The guard is the salvation of the weak,” said Rilion Gracie in a GRACIEMAG interview in February 2009. Well today, after wins from stars Fabricio Werdum (in Strikeforce) and Anderson Silva (in the UFC), everyone seems to understand a little better just how important Jiu-Jitsu’s leg game is in a fight situations.
Whether you are an MMA fighter looking to avoid getting put through a family-sized wringer, a Jiu-Jitsu competitor or impassioned practitioner, you need to delve deeper into the concept of the guard to evolve in training.
Rickson Gracie always said you have the best guard of the family. What makes a guard good?
The guard has always been a way of evening the playing field in a fight between two people, bringing the fight to the ground, where a 60kg guy balances out the strength difference and even goes on to have better chances of surprising the 120kg guy.
When I got my black belt, 25 years ago, I weighed 59kgs. And I always had the winning spirit, understood my family’s Jiu-Jitsu to be an art of self-defense, but one with the objective of submitting the adversary. The same way these days we see hundreds of scrawny guys, with good guards for lack of other options, the same went for me. The guard is the salvation of the weak.
How did you go about developing your game?
Guided by Rolls, Carlinhos, Rickson, Crolin, professors who I mirrored, I realized I had to have a really good guard to face anyone, but a complete guard – I wasn’t interested in just holding out against opponents, defending myself without managing to do anything in the fight. But the first idea that clicked for me, at blue belt, was: if I can’t manage to neutralize the guy with the guard, with which I have millions of options of barriers, my legs and hands and all, if he passes I’m dead – I have to exert triple the force, and on top of that with the guy’s weight on my chest, squashing my neck, ears. So my first concern is not to lose.
And what would be the second stage?
At purple belt I was already real flexible, and with a guard famed for being unpassable, at the little championships. But it happens that I’d win because the guy on top would wear out, and ended up leaving openings for the triangle, or I’d end up on his back and such. So, I went on to the next stage, developed at brown: to reconcile defensive with attacking guard, incorporating a varied game of submissions from the guard, sweeps and taking the back. That’s when my Jiu-Jitsu started improving on all fronts, because I started landing on top of my adversary, and I had to make the most of the favorable situation. These days, I think I’m better on top than on the bottom. I prefer playing on top – my objective is to jump the fence and attack my adversary.
I specialized in leaving an opening for the guy to pass, as that is the moment he exerts force – and so he wears out and falls in a trap” Rilion
What other tricks do you have for making adversaries fall into traps in the guard?
One kind of guard is that where you grab onto the sleeves, tie up the guy’s arms, but you can’t do anything either, and it becomes an ugly fight. Another is the guard where you give the guy a little taste. He sees his chance to pass, exerts force but doesn’t pass. I specialized in that, in leaving openings for the guy to pass – and there he either exerts force and tires, or falls into some trap.
Because I don’t believe there are humans who don’t tire. The best prepared guy in the world, confronted with the right technique, executed to perfection, he will be forced to apply force, and at some point will wear out. Everyone has their limit, it’s up to you to find the method and path to pushing your adversary to it.
Which is your favorite guard?
Jiu-Jitsu to me is easy and effective. It’s that which you can teach any student who walks into your gym, otherwise they’ll pick up their things and never come back.
I look to play guard right at the guy, at least in my way of fighting. I try to keep the guy worried about getting submitted the whole time, fearing getting tapped out. Even if the guy knows how to defend, the worry will fatigue him, exhaust him. And when he makes a mistake, he gets caught. The better your adversary’s technique, the more you need to worry him.
So of course, I’ll even play half-guard, sometimes. But, if the adversary is really good, after I sweep him he will still put up a fight from the bottom. So then one gets a sweep here, the other gets one there, and then it becomes that fight we’re seeing in competition these days. Of course, you need to know your objective when playing guard. If it’s to sweep for points, perfect. But I don’t want my opponent only to be concerned with not getting swept. He has to feel threatened the whole time.
Is there any bad type of guard?
I respect all positions. If I teach a technique to ten different people, I know that, as much as I’d like it to be otherwise, each student will be more suited to one aspect and not the other. Jiu-Jitsu is an infinite art; a shorty won’t have the same game as someone with long legs. That’s why a master can’t go blindly labeling one guard bad and the other good. The secret is to make out the weaknesses and virtues of the position, never condemn, arrogantly. Now, the guy who wants to be a reference in the guard cannot just know one guard. He has to know other paths, for the day he encounters a rock in his way.
