BJJ Guard Retention Guide

To be a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, and to question the importance of guard retention for one’s BJJ game would be pretty hilarious. Everyone knows it’s something you just need to know, in order to survive in a roll. Still, how many people in the world of BJJ near you do you know, that have never studied – let alone drilled specifically – guard retention principles in detail, but instead are just trying to get by with minimum required skills and unclear, untested concepts?

Here at BJJ Universe, we do not only think that studying guard retention principles is of the utmost importance for one’s BJJ game, but actually deeply believe that it should be the central part. Why?


The videos and advice in this article are carefully selected (and many others dismissed), but they are pretty hard to remember all at once — let alone to drill.

That’s why it’s best to bookmark this page and constantly return to it until you’ve absorbed and drilled all of the concepts presented here. You can also share it with your BJJ peers, and drill the concepts together. Before studying BJJ guard retention principles, we recommend you to first get familiar with the 3 Most Critical Concepts In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so you can understand the concepts of base, posture, and structure.

Every good guard retention concept must – in the end – lead to an attack, because the whole purpose of guard retention is not to constantly defend, but to eventually switch to the attack.

Even though these videos are free of charge and available to anyone, in our opinion you can become an expert just studying these videos and concepts – there is enough material in them for long-term work. But of course, a long and arduous job awaits you… like the BJJ itself is a long and arduous job. 🙂

BJJ Guard Pass

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t buy a DVD or DVD set that specifically deal with guard retention. Quite contrary. Especially the DVDs of the authors that are mentioned in this article. But, for many, this could be everything they need to successfully learn the most important principles.

  • A good retention game and opponent’s inability to pass your guard, boost your self-confidence and calmness during roll/match tremendously
  • It is quintessential if you want complex, layered attacks from the bottom
  • It gives you a lot of advantage over your opponent if your retention game is deep. He will not know what to do, and will slowly start to lose ideas and willpower to pass your guard, which will open many opportunities for you to attack
  • To be dominated and pinned in a side mount position isn’t fun at all, eh? A good guard retention BJJ game prevents and minimizes it.

Out of the myriad of videos out there on the theme of guard retention, we selected the ones that we consider most important for all BJJ practitioners.

Retention Principles: Developing An Unpassable Open Guard In BJJ

Here are some important principles to know for recovering guard and defending against open guard passes.. These would apply to prevent guard passes like the leg weave, various smash passes, knee slice/cut/slide, torreando, over/under, and pretty much anything else.

Using Your Free Leg

When one leg is in trouble (getting pinned or dragged), you usually need the other leg to save you by pushing on the opponent as you pull your vulnerable leg back. Don’t neglect the pull part. That’s equally important as the push.


Keep your knees as close to your chest as possible, generally . It’s okay to extend one to push aside the opponent, but never extend both legs. Consider how a boxer keeps his hands on the brink of his head most of the time, and extends one or the other to punch, but never both. When both are extended, there’s no potential to push the opponent away.

One knee close to chest BJJ

Since you strive to to keep your knees close to your chest, if your opponent pins your feet to the mat , sit up to bring your chest closer to your knees.

Never allow your knees to come too close to each other. If they get pinned together, one won’t be able to help the other.

Knees close to chest BJJ

Facing The Opponent And Maintaining The Angle

If the opponent is passing now to your right, you want your knees and hips to be facing to the right. If your knees and/or hips are facing left, there’s no way your left leg can help defend. So, in he case he manages to drag your leg to your left, you need to point your knees to the right, and it will allow you to bring your left leg back in the game.

If your head is at 12 o’clock and your feet are at 6 o’clock, you would like to keep your opponent’s feet at 6 o’clock. If the opponent starts running around to cut an angle on you, you immediately need to spin to keep your feet pointed at his feet.

  guard retention scheme - headlights

The “Headlights” Concept

Jason Scully teaches us about the correctly estimating when to retain the guard and when to escape (the Guard Playing Zone vs The Escaping Zone, many people get these 2 concepts confused), the “headlights” concept explained in detail (probably the best explanation ever!), scooting, “shrimping zone”, scooting vs shrimping (Shrimping = escaping movement in BJJ. Scooting = guard retention movement in BJJ), shrimping too early thus helping your opponent to pass your guard sooner, especially with over-under pass.

