Not every person will have an impassable guard. Some people are naturally more flexible and a simply built to work off their backs. However, regardless if you’re a natural guard player or not, there are a few key concepts to having a hard guard to pass.

When you’re guard is hard to pass, you’re less likely to get submitted, and more likely to be able to control the match and impose your own game. When a guard passer is constantly stopped from reaching side control, often times they will become frustrated, tired, and often make a mistake. This will leave them vulnerable to attack, and you, the guard player, with the upper hand.

So try adding these five concepts to your game to improve your guard retention and increase your performance on the mat.

1. Don’t allow your legs to separate away from your torso

Often times guard players will try to isolate your legs away from your body. When your legs are extended away from your torso they are less strong, can produce less leverage, and leave your mid section and upper body open to attacks.

The best guards are often compact, like a ball, with no openings to penetrate. When your legs are extended away from you, they are no longer able to work to defend, push away, attack, and be offensive. Also, your core expends much more energy when your legs are extended. Lie on the ground, extend your legs straight and try holding your legs up in the air for as long as possible. Your core will tire out quickly. Now, bend your knees and bring your legs close in to your torso. You can hold them in the air much longer in this position. This same concept goes for the guard.

Keep your legs in close to your body and don’t allow your opponent to extend them away.

2. Don’t allow grips on your collar or head

When passers get head control they have a much higher chance of passing your guard. If a passer makes a grip on your collar near your neck, or tries to hug your head, immediately break that grip and try to escape the hold. Their goal is close the distance, make you uncomfortable, and ultimately pass your legs. If they have a grip on your upper body they’re inching closer to their goal. The best passers will get head control, flatten your back to the ground, and pin you there, essentially taking away your vision. When you cant see what’s going on with the legs, you have to rely on feel, which will often lead to a passed guard.

Make it a priority to not allow any grips on your upper body.

3. Attack first, stay active

They say the best defense is good offense. If you are constantly attacking, your opponent will have to address your attacks before they can mount their own. Instead of waiting for them to dictate the roll, initiate your offense first. And don’t stop attacking. This concept is called tempo, and you want to control the tempo to stay ahead. If you’re always defending then you are a step behind and will expend more energy pushing away and escaping, which will leave you tired and unlikely able to have an effective offensive attack.

Constantly attack. Try sweeps, try arm bars, triangles, omoplatas, cycle through guards, make new grips, off-balance your opponent. Always be on the offensive, and work. You’ll notice your guard being passed much less when you employ this strategy.

4. Create space

Jiu-jitsu is all about control and space. When a passer has made it to side control, mount, or the back he has closed the space. They can only get to these positions when you allow them to get close enough to use pressure or movement to do so. Keep them away by constantly pushing, breaking grips, and keeping your legs in front of you. This concept ties in with the first and second concepts of not allowing your legs to get away from your body or allowing grips on the head. Smart passers will do both of those things to close the space and take away your options.

Use strong frames, active feet and legs, and frequent hip escapes to create space and keep that guard passer away.

5. Always have a grip

Newer grapplers often have their guards passed because they failed to make grips quick enough. If you are playing guard you should always have a grip on something. It doesn’t matter if it’s the perfect grip, but ALWAYS have your hands in front of you trying to grip something. You cant control your opponent without some kind of grip. Grab their pants, their collar, their sleeve, their belt, something. Once you have made a grip you can work your way to a better grip that will allow you to innate an attack, but it starts with gripping something. Strong options to get to are collar and sleeve, collar and pants, double sleeve, or two-on-one arm control.

Get a grip!