Persistence in Guard Passing

If you’ve read my blog before, then you know that I’m a big fan of the Mendes Bros., but recently I’ve been watching a lot of Leandro Lo, especially after the BJJ Scout put out tons of videos on him. His guard passing is amazing! Why? Because, he is persistent in his passing, which I believe is the sweet spot when it comes to passing mentalities. Before we cover persistence, and what it means, I’d like to go over the two passing mentalities that I think can have some negative effects.


Being stubborn is both a gift and a curse in many areas of life, but in guard passing, being stubborn is really only a curse. So, what is my definition of stubborn guard passing?

It’s trying a knee slide and getting it stuffed. So, you then try a knee slide again, and again, and again. Every single time your opponent stops your knee slide attempt right in its’ tracks. What makes this bad, you ask?

  1. Obviously your opponent knows the defense to the pass. You’re most likely not going to pass his/her guard with that particular pass.
  2. When you continue doing the pass, then it’s even easier for your opponent to stop, since they are expecting it.
  3. Since your opponent is expecting it, you then allow them to counter more easily.

It’s a terrible idea! I’ve seen it several times, especially at blue and white belt. It doesn’t pay to be stubborn! Don’t do it!


Resetting is the most common type of mindset I’ve seen in guard passing and it really can sometimes go hand-in-hand with stubbornness, which makes it even worse! So, what is resetting?

It’s going to a knee slide, getting it stuffed and then settling down into your opponents half guard. Pausing there for several seconds and then going for another pass OR being stubborn and going for the same exact pass again! What makes this bad?

  1. You had them on the defensive! Now you are giving your opponent a chance to compose themselves.
  2. Since you are giving them a chance to compose themselves, you’re also giving them a chance to attack back!

It’s just a bad idea. Do generals on the battle field, when they are pushing forward and meet resistance, take steps back to reset? No! They hold their ground. They push forward. They keep attacking and you should too!


Persistence. Stubbornness. What’s the difference?

stub·born [stuhb-ern]
1. unreasonably inflexible attitude.

per·sist·ent [per-sis-tuh nt, -zis]
1. persisting in spite of opposition and obstacles.

Stubbornness is being set in your ways. What is persistence? Unlike stubbornness, persistence is moving towards your goal of passing your opponents guard, but using different techniques to get there!

It’s trying a knee slide, getting that stuffed, so you immediately try a leg drag! What is so great about this?

  1. Your opponent may know the defense to one pass, but not to another. This raises your chances of passing your opponents guard.
  2. It’s unexpected, so you surprise your opponent with whatever secondary pass you attempt. It also makes you harder to counter and sweep.
  3. You’re attacking constantly, which means your opponent is constantly on the defensive, instead of being on the offensive.

It’s really the way to go and I’ve really been trying to employ this mindset. And if you’re a white belt who only knows one pass, this still applies to you! First of all, learn some more passes! They are extremely important. But second, switch the direction you do your one pass! If you try to knee slide to the right and it fails, go to the left! Try something new! I guarantee you, over time, it will really help your passing!


Studying Submission Defense

If you didn’t know, I’m constantly pursuing BJJ forums such as Sherdog, UG and the Jiu-Jitsu Forums and reading all I can. I’ve seen many a thread posted by white belts asking how to get out of certain submissions and so on and so forth. So, I wanted to write a post about my thoughts when it comes to defense.

You might have asked your instructor, “How do I get out of ‘name of submission’?” and he might have replied, “By not getting in an/a/the ‘name of submission’.” Some people sigh at this response, because it’s so obvious, but it’s really setting the correct mindset. When I first heard this as a white belt, I studied some and understood the mindset, but I wasn’t able to figure out how to get there. Now that I actually have, hopefully I can outline the mindset and some resemblance of a way to get there.

The Mindset

Obviously not getting in the submission in the first place is advantageous. If you’re in a submission and trying to escape, you’re playing with fire, so to speak. If you don’t get in the submission at all, then you’re going to be much safer. That’s pretty much a no-brainer. But, how do you not get into a submission? That’s the real question.

Answer: By seeing it coming. If you can see a submission coming, you can stop it before it turns into one.


This part takes some work. I won’t lie to you, but it yields fantastic results! It requires…studying. In order to defeat a submission before it starts, I think you need to do two things.

