Modern BJJ Guards Explained

Jiu-jitsu is constantly evolving, and there’s no better proof of this than the emergence of many new “modern” BJJ guards. Basically, these include pretty much everything that isn’t a traditional closed guard, half guard, or the foundational open guards, like Spider Guard and the standard De la Riva Guard.

You might be thinking, “But Spider and DLR are modern guards…” Well, yes, considering the nearly 100 years of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu history, they are. But after 30+ years of development and integration into the jiu-jitsu scene, it’s hard to argue that they’re modern any longer. Vintage is a better term. For example, the DLR first appeared in the sport jiu-jitsu arena in the early 1980s, and is largely considered part of the fundamental curriculum for many academies around the world. Likewise, the Spider Guard appeared in the late 1980s/early 1990s, although it’s not as prolific in the jiu-jitsu world as DLR. Additionally, many of the traditional “open guards” have been the precursors to other, newer modern guards.

So, what are some of these more modern guards?

DLR-Based Guards

As noted earlier, the De la Riva Guard is the mother of many different variations that have had a high degree of success on the mat. The strength of the DLR Guard is in its ability to entrap your opponent’s lead leg. The DLR creates a strong binding effect via your outside leg wrapping around your opponent’s lead leg, with your foot hooking inside the thigh, while simultaneously trapping that same-side foot with a low pant or heel grip. Typically, your other hand would then be occupied with an additional lapel, sleeve, belt or pant grip. This allows you to push or pull, putting your opponents off their base and upsetting their balance.

Now, the DLR is a strong guard as it is. However, in the past decade, BJJ practitioners have been further experimenting with it, creating guards such as the:

  • Reverse De la Riva – The Reverse DLR is also known as Spiral Guard. It  operates on the same principle as the DLR, in that you’re entrapping your opponent’s forward leg, but with your inside leg rather versus your outside. The Kiss of the Dragon is a common back take from this position.
  • Deep De la Riva – Deep DLR, like the standard DLR, uses the outside leg to entrap your opponent’s leg, but goes a step further. By driving your DLR leg behind your opponent’s lead leg, you can hook in front of their far leg. The DLR X-Guard option is when you then cross your inside leg behind your opponent’s far leg, effectivity creating an “X” with your legs.

Lapel Guards

Especially in the last decade, a variety of guards have arisen utilizing the lapel to entangle your opponent’s legs and/or upper body. Using the lapel in such a way is certainly not new. As with most jiu-jitsu techniques, it’s hard to imagine someone hasn’t tried some variation of something, at some time in the past. However, it hit mainstream jiu-jitsu when former Atos black belt Keenan Cornelius began using them successfully in competition. Since then, a lot of younger guard players have taken to further experimenting with Lapel Guards.

Here are two of the more common modern Lapel Guards on the scene today:

  • Worm Guard – Worm Guard is set up by wrapping your opponent’s far lapel underneath your leg on that same side, then passing the lapel underneath your opponent’s near-side leg. This effectively limits your opponent’s movements and prevents a lot – but not all – passes.
  • Squid Guard – Squid Guard was born when practitioners became more savvy to the signs of an oncoming Worm Guard, stepping back to avoid the entanglement. The Squid Guard is set up using an inversion to wrap the lapel around your leg and then around the outside of your opponent’s leg on the same side.

Leg Entanglement Guards

When you think of leg entanglements, your first thought is probably “50/50 Guard.” The 50/50 Guard is certainly one of the most widely used leg entanglement guards, having been used successfully by Ryan Hall and the Mendes Brothers in the early 2000s. In IBJJF style tournaments, playing leg entanglement guards can be risky. Depending on where your foot rests, you may or may not be called for reaping by the referee. However, with the emergence of many different jiu-jitsu promotions that allow reaping and heel hooks, leg entanglement guards have seen an increasing popularity.

Some of the better-known variations include:

  • Ashi Garami – Simply meaning “leg trap” in Japanese, Ashi Garami is commonly referred to as Single Leg X Guard or One Leg X Guard, especially when your opponent is standing. Whether your opponent is standing or sitting, however, the control is the same. Your inside foot must be hooked under your opponent’s bottom with your outside leg behind your opponent’s lead leg. Your outside foot braces against his/her hip, and both legs pinch together for control. As long as the outside foot doesn’t cross inward toward your opponent’s belly button, this is an IBJJF legal position. There are several Ashi Garami variations, depending on the positioning of the inside leg or your opponent’s leg.
  • Inside Sankaku – Depending on the academy, you might also hear one of these names: Honey Hole, 4-11, or Saddle. Don’t worry, they all refer to the same position. The Inside Sankaku is similar to the 50/50 Guard, but instead of your legs crossed to the outside of your opponent’s leg, your legs are crossed to the inside, between your opponent’s legs. This position is ideal for a number of leg locks, particularly heel hooks.

Whether you’re an active competitor or not, it is crucial to stay up-to-date on the latest positions and techniques in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You may not ever use them, but odds are someone will use them on you. Understanding what is being done to you is the first step toward an effective – and safe – defense.