Guard pull redux

I posted this a couple of years ago, but I want to revisit it because it is a topic that unfortunately keeps coming up.

There is current mantra being circulated in BJJ circles that essentially tries to demonize someone for pulling guard. The thought goes that if you are just pulling guard, you are missing a substantial part of Jiu-Jitsu and are taking the lazy path. Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for working the takedown and being on top and I absolutely despise the current trend (especially in the lighter weight divisions) of someone just dropping their butt to the ground to start the match. I think being on top is an optimal place to be, whether in competition or for self-defense. However, optimal does not mean “100% of the time”. There are extremely good reasons to at times pull guard, and I go over them in the following re-posted article. Please try to keep in mind that context is king (as I regularly try to get across).

Here is the original article:

Recently, on the Strenuous Life Podcast by Stephen Kesting,

available here:

he talked about a question that often is argued in BJJ circles – should you pull guard in competition? He and his guest spent a bit of time on it and covered a few things pretty well (though the guest really needs to get some depth of experience with realistic self-defense because he missed the mark completely there), but I think they completely skipped over the single most pertinent answer to that question. And that leaves me to give it a shot.

Should you pull guard in competition? Of course you should, IF THE CONTEXT SAYS IT IS THE BEST RESPONSE. That goes for street oriented self-preservation tactics as well. So what is the context?

If pulling guard gives you a more optimal way to win, then that is the correct context. It is a simple mantra, yet one that seems to be overlooked most of the time the idea is brought up, but it is the only real reason to have any particular move in your arsenal. No move of any kind, standing or ground, works every time, so we need to make sure that the move we choose has the best chance to lead us to victory.

What are examples of the context? The most obvious is when you are sure your opponent is substantially better at takedowns that you are. If you are facing someone who is superior there, why would you try to match his strength? Just because some fighting expert said we should always look to execute the takedown and end up in control? Great idea, but against someone better than that, what is the chance it will work for us?

Check out this video compilation of a person going up against superior Judo players and using a guard pull strategy to negate their advantages:

Case in point. A couple of years ago at the IBJJF Pan-Ams, in my first round match, I was going up against a guy who I found out was once a member of an Eastern European Olympic Judo Team. Now, I think I have some decent takedown skills that have worked for me, and I certainly train them on a constant basis in order to get even better at them, but come on! What were my chances of ending up in a good position if I fought an Olympic level judoka for a throw? The answer is slim to none, and slim already left town. Most likely I would have ended up at least two points down and in an inferior bottom position. Instead of wasting time, and/or getting thrown by fighting him on his strengths, I took another path. I got both good grips, and pulled him hard into my closed guard where I was immediately was able to get an overhook on one arm and grab part of his far collar with the overhooking hand. I went straight into an excellent position and ended up winning the match (I lost later in the finals, but that is a story for another day). I am still waiting for someone to say that was a poor strategy.

Think about it with a good critical eye. Jiu-jitsu is about using your opponent’s strengths and attacks against him. Going head to head in opposition to his strengths are the exact opposite of that mindset. It makes zero sense.

What about in a self-defense context? Exactly the same focus!  If pulling guard can lead to a faster and surer way to win (i.e. survive and prevail against a violent attacker). Then that is what we should do. For example, if you are being attacked by a bigger, stronger criminal, and you are on ground that is unstable or slippery, are you really going to be able to turn into your pet koshi-guruma without ending up falling over with your feet coming up from under you? What of you knew with almost absolute certainty that your attacker knew almost nothing about the ground? How well is he going to be able to defend when you pull him into your guard and then immediately transition into an armbar? In actual fact, my own coach did that when he was assaulted once on the street about 1997. He did essentially a version of a guard pull that resembled a failed yoko-tomoe-nage and as soon as they hit the ground he shifted to a straight armbar and broke the attacker’s arm. Guess who stopped fighting at that moment? I will give you three guesses, and all three should be gimmes.

Why not exactly “street”, here is a guard pull in an MMA context where the grappler negated the striker’s superiority by taking him a different part of the pool:

(skip to the :50 second mark to see the guard pull, and note how after that the grappler had the edge in controlling what was going on. Something that probably could not have been said if the grappler had stayed standing against the striker)

Make no mistake about what I am saying and please don’t put words in my mouth. I am not advocating guard pulls 100% of the time. I am advocating  to have the skill set and experience to be able to choose in the moment what is the path that gives you the best chance of success.

Kind of like life in general, huh?

Down on yourself?

Within the last few days, I have been reading a number of online posts as well as having some private discussions through email, text, and PMs with people all roughly about the same thing. There are a good amount of people out there putting in effort to be better, safer and more dangerous but stumble along the way.

Whether someone feels like they are not training as much as someone else they read or hear about online, or if they did a competition of some kind and don’t do as well as they hoped, or they took a tough training course and got wrecked, or shot some hard drill and put the result up publicly, they use a lot of negative talk. “I really got my butt handed to me in that class”, or “I let my team down by my performance in that tournament”, or “I will never be as good as –fill in the blank- because I just am not as dedicated in my training as he is” are typical statements.

Here is my statement to all of you talking like this – STOP IT. NOW.

Stop wasting thoughts on “if only”s , or that you are not good enough, or that you do enough. If you are authentically doing the work and putting honest effort in, regardless of how much time you are spending doing it, you are winning! Being honest to the problem and trying to do something about it is the win. Everything else is just the process result. The journey is the win, not what comes at the end, because in our quest to become more capable/safer/dangerous, there is no end state. We keep on keeping on, and take pride in the blood, sweat, tears, money, and time we put in. Nothing else is worth worrying about.

And STOP COMPARING yourself to others. Your journey is yours and yours alone. So what if I put in more mat time than you? Or that Paul Sharp shoots more than you? O that Larry Lindenman or Chris Fry or Craig Douglas has been working real world fighting material longer than most of you have been adults? Or that Jouko Ahola spends more time lifting weights than you do? Or so-and-so has better genetics/more time/more money/easier access to training?

None of that matters. You are not in competition with any of them, nor do you need to measure yourself against any of them. Hell, you are not even in competition with that violent criminal actor out there waiting to do harm to you. You have no control over that. The only thing you can control, which means it is the only thing you need to compare yourself to, is the you of yesterday. The only question to ask is “am I better than I was yesterday?” If the answer is yes, even if you are only 1/100th of one percent better, than you are wining. Period.

To sum up, please listen to this. If you are actively, honestly working to be better than you were yesterday, you are doing great. Pat yourself on the back for a second, and then put your nose back to the grindstone. And stop belittling what you are doing.