  1. Need to know submission set-ups. Study how people get to submissions, how they set-up submission and what they do to try and “trick” people into submissions. You can study it by watching video, watching “upper belts” in class and even by rolling and just letting yourself get submitted.
  2. Need to know how submissions work. Often times there are certain steps needed in order to complete a submission and they usually require all of the certain steps to be completed. If you see the submission coming and know the steps, all you literally have to do is stop one step from happening. For example, you need my elbow on your stomach in order to armlock me from the guard. If I see it coming, because of how you are moving and setting up your grips, then I can pull my elbow back in a position where it cannot be armlocked. Therefore, I’ve stopped your armlock just by a simple movement.

Now you might ask, where do I start? Start with whatever submission you get submitted by the most! Study it. Watch it over and over. Learn it. And eventually, you’ll be able to stop it before it starts. And after that, you’ll notice that you’re now getting tapped by a different submission. What do you do? Move on to studying that!

(NOTE: I do encourage the training of actual submission escapes! So, do not abandon them! The concept above is something that’s fantastic to add! Two layers of defense is better than one!)



Don’t Settle

These past couple of months our whole academy has been focusing on not settling and I’m really seeing benefits. What do I mean by not settling? Often times, at lower levels of BJJ, we’ll accomplish something and settle into it before moving forward. For example, I’m having trouble passing someone’s guard, but I finally get past and settle right into side control. I then think, “Whew, got past his guard!” and I pause there. This is terrible!

What I should be doing is immediately after I pass, I should then be attacking! It’s the best time to attack. Think about it. If I pass your guard and pause, I then give you a chance to “regroup” and mount an escape or reversal attempt. If I immediately go into an attack right after passing your legs, you don’t have a chance to think about escaping, but must rather confront my attack. I’ve been snagging many more submissions while applying this thinking. Even if you’re a white belt who knows one submission from mount, as soon as you pass someones guard, immediately go into mount and go after that submission! And it doesn’t just apply to passing guard! If I sweep, I should immediately go into a pass and then immediately into an attack! It’s really an amazing thought. And even though it seems so simple, I never really consciously applied it to myself until now.

But, on top of that whole development, while driving home the other night I thought about the core people at the academy I attend. And by core I mean the people that always attend and seem to be improving quite a bit. While thinking about them, I realized that they all fall into the rules I’ve put in place for myself when training. Specifically, my two rules for rolling, which are: 1. One roll is not enough. 2. Never turn down a roll.

Several times I’ve seen people roll once and then just leave class. One roll per class isn’t enough though! And I’ve also seen people, and this is extremely often, turn down a roll because, and I quote, “I’m exhausted.” or “I’m to tired.” That is the perfect time to roll! That’s the time that makes you grow in jiu-jitsu! That’s the time that makes you use technique instead of strength! You should never turn down a roll if you’re in good health. Never! Apply these rules to your rolling and I’m sure you’ll see a marked improvement!

The Sinking Ship

Wow. After writing that title I realized that it sounds like this going to be a depressing post. But, thankfully it is not! Leslie, one of my training partners and owner of the blog BJJGrrl, recently posted in response to a comment from a young man who had questions about training more often because his parents only let him go to class once a week. After she answered, he then asked about losing to people in the gym during rolls and she responded in kind. It was something in her response about ego and gym wins that sparked this post, so some of the credit goes to her.

I’ve been thinking about this analogy for a while, so after the spark I decided I’d go ahead and put my thoughts on how ego suppresses progression. In Leslie’s response she stated that if you get focused on gym wins, you then get focused on learning certain techniques just so you can “beat” your training partners, instead of becoming a well-rounded BJJ practitioner. The fact of the matter is that if you do this, you simply won’t grow. Ego stunts growth. But, why? Well, here’s my analogy and hopefully it’s not to cheesy.

You see, I see my BJJ game as a ship out on the sea. It’s sinking and it has holes in it. Those holes are mistakes in my game. They’re me getting caught in submissions, missing passes, failing sweeps, getting swept, releasing submissions and so on and so forth. As I notice these holes, I run around and patch them up. I also explore my ship. I visit the crows nest, the crews cabins, and the captain’s quarters. This exploration is me trying new things. It’s trying butterfly guard, even though I’ve never used butterfly guard before. It’s going for a crazy sweep, even though I’ve only drilled it. It’s putting my ego aside so that I can grow. When I try new things, I know I’m most likely going to get smashed and lose, but I’m going to keep at it and will eventually get better at what I’m attempting to do.

For those that just patch up their game to win, their ship looks much different. In fact, they aren’t even on their ship. They’re instead out in a life boat, which is their “A” game that helps them win, paddling away as their ship is sinking into the ocean behind them. They never think to explore the ship or patch the holes. If they continue in their life boat, eventually a large wave will come along and flip them over.

If you’re invested in gym “wins”, then stop. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your growth. Turn your life boat around and paddle back to your ship. Start exploring and patching!

