Pulling guard in a match or should I try a takedown?
In the BJJ community there is a culture among many that pulling guard is somehow weak, indictive of a lack of skill or competency, or both. This may or may not be true… and it may or may not be true for a variety of reasons… this topic can get pretty broad. But on the issue of pulling guard in BJJ competition specifically, here are some things to think about.
First off, I’d like to add that ive been training martial arts for over 35 years (nearly 25 grappling specifically), have an extensive competition background at the highest levels and have a long history of not only BJJ but Judo and even modest wrestling. I have no problem at all saying that if ‘Joe Asshole’ tried to grab/tackle/punch/kick me out on the street I’d have absolutely no trouble taking him down in a variety of ways that would be very dynamic and wildly entertaining to bystanders. This view of myself is based primarily on working as security, throwing guys down and dragging them out of bars and clubs all across the US for two decades.
So what is my preferred strategy for starting a BJJ tournament match?
After reading above it may surprise you then that the answer to this question is… “Well, probably pull guard right away!”
Why? Is it because I don’t think I could get a takedown?
Well, sometimes yes… No matter how good I am there are always people that are clearly better. I can’t say that I never played the takedown game because I certainly have. But when I’m competing, I’m competing to win and I’m looking to get myself into the most advantageous and direct path to winning as quickly and efficiently as I can. No fuckin around! A path that takes me directly into what Im best at and avoids like the plague anything that my opponent may be best at. More often than not, that path does not include fighting for a takedown.
I’m a strong believer in having well rounded Jiu-jitsu. I feel that everyone who trains should have at least a modest takedown strategy, for self-defense if anything.. But when I’m competing, I’m not trying to prove BJJ is the best street fighting art, im trying to win a tournament… so I have to do whats best for THAT in THAT situation!
“But when I’m competing, I’m not trying to prove BJJ is the best street fighting art, im trying to win a tournament”
I look at a BJJ competition match as simply a 10min long list of actions/reactions. Obviously then, I try and choose the actions with the highest percentage chance of replicable success and avoid the things that produce lower percentage or inconsistent successes. Logically, this should get me on the winner’s podium much more often than not.
With that in mind then, some things to consider before you pick your side on Team Guard Puller/Team Guard Passer:
1 – Start in an Offensive Cycle
In a match once a person takes control, they usually keep it. At the very least, its exceedingly difficult and time consuming to regain control once you’ve lost it. That is why it is so imperative to winning that you take control of the match and assume an offensive cycle as immediately as possible. The most direct way to begin a match in an advantageous and controlling position is to sit to guard. This is absolutely the lowest risk option and a smart risk mitigation strategy especially at the higher levels where the person who takes control first usually wins.
2 – Avoid X factors
X Factors are what I call situations that are difficult to predict no matter how good you are. And takedowns are a huge X factor… Quite frankly, even if you’re good there is no guarantee you’ll get it. There are so many ways to defend, counter throw and submit off of a takedown attempt that, In my opinion, it makes the strategy considerably less reliable (within the scope of a tournament competition setting) then a guard pull. Even among the very best takedown artists in the world, there isn’t a single one of them that can guarantee their takedown will end in a solid top pinning position THAT SCORES every time. A guard pull all but guarantees and strong starting position with immediate access to multiple scoring opportunities… and this can be repeated consistently with a similar level of success.
3 – Time efficiency
Most competitions use a time limit for the length of a match and generally it’s pretty short so we don’t want to waste time with stuff that’s not going to pay off for us.
And if you’re like me who’s now in the Masters/Seniors brackets, you’re looking at only 5 minutes out there to make something happen. Even if I’m good at takedowns, wasting more than half the match setting up and executing a takedown leaving myself hardly any time to work on the ground isn’t a sound strategy. Especially If I didn’t even score (see #2) and I’m not even going to mention that the majority of takedowns end you up in you opponents guard anyway.
4 – Energy efficiency
In a real fight I need to finish or escape the engagement as fast as possible to avoid damage or threat to life… this often means under a minute total so I can go all out. But if I’m competing in an BJJ event, Weight and Absolute divisions, Gi and No-GI, we’re talking about 10 or even 15+ matches over the course of many hours. If my strategy is based around fighting for takedowns with every single one of those guys, personally, I’m not gonna make it to the end! And history proves very few actually can as the numbers show competitors who have this style have progressively less success as the competition wears on.
Guard player vs. Guard passer
Throughout the history of BJJ Evolution, Guard passing has always developed as a response to guard playing. A guard has to exist first for a method to be created to pass it… therefore Guard playing will always be at the forefront and guard passing will always be playing catch up. In modern era, the guard player will usually be considered to have the advantage over the passer even with the passer on top. It used to be that in the case of a tie the passer would be given the decision simply because the idea of being on top in a fight is better. But now they seem to judge for the more offensively active person which is many times much more easily achieved by the bottom player.
OK, I want to be clear.. I’m not pro guard pulling in ALL situations. I am a strong proponent of the basic Jiu-jitsu principles and I believe everyone should work on at least a basic functional takedown strategy for sport and self-defense applications.
But I also wanted to point out that if you have a very specific and narrowly targeted goal… such as winning a sport competition… of a specific rule set… within a 5min time frame for example… It is best to develop a strategy solely around those targeted points and not worry about anything else.
Lastly Remember, Rule Set is King!
This whole conversation is built around the premise that we are competing under what would be now be considered the ‘standard’ BJJ rule set… But keep in mind, rules change and evolve constantly and we are at a point today in which many events are modifying rules to incentivize the types of behaviors and action they want to see. If those rules increase the positive impact for takedown attempts or create more negative impacts for pulling guard… then everything I just talked about here flies right out the window and a new strategy of consistent and replicable results would need to be developed around the new rule set. And if that means crushing takedowns, I guess that means you got some work to do.
Thanks everyone, these are just some of my thoughts on the subject … I hope it was insightful and gave you guys some things to think about when designing your competition strategies… I know this topic is a very popular debate on the internet these days.
Have a good one, see you on the mat… hopefully practicing some takedowns.