be able to connect it with your other guards.
Controlling the opponent with your preferred guards will help develop your game quickly. Mastering your guards can make you more in tune with the typical responses from even the most formidable opponents.
Remember to be patient and ignore your ego when developing your defensive game in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It is one of the most challenging things to master as, more often than not, you will get your guard passed and smashed when practicing. Becoming proficient in playing guard takes time; see it as a long-term investment in your game.
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