(Once again, sorry for the cheesy analogy.)

The Waiting Game

Well, it’s been such a long time since I’ve posted! As I said before, life has been crazy! I’ve also been more immersed into BJJ, as I’m now able to go 3 times a week. With that, work, family, and friends, I regretfully don’t have much time for writing. I also don’t usually have a whole lot to write about. In the past months since I’ve written I’ve lost some more weight, gotten in better shape and competed in a tournament. I won 1st in my weight division in the gi, which was awesome (only division I competed in)! I also managed to hurt my knee some when rolling for an armbar, but it wasn’t serious and is almost back to 100%.

Anyway, why am I writing all of a sudden? As I was pursuing some old pictures on my Facebook profile, I came upon the photos from the Mendes Bros. seminar that I attended in September of last year (2012) and something caught my eye. Something I used to do that has changed for the better. To explain what that is, I’ll actually use the situation from the seminar.

I got a chance to roll with multiple time world champion black belt Rafael Mendes. He made quick work of me in about 3 minutes via armbar. What did I notice from the pictures I was looking at? My defense. How I was defending the armbar was horrible! And no, it wasn’t the technique, but rather the mindset. And at that time I didn’t even really think about it. It’s a small tweak, but it’s had large gains for me. When Mendes weaved his arm through for the armbar, instead of moving to escape, I just locked up everything into a rear-naked choke defense type grip and then I waited.

Now, this might not seem terrible to you, but here is why it is. I was waiting for Rafael to make a mistake, so that I could escape. That’s what I had been doing against belts my level and lower. But, I got armbarred anyway, because Rafael didn’t make any mistakes. So, I’m going to say this in bold to get my point across, escaping because of your opponents mistakes is not a legitimate defense.

Now, I’m not saying to not be calm. I definitely stay calm. If someone weaves their arm in for an armbar, don’t just start going crazy trying to escape. I see it as a delicate balance. Calm, but ready strike.

So, now, instead of waiting for a mistake so that I can slip out of a submission, I make my own opening and make my opponents make mistakes. Instead of locking up my defense and sitting there, I now lock up my defense, bump one direction and then try to get my arm to the mat.

Don’t fall into the trap I did. You create your own escapes. You don’t wait for opponents to create them for you.

But, Top Level Competitors Do It!

I recently read a post on a forum where the thread starter asked if it was okay to cross your feet while trying to armbar from the top position. He said his instructor told him not to, but that he saw lots of top level competitors doing it.

First thing is first, to all those new to BJJ (or old, you never know), always listen to your instructor when he tells you to do something in regards to the execution of technique. I think this instance is a prime example of how top level competitors can deceive you into thinking your instructor is wrong.

Yes, Roger, Marcelo, the Mendes Bros., etc., might cross their feet when armlocking from on top; they have every right to, because they are world-class black belts. But, that’s just the thing! They are world-class black belts! They are much more technical and have practiced techniques a thousand times (or more), so in certain areas they are allowed to “fudge” in order to accomplish what they are doing. They know the technique backwards to front. I like to compare it to riding a bicycle.

You don’t start off riding a bicycle by standing on the seat. You learn to ride by sitting your butt on the seat and placing your feet on the pedals. That’s the basics. If you’re extremely proficient at riding, then you can start to stand on the seat and ride the bicycle that way. You don’t just start riding by standing on the seat. That would be insane!

If your instructor tells you to do something, it is most likely for a reason. Most instructors tell you to never cross your feet for several reasons. The first being that you’re a beginner at armbars. Crossing your feet is like trying to run before you can even walk! Secondly, crossing your feet can only be done from on top and if you start practicing that as a beginner, crossing your feet from the bottom, which is something you’ll never see Roger, Marcelo, or the Mendes Bros. do, can become habit and that can be detrimental. Crossing your feet from the bottom naturally brings your knees apart, which then makes it much easier for the person on top to pull their arm out and it makes it easier to get stacked and crushed.

So, in summary, just because you see top levels guys doing it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you right now. And you should always put trust in your instructor when it comes to techniques. He’s been around longer than you. Remember that!

BJJ Epiphanies

Wow, it’s been rather long since I’ve last posted! I got promoted at work recently, which means more money, but it also means more things to do. So, any amount of time (short lunch break) I have is usually spent watching matches and researching technique. I, however, finally got a break to write something for the blog that I hope will be helpful to whomever might come across it.

I would love to take credit for these “epiphanies”, but they’re mostly derived from posts off of several different forums. Since I found them extremely interesting and good, I saved them in a document. I’ve re-written most of them to make sense and to flow better, along with adding in my own two cents, but the concepts are not mine. Enjoy!

