After being promoted to a brown belt, I decided to do something about the lack of my guard passing skills. Until then, I just played the guard position as much as possible, and I even worked hard on improving my triangle choke because if I could finish my opponent from the guard, I would never have to sweep them and come up on top.
I don’t recommend taking this path at all. It’s a basic BJJ mistake you should avoid. Instead, I encourage you to start developing a well-rounded game early on, including guard passing skills.
One thing that helped me immensely in this guard passing learning process is to convert my existing knowledge of the guard play into the opposite side. If you are decent at playing the guard, you know what you hate when your opponent does to you. So, you take advantage of this knowledge and start applying those exact things you hate as a guard player to your opponent.
When I play the guard, I don’t rush. If I saw an opening for a submission or sweep, I’d go for it, but my initial focus is often to get into a position where I’m in better control, and my opponent has to struggle to change the situation. Or, in short, “defend the guard and don’t let my opponent pass it” is what I usually have on my mind. When my opponent starts getting frustrated and tired from being unable to pass my guard, I turn on my offense mode.
As a brown belt guard passing learner, I converted this idea and applied it to the top position. I allowed myself to do nothing from the top position but keep it. If your opponent can’t sweep or submit you, that’s great as your first step.
If you struggle with guard passing, remember that you don’t have to pass your opponent’s guard immediately. No need to rush. Just stay on top.
To stay on top, you need to know how to keep a good base, how to use your legs and weight to restrict your opponent’s movements, how to clear (or safely ignore) your opponent’s grips, and so on.
Just getting this first step right will go far. But eventually, you will need to add another element to your guard passing skills: making your opponent tired.
Broadly speaking, there are two ways to accomplish this task. One way is to overwhelm your opponent by chaining multiple moves relentlessly. Tainan Dalpra is probably the current best example of this approach. Its major downside is that you are likely to get tired when your opponent has excellent guard retention skills unless you have significantly better stamina than your opponent.
The other approach is using your weight and pressure to tire your opponent. While I fancy the former approach mentioned above because it’s so cool, I’m more inclined towards this latter approach, realistically speaking. This one goes hand in hand with the “no rush” way of thinking, too. But this slow burner method is highly effective and just as tiring for your opponent as relentless passing. Gordon Ryan’s J-point camping strategy is based on this approach. Tye Ruotolo passed Levi Jones-Leary’s guard, mixing the pressure and speed passing approaches effectively.
If you thought you had to pass the guard as soon as you got to the top position, you could change that way of thinking from today. And frankly, I suppose that’s how most beginners approach guard passing, after all. But now you know better. You can take it easy while making it difficult for your opponent to deal with you. If you create and maintain immense pressure and position yourself in such a way that your opponent has to carry your weight in a compromised posture, your opponent will get exhausted soon enough and voluntarily give up their guard. That’s what you want.
Try passing the guard with this mindset and see how it goes.