Also, the concepts of framing, opposide side leg defending, knee above your arm, and many others…

One of the best and useful videos ever.

A cars headlights covers a certain area, so does your guard playing zone. Think of a 45 degree angle coming from the side of your hips – “Guard Playing Zone”.

If he gets past my “headlights”, he is now in my “Escaping Zone”…and I need to escape. Once the person goes passed your “Guard Playing Zone”, you need an
escaping mindset. I am no longer playing guard. There is a huge sense of
urgency needed.

Four Points Of Connection

  1. In the first phase of open guard retention in BJJ, recognize the intention of the passer, and invert it.
  2. Use all 4 points of connection: two hands and two legs. The passer wants the opposite: to have you on your back, flatted-out, and defending only with your legs.
  3. While you are sitting and defending your open guard, it’s the hands that are protecting you from him pushing on your head, or grabbing your feet. In order to do that, you need to be leaned slightly forward, and establish a good base towards him. If you lean forward to much, you are in danger of easily getting into guillotine submission, or sweep from attempted submission.
  4. Since you are playing open guard game, always choose your strong side (left or right) to play either butterfly guard, or de la Riva, or something else. Since you can choose, there’s no point in being on the “wrong” side of the technique, if it’s not natural to you. (Then comes an example of transition from a shin-to-shin guard to an X-guard)
  5. If you are on the “wrong” side of attacking from the bottom, and the opponent is too close to you to switch to another side, first distance yourself from him by scooting and maintaining range with your arm, and then attacking from the right side.
  6. A few examples of good and bad shin-to-shin and de la Riva guard entrances…

Retention Principles for Open Guard In BJJ by Martin Aedma

The most important concepts ever that we will recommend are the ones from Martin Aedma, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt second degree (from John Kavanagh) from Scandinavia.

These concepts, which he organized by studying various high-level competitors, are invaluable information for all BJJ students that want to have a deep guard game.

Basic Principles

The most important principles that Martin covers in the following videos are:

  • The “knee rule” – your knee on the side where the opponent tries to pass needs to be pointed outwards, as close to the body as it can, with your toes pointing to the ground. That is needed in order to open your other hip in the right way, to give it a spectrum of range, so that the leg from that side can become a defending leg.
  • knees as close to the torso as possible, knees as far from each other as possible, with feet and toes pointing outwards, like in “grilled chicken”.
  • the direction of your feet and knee on the passing side is directly correlated to the direction of your hip on that same side, which further strongly impacts the position and range of your other hip, and how much your other leg will be able to become a defending leg.

This first video is the shortest one, 8.45 mins. Here he introduces the principles (but it will not be enough to comprehend it all, it’s just an introduction):

Detailed Concepts

Next, we have two videos, Part 1 and Part 2, which we recommend to watch entirely. After watching these two videos, you should be able to have a clear picture of how these concepts are applied during sparring or in competition. But it’s still not enough, because you don’t know what to drill exactly when you try to learn it by yourself.

Part 2:


That’s where steps in the final video, which was recorded in 2019 at the BJJ Spring Camp. Here are step-by-step guidelines on how to drill these concepts with your partner, and implement them in your game. It starts from the most basic ones to the more advanced. We recommend you to work on them diligently until they become your second nature. That way, your BJJ guard retention game will start to become stronger and stronger, and very hard to pass!

Retention Principles for Closed Guard In BJJ

These are some important principles, mainly from phenomenal site, to understand about retaining closed guard against an opponent who tries to break it open, whether on the knees or standing up.

Hiking The Hips Up

Your opponent will try to break your guard by strongly pressing his back against your ankles. By moving your hips forward and up you can move your ankles farther back, away from his back, which reduces pressure.

See “An Easy Tweak To Make Your Closed Guard Much Harder to Pass” by Stephan Kesting for more:

This simple yet extremely effective tweak makes your hips “glued” to your opponent’s, thus restricting his range of motion inside your closed guard. You will have much more control over his torso and his base, especially when pulling him and breaking his posture with your knees. The more your hips are glued together, the better control and better closed-guard you have.

and another video on the same topic, “Concepts When Doing Closed Guard” by Travis Stevens:

In the following video, John Danaher and Bernardo Faria dissect and explain some basic concepts and ideas about close guard retention, breaking your opponent’s posture, and eventually attacking. It is a bit longer, but highly recommended:

Posture Breaking

In order for an opponent to break your guard open, he needs his head to be straight up. Therefore, you want control over his head and the ability to pull it down.