  1. Grip Fighting: I believe one of the most overlooked aspects of BJJ is grip fighting. No one really talks about it, but it’s extremely important and frankly I need to employ it more often. So, what is grip fighting? Well, it’s exactly as it sounds. It’s fighting for grips. It’s not allowing your opponent to attain his desired grips, but it’s also working to get your own grips. If you really think about it, grips are extremely fundamental to just about every technique. Think about chokes, armlocks, passes, sweeps, etc. How many do you do without grips? I can’t think of many. So, if you keep your opponent from setting themselves up for a technique, by breaking their grips, what do they have left to do? You’re basically stopping your opponent before they get started. So, don’t forget it. Grip fighting is important.
  2. Chaining: I’ve actually spoken about this before in previous posts and it’s really works both ways in relation to offense and defense. When rocking back and forth between two or three techniques, the cracks in an opponents defenses will get wider and wider. This then allows you to accomplish something that you couldn’t before. This becomes even more important against skilled opponents, as they are often hard to attack or escape from. They are very aware of your movements and are good at avoiding anything that puts them in a bad situation. However, if they are forced to move and defend, they will most likely open themselves up to more attacks/escapes and as I said before, the cracks in their defenses will get wider making it easier.
  3. No Resting: The title for this one sounds somewhat harsh, but it really isn’t when I explain it. Always keep working when in a bad position. If you were stuck in mount and escaped to half guard, but are now flattened out in half guard, don’t stop and go “Whew! I escaped the mount”. Even though you escaped a terrible position, you are still in a bad one. Do not rest till you are in a good one.
  4. Movement: This concept is often not discovered until higher up, but hopefully this simple, but game changing concept will help those just starting out. Usually, when people are new and have to focus mainly on escapes, they mostly work on moving their opponent. But, this is not always the right thing to do. In fact, it’s much easier to move your own body. When you’re winning, you’re working to get rid of space. When you’re losing, you must create space. If you focus on moving yourself and not your opponent, when trying to escape a bad position, it will most likely a make a big difference on your bottom game.
  5. Structuring: In architecture there are weak and strong structures. Think of yourself as a building. When underneath, try to turn yourself into a strong structure that cannot be collapsed down by using strong frames. On top, try to position yourself so that you have a strong foundation/base and become an immovable impediment in your opponents way.
  6. T-Rex Arms: When your elbows are in, they are strong. When your elbows are out, they are weak.
  7. Mechanics: Studying the mechanics of submissions and how they work will help you improve your own technique. If you understand why an opponent will tap to a submission, then it is often easier to arrive to that certain point for the tap. This concept is especially helpful when an opponent has good submission defense.
  8. Work Without Ego: Have a position you’re bad at or a submission you want to work on? Do it in rolling, even if you might get passed or placed into a bad position. Rolling is practicing. There is no winning or losing, but only learning.  Sometimes people are just better than you. Look to these moments as learning opportunities. Eventually, after working on your weak points, they will soon become your strengths.
  9. It’s Yours: What’s yours? If you’re going for an armlock, for example, it is no longer your opponents arm. It is your property and it is your job to claim it.
  10. Crossfacing: When crossfacing, it’s good to use your shoulder to make your opponents head face away from you. Because of the twisting this causes on the spine, it then makes it very difficult for your opponent to bridge into you.
  11. Sweeping: Sweeps contain a common thread that makes them work. Trapping one side of an opponents body and then off balancing them makes it easy to sweep in that direction. It’s basic table theory. It is also much easier to sweep by trapping limbs and then applying the correct leverage, instead of thinking of a particular sweep and then trying to trap the limbs. If you are in someone’s guard, remember that if they have two points of control and they off balance you, then you’re going to get swept. Controls can be a foot on the hip, a hook, a grip, a foot on the biceps, etc. If your opponent has two points, then don’t wait, because you must doing something to stop the impending sweep.

If you’re in a guy’s guard remember if he has 3 points of control you’re getting swept. A control could be a foot on the hip, a hook, a grip, grabbing the heel, foot in the biceps, etc. If he has two points, you must still do something – since the third – and the sweep – is coming any second

Go for it!

I know, I know, it’s been a while. I’m sorry, but it seems from now on my life is going to be constantly crazy, so I’m not going to explain all that’s going on. Just wanted to spread some advice that’s truly helped me so far.