Jiu-Jitsu is sensibility” Rilion
By Raphael Nogueira and Marcelo Dunlop
1. Exercise your ears
“The first rule to perfect your Jiu-Jitsu is to never be deaf to other people’s knowledge,” says Renzo Gracie. “It’s common to see guys who deem themselves professors decline a new teaching, ignoring a pupil who shows something new. To grow better you must understand how people think and how they got to that position. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s up to you to enhance it.” A clear example was a coup with which Gracie surprised Canadian fighter Carlos Newton in the Pride Bushido 1: “I nearly submitted him on the foot lock, in a position a white-belt had taught me. Starting from the tip I perfected and developed the leg attack, from the knee lock to the foot lock.” To Renzo, it doesn’t matter whether the student is a blue-, white-belt, or someone who’s never fought: the moment they show you something, shut your mouth and pay attention. “Even if the move is not efficient, the concept might help your play. When you don’t allow yourself to accept any other form of knowledge, you become a limited professor,” he teaches.
2. Repeat the moves over and over
Leaders of victorious academies in Jiu-Jitsu and MMA, Andre Pederneiras (Nova Uniao) and Sylvio Behring (Winner-Behring) don’t fear being repetitive when they assure that the motto is to persist and persist and then persist some more when it comes to position-training. “Definitely the key is the positions. In judo, the athlete makes 1,000 takedowns on every session. It’s sad to see that in the Jiu-Jitsu milieu people think it’s a waste of time. We repeat the basic positions in the warm up about 5 times before every practice”, says Pederneiras. Master Sylvio corroborates: “Every title we conquered in the last years with Mario Reis and Fabricio Werdum were due to this philosophy: repeating the basics and go through a training fight under supervision, which is the sparring game. One of the athletes executes every type of attack, arm, triangle, and the other tries to defend from the blitz”, says Marcelo Behring’s brother, who demands 90 seconds or a series of 100 repetitions after training. “Thus the athlete reaches exhaustion and lets the movement flow naturally.” After all, as professor Jean Jacques Machado puts it, it’s better to repeat a position a thousand times, working on it for a month, than learning one a day.
3. Look for the best version of the move for you
Master Osvaldo Alves says that up until the nineteen-seventies one only gave and armbar-in-guard by uncrossing and wide-opening the legs. “I realized this coup was vulnerable, for it enabled the opponent to flee and pass the guard easily. So I invented the climbing-armbar,” recalls the red-and-black-belt. As you can see on the image, this armlock version makes it a lot harder for the adversary to escape. “The thing is to not lock the opponent’s arm, but his/her shoulder,” clears up the master, who uses his own calf against the sparring’s shoulder, stopping him from getting up. Summarizing: if you don’t get along with a certain move, try to perfect it, adapt it to your physical and technical traits, always searching new versions for it. That’s what makes Jiu-Jitsu evolve continuously.
4. The best strategy is the attack
“I always try to attack. While I’m on the offensive, my opponent can think of nothing but defending, that is, I’m protected,” Marcelo Garcia teaches. As an example, the Alliance black-belt recalls the time when he didn’t know to keep an open guard. He would cross the legs on the opponent’s back and pray for the time to elapse. “I was afraid of attacking,” he evaluates. After noticing the deficiency Marcelo started uncrossing the feet and practising sweeps. He realised that, if he went right onto the adversary, he’d run a much smaller risk of being submitted than if he played defending, applying but rare counter-strikes. Garcia also realised that, by being the first to attack, he would make his opponents abandon their former plan. If he prolonged the blitz, Marcelo also prolonged this “untouchable” state. But there are those who say that repeated attacks tend to tire the athlete. “What really tires is to hold the fight back the whole time,” Marcelo argues. Notwithstanding, the black-belt gives some advice on physical preparation for those who agree that the best defense is the attack: “Climbing stairs and ramps is the best option for an amazing guard,” he reveals.
