BJJ is a game of real-time problem-solving. Both players try to present one or more problems to each other, and the player who fails to keep up with solving their opponent’s problems will get put into a worse position and eventually submitted.
New techniques and positions present new problems, and you typically need to use old techniques in new ways or other new techniques to solve these new problems. When people find solutions to new problems, these problems end up becoming less problematic and effective, and BJJ as a whole will evolve further. I suppose this process is much shorter these days because sharing information over the internet is much easier.
When I think of recent trends in grappling, I think of the rise and evolution of heel hooks as well as the notion of wrestling up.
At this point, the former is not such a novelty, but you can see that this trend is still going with some new entries like the K-guard and the false reap becoming more popular. I think people have finally started accepting heel hooks as a necessary part of the game and learning more about them.
Wrestling up is more of a recent trend, though it’s not an entirely new thing for people to get up to their feet from the bottom position. Wrestling up would be a perfect follow-up to a failed leg attack because your opponent often turns their back against you when they flee from your legitimate leg lock attempt.
Leg locks and wrestling up create a series of problems, and you want to shut them down before such problems occur. Here comes the body lock pass as an answer, for example. The passer stays low and connected to the bottom player, giving no space for leg lock entries or wrestling up.
The body lock pass is just one answer, though.
Generally speaking, I think guard passing is becoming more sophisticated to deal with crafty leg attacks and occasional wrestling-up attempts by those rare breeds who can play the guard, do leg locks, and wrestle well. You can see this in action in many ADCC 2022 matches. Perhaps it’s partly because of the ADCC rules, but at least under this ruleset, guard specialists are likely to have harder times, especially when their leg attacks don’t work or they don’t have solid takedown skills.
Although Craig Jones didn’t get to pass Nicholas Meregali’s guard, I noticed he was using a lot of moves and concepts he shows in his Power Top and Power Ride instructionals, like using his legs to control and pin Meregali’s legs.
Another guard passing trend is the comeback of outside passing, like the use of toreando. For example, Gordon Ryan and his New Wave teammates are incorporating this as a way to hack their way into the half guard/body lock position.
Also, the north-south position seems more preferred as a destination after guard passing than the typical side control — Gabriel Sousa passes outside and secures the north-south position very well.
Likewise, the mount position is returning as a favorite destination, thanks to Gordon Ryan and John Danaher’s work. On that note, these guys are setting trends in grappling. Their use of foot sweeps is notable, too. It’s worth paying attention to what they do for that reason.
I’ve written a lot about guard passing in BJJ Reflections in the past. I genuinely believe that guard passing is one of the most challenging areas of BJJ to master, along with takedown skills. But considering that one could get by without amazing takedown skills in BJJ, I’m inclined to think that guard passing is more important if I had to prioritize. In reality, work on both areas, though.
So, if you are reading this post and haven’t practiced guard passing much, start working on it right away. The leg lock trend started more than a few years ago, and people are now beginning to catch up. If you start improving your guard passing skills now, I guarantee you will have significant advantages over your peers.
It will take some time for you to get better at guard passing, but the sooner you start, the better it will be for you.
p.s. If guard passing is the next major trend (or at least one of such major trends), what will be the solutions to more sophisticated guard passers?
Since trends come and go and old stuff gets rediscovered again and again, perhaps something like the closed guard may give us great solutions to the body lock pass and outside passing.