As you know, from reading my previous post (if you did), I’ve been working on my leg drag pass. Now, I’m still actually working on it, but I’ve moved to working on my closed guard, instead of my half guard. It seems I spoke to soon about my half guard being harder to pass. Yes, it’s gotten better, but I found out that for some odd reason (long legs) I have a very tough closed guard and I’ve gotten rather good at attacking from it. I’m going to share a couple pointers that I noticed about closed guard later in the post, but for now, let’s discuss what I originally set out to write about.

Last week I was rolling with Andrew, one of our purple belts, and I tried to leg drag him several times. Every time I failed and I chalked it up to him just countering what I was doing. After our roll, he said, “If you’re going to go for the leg drag, go for the leg drag. You’re playing with my pants to much. If Justin (one of our black belts) goes for an arm drag, he’s either getting the arm drag or ripping your arm off.”

He then sat down into seated guard and said, “Go for the leg drag, but actually go for it.” I’ve been drilling the leg drag for months now, but when I actually went for it I must admit, I believe it was the most beautiful leg drag I’ve ever done. Andrew seemed happy with the way I did it and asked me to drill it several more times.

On my way home from BJJ, I thought about it and really tried to drill it into my head. “If you’re going to go for something, go for it 100%.” I had been playing around with the pants, trying to get grips, all the while broadcasting what I was going to do. And then, I was hesitating in the middle and backing up out of it.

After drilling that into my head, I’ve really seen an improvement in my open guard passing and in my all around game. Just for clarification, I don’t mean if you get a submission go 100% and yank it like you’re in a competition, but if you’re going to go for a submission, actually go for it. Don’t pause midway. Don’t hesitate. Don’t play around with the grips. Grip it and attempt it. That concept truly has helped me all around.

As for my mentioning earlier about closed guard tips, I hadn’t originally planned to write this when setting out, but I definitely think it’s well worth it. With that said, sorry if they aren’t great, but they are unplanned so they are off the top of my head. Here are my tips:

  1. Don’t be lazy! Always attack. If you’re constantly attacking then you’re opponent won’t have any chance to pass, as they’ll be constantly defending.
  2. Feet to the floor. I saw a video from Stephan Kesting where he was discussing a tip he read from a Shawn Williams book. In the book, Shawn Williams talked about feet and hip positioning in the bottom of the guard. Instead of laying with your hips flat on the floor and your feet crossed on their lower back, push your heels to the floor. Pushing your heels to the floor will lift your hips (making the knee in butt to break the guard practically impossible) and put tons of pressure on their hips. Now, do you do this all the time? No. If my opponent is postured up/trying to pass, yes! Always do it then. But, once I have my opponent’s posture broken, then I move up to a higher guard in order to keep it broken and create better attacks.
  3. Attack with numbers/break posture with numbers. If you’re going to attack an arm, attack with numbers. What I mean is, attack 2 on 1 if you have the opportunity. Break down an opponents frame (their arms) using the 2 on 1 method. I usually break down one arm with two, then my legs and body weight can break the rest of their frame. Think about it, if you strip 1 arm, they’ve lost 50% of their posturing strength. Unless they have a significant strength advantage, then you’re legs and weight should break the rest down. Or you can immediately used the 2 on 1 for the next arm.

Those are the tips I can think of that I’ve really noticed recently and that work well. Hopefully they can help someone with their closed guard game and hopefully I’ll be able to post more often.

Update 6/12/2012

Whew! Boy, have I been busy! I’m not going to list off all of the craziness, but let’s just say that my life got even busier since the last time I posted. With that said, I’ve still been going to class and actually managed to get into class three times in one week, a week ago. Also, one of my best friends who started BJJ with me, but dropped off for financial reasons, is coming again and plans on continuing to come.

As far as my BJJ game goes, I’m still working on my half guard. I’ve learned a lot more sweeps and am happy with the progress I’m seeing. My guard is getting much harder to pass. I try any submissions I see from the bottom and am getting a good feel for the distancing needed in half guard.

I’ve also been working on my leg drag pass and am getting much better with it. I can usually get the pass after a couple of tries on more experience BJJers. I’ve also been working on another drag, the arm drag from guard, and how to get to my opponents back easier.

I’m currently working on the Team Mannon BJJ website, as we’re moving locations, and everything is coming along great. Still got some things to smooth out, but otherwise, it’s looking good.

Also, something I’m extremely excited about, I’ll be attending a Mendes Bros. seminar in Charlotte, NC in September! Can’t wait! I’ll definitely be taking my camera so that I can get some good pictures! I’m unsure as to whether or not other people from Team Mannon will be coming as well, but Andrew and Justin mentioned that they might.

Anyway, I’ll try to post more often, but I won’t make any promises! Train hard!