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,
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?