Guard passing is hard.
To pass a good guard it takes a substantial amount of speed, power and technique. The Jiu Jitsu ruleset recognizes that playing from the top is more difficult than sweeping from guard, which is why passing is allotted more points in the scoring system. That extra point isn’t always enough to incentivize guard passing, however, due to the restrictive time limits and advanced guards commonly encountered in modern Jiu Jitsu tournaments. It’s just too easy to get swept or get stalled out when attempting to pass. While The Jiu Jitsu Lab has taken great interest in guard passing, focusing on the top games of Guilherme Mendes, Rodolfo Vieira, Leandro Lo and Marcelo Garcia, for example, even we have to admit that sometimes the best way to pass guard is to not pass the guard.
At all belt levels, the current crop of competitors is implementing a strategy of avoiding the top position. The benefits can be seen in the rash of submission victories by athletes such as the Mendes brothers. The downside to the philosophy of avoiding guard passing is the boring and unrealistic double guard pull scenario.
This article will focus on several methods of bypassing the guard, many of which you will have seen before – Marcelo Garcia’s armdrag, Rafael Mendes’s berimbolo and other de la Riva back-take positions, the reverse X-guard/leg drag sweep, and the Beijo do Dragão. Put together, it become clear that some of the most aggressive champions of Jiu Jitsu have individually came to the same conclusion – why waste time passing when you can bypass the guard to achieve a dominant position and finish the match?
“If I open a match with a successful double-leg takedown, I still have to pass the guard and mount before I can take the back. If I pull guard and successfully sweep my opponent with a butterfly sweep or a scissor sweep, I still have to pass the guard, mount and set up a back-take. The armdrag, however, is a high-percentage shortcut to the back. In one move, I can skip having to pass the guard and having to fight for the mount. It feels like magic.” – Marcelo Garcia, Advanced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Techniques, p. 23.
One of Marcelo Garcia’s most iconic performances was the armdrag against Vitor Shaolin at ADCC 2003. The unknown Marcelo was an alternate for the competition, yet dominated the legendary Renzo Gracie en route to his semi-final match against Shaolin. Shaolin was a two-time world champion. Within seconds of the start of the match, Marcelo Garcia was calmly walking away from an unconscious Shaolin.
Marcelo Garcia vs. Vitor Shaolin, ADCC 2003
Marcelo’s armdrag has been covered in detail by The Jiu Jitsu Lab previously, and the key points Marcelo makes when discussing the position is that a) it could be incorporated into his game with minimal adjustment, and b) it could be used to by-pass the guard and land him in his best position. The armdrag can be used from the guard and from standing, allowing its user the ability to achieve a dominant position early in the match with relatively minimal effort. For this reason the position that was seen as a flashy cross-over technique in 2003 is now a staple of most-everyone’s Jiu Jitsu game.
“[If I just use the de la Riva to sweep I will end up in half guard on top and will have to pass the guard again… I don’t go on top, because than I have to pass the guard. If he’s doing a good half guard or inverted de la Riva than I will not pass. So I don’t want to just sweep and go on top. That’s just a normal position. You still have to pass the guard. I want to do something different. I want to take the back.” – Rafael Mendes
Similarly, the berimbolo is a position that can be incorporated into most people’s existing de la Riva game, and one that can be used to avoid having to pass the guard – a point emphasized by its most successful user, Rafael Mendes. If one were to make a video of the evolution of the berimbolo they would see that it originated from a similar de la Riva guard technique used to take the back. It’s common for the opponent to attempt to defend the previous back take by sitting down to remove the angle of attack. What the Mendes brothers and others discovered is that by changing the angle yourself by inverting the back is still obtainable.
Rafael Mendes – Berimbolo