What Guard Should You Develop First?

By Alec Baulding

Deciding on what type of guard you should play is not easy. There are so many different types of guards and ways to play them that you could dedicate a lot of time and effort in developing one guard position yet suck when you play another guard. Trying to play every guard at a proficient level is doable but there will always be variations in your ability to play certain guards. For instance, some guards like the spider guard and De la Riva guard work really well when you have long legs, while it might be better to play a butterfly guard or a reverse De la Riva guard with shorter legs. Again, there are so many variables that come in to play when you are developing your guard game.

Many instructors believe it’s best to build a solid foundation in one guard and that’s why many academies will focus on the closed guard at first, since it’s a great starting point and simple enough position. All you have to do is wrap your legs around your opponent’s hips to get started. Open guards, however, are typically harder to set up. What’s important is that you understand that whatever your base guard position is, you are able perceive the basics of that guard such as: how to set up sweeps and submissions, how to establish the proper grips, and being able to recognize what your opponents options are to pass your guard.

This might seem like a lot to take in, especially for beginner and intermediate students but the key is to keep it simple. Start by developing one technique at a time and be able to implement that technique in sparring before moving on to study another move. Many students and instructors get caught up in learning 1000 techniques or more, and it’s getting harder to keep up with all the new moves being created while also establishing a solid foundation in the basics. A better approach is to focus on your proficiency in using your techniques and connecting those techniques into a larger guard system.

As you are better able to implement a technique, move on in adding other techniques into your guard play until you develop proficiency in your desired guard. Take this mindset to every guard you decide to work. Play to your strengths. It helps to focus on developing your base game first and then branching out to ancillary guards from there. For many this will be the closed guard but you can also start with an open guard depending on your body type and your academies curriculum. Think of developing your base guard as completing the tutorial phase in a video game. It might seem boring and tedious at first but it will help in the long run if you take the time to understand every aspect of the position. This will be great practice for developing your own favorite guard positions as you progress.

If you really want to improve your guard you will need to spend a significant amount of time on one guard at a time. Eventually this will lead you to developing your “A” game or those techniques that you know will work 80 percent of the time on similarly skilled opponents. These are techniques that you can rely on in a pinch. What are your tips for developing your guard? Did you start with a specific guard position or did you learn many positions at the same time? Let us know in the comments!