5. Don’t forget to enhance your defense
Despite liking the attacking strategy suggested by Marcelo Garcia, Rillion Gracie stresses the importance of training submission-escapes (remembering that the other guy may attack first). “Look at Roger Gracie’s performances in the last World Championship. He suffered fulminating attacks right in the beginning of the battles but was able to defend like a master to then counter-attack,” Rillion recalls. The Gracie Leblon Master says that, while practising defense, the competitor learns exactly what the opponent feels like in situations of adversity. “Learning defense improves the attack. I f the lion knows how the prey can escape, it’ll capture it in a much more precise way,” he ponders. To practise defense in Jiu-Jitsu, Rillion advises the reader into forgetting s/he is strong. “Exercise your patience. Use the weight and the force of the levers,” he explains. “Start practising defense as soon as possible, to awake just as soon the survival instinct in your fighter’s soul.”
Ever since he was a kid, Antonio Schembri has been used to stretching daily. And he never complained, unlike his opponents, whom, in time and practice, he began to submit in the most varied ways. “I’m very flexible, so I always take a strong session before and after training. Some people are stiffer, they don’t like it, but stretching is essential, especially the bottom half, legs, spine and lumbar,” says the Chute Boxe athlete. According to “Elvis,” stretching is vital even for improving the guard. “What I realize in competitions, even black-belts’, is that everybody gets along well on top, but not everyone can keep a good guard. So besides stretching, which improves the de-passing, the athlete must set up a schedule and program himself and persist in training every single variation, butterfly guard, closed guard, with inside hooks… You can’t let the guy cross the knee line, or else you’ll have to pull something out of your ass to stop the guy from passing,” Schembri teaches.
Jean Jacques Machado likes to awake his students’ creativity. The master organizes “lab sessions” during the trainings in the academy where he teaches in Los Angeles. On these moments he shows the classroom a move, asks the students to study it and to present a defense a week later. “There are many ways to get to a goal. I like my pupils to use their creativity and find out new ways to get there,” he evaluates. In other words, Jean doesn’t make his apprentices “move repeaters.” By disseminating experimentalism in his lessons, the black-bellt gives birth to classrooms full of creative and innovating athletes. Leo Vieira likes Jacques’ methodology, but presents another way of making the students open minded: “Look at the kids fighting. Notice how they’re always laughing and jumping around. That’s how I like to fight. Children invent, use unexpected moves that, if adapted to adult Jiu-Jitsu, can be fruitful. Teaching kids is a great source of knowledge to me.”
8. Regularity, always
Also to 1999 ADCC champion Jean Machado, there’s nothing more important than regularity. Not vanishing from the academy is, therefore, essential for the athlete’s evolution – s/he must avoid substituting wasted weeks with overtraining periods. Nearly every one of the gi-superstars knows that by heart, as Pe de Pano Illustrates: “The secret is regularity: training over and over and over. Twice a day if possible. As I began late, I would make it up by going to the academy in the afternoon and at night.” According to him, training regularly leads to evolving and injury-avoiding. “For the fact that you keep training, the body gets used to the effort you make. It was after I began resuming and quitting that I began to have injuries often,” he completes. A partisan to that idea, Vitor Shaolin exemplifies: “Besides training often, you must divide the trainings, understand that there is a little something called resting. So if in the afternoon the practice is slower, take the chance to rest. If your body doesn’t react all that well in the morning but you know that in the morning the training is profitable, wake up earlier to get your body prepared. Practise more heavily at night, but don’t let it go on till too late, for you might go to bed tense, thinking of training – and end up not resting at all.”
9. Respect and reflect
Respect and dedication are utterly necessary to Ricardo de la Riva. “The idea is to arrive with an open mind and to practise with pleasure, and not to simply want to win in the training. You must respect, above all, not only the dojo and the professor, but also your practice-mate, after all you need him/her,” says the master. According to Martin Rooney, the salutation can afford great benefits that sometimes can go by unnoticed. “In all sports, athletes create rituals that push the negative energy away. However, I realise that many Jiu-Jitsu beginners ignore that fact, maybe for seeing martial arts as just a way of defending, a game of win or lose,” he says. Martin refers to the simple and traditional act of bowing. Associated for centuries to martial arts, the act should not be seen as only a demonstration of respect or a sign that the fight has begun. As the American trainer explains, the time to bow is a great opportunity to concentrate. The bow is the moment when the practice begins, so any negative thought or attitude must be left aside – or out of the academy. “A salutation at the end of the practice enables the athlete to go back to his normal life,” he says. “Develop, therefore, a strong mental connection so that your mind is activated by the bow in the beginning. Just as in any sport, if your head is not ready to practise, it’s impossible to learn anything,” Rooney concludes.