Attacking The Front Hand

To maintain his posture, the opponent needs a point of the base on your body in front of his head. The more forward the hand is, the more effective it is in pushing the opponent back and up. So you have to make some kind of grip break or movement to get rid of the front hand, so it can’t push on you effectively.


Pulling With Your Knees

When pulling the opponent down to break his posture, it is a common mistake to rely too much on your arms to pull him forward. You need to use your legs. Use your legs in an arcing motion to pull him up and forward. This can allow you to pull him forward, even if he has a hand posted for the base. You should also pull diagonally off to one side, so that the opponent cannot use both hands equally.

closed guard pulling with knees

Tilting And Moving Your Hips Side To Side

If you think of your body as a table, your opponent is trying to put his hands on the table and push away from it. If the table is constantly tilting from one side to the other, his arms will slip off, allowing you to pull him forward. You should constantly look for opportunities to scoot your hips off to one side and tilt your hips (one side up, the other side down), which will give you better opportunities for posture-breaking.

closed guard moving hips

Sitting Up

Sometimes, for whatever reason, you can’t pull your opponent’s head down to your chest, but you can sit up, as in the hip bump sweep, to bring your chest to his head, then clinch them and bring them back down. Always look for this opportunity when the opponent has his head up. Sometimes, as their head is coming up, you can sit up and do a hip bump sweep that will be extra effective because you’re going with their momentum.

closed guard hip bump sweep

Stopping The Opponent From Standing Up

  • Lifting the hips up to put weight down into the opponent’s legs/low back.
  • Pulling in and down with the heels
  • The timing for doing it is when the top person leans forward a little when trying to stand up.
  • If the opponent manages to post one foot up, you should put all the weight towards the knee that’s still on the ground.

In this Relson Gracie video, it’s about breaking the posture AND taking the HIGH guard!

Retention Principles For Half Guard In BJJ

Pushing The Head

Your opponent attempts to pass your guard by getting to side control. His head will be on one side of your body and his legs on the other. You definately want the opposite of that. If he’s passing with his legs on your right, you want to push his head to your right. When you do this, it will be very easy to square up with him.

Here’s a great example of this, in the video “Half Guard Pass Defense Push on Face”:

The first step in this technique is to disregard your normal instinct to be “nice”. You always need to remember that we practice a combat sport and that sometimes being too nice will get you into tons of trouble.

This is one of those times. Many times we can see people get into this position and use their hands to push on their opponents shoulder and hip. It can eventually lead to a pushing match where the person on top just engages more and more power, and continues to alternate angles until the pass is completed.

If you push up on the face, this is often solved much of the time. Curl your fingers back so that they’re distant from your opponent’s eyes, mouth and ears, and then push up on their forehead or face.

When you push up on the face forward, it connects your opponent’s hips with the front of their body. If they want to keep control, they will need to keep their hips tight (because they will be disengaging with their upper body), but it gets to the point where it becomes impossible to bend the spine anymore. At this point, your opponent may choose to opt out or create and lose the position.

Depending on the situation, you can underhook and start playing that game or create space away from your opponent by shrimping backwards and then come to your feet. Any of these (and many other things) are viable options. But they should all start with pushing up on the FACE, not the shoulder.

Z-Guard/Knee Shield Guard Retention in BJJ by Bernardo Faria

This video by Bernardo Faria talks about staying tight, which would mean keeping your knees close to your chest when in half-guard, or turning to the knees by hip-escaping to avoid passing. He also shows side-rolling and thus recovering the guard, as the last-moment solution when the guard is almost passed.

Concepts of ‘Diamond’ and ‘Vortex’ by Xande Ribeiro

The “Diamond shape” means to be able to keep your knees connected to your elbows, and your hands to your head – thus forming a form of a diamond. It is a very hard defense posture, which is not easy to break. Combining it with a Z-guard gives you a lot of opportunities to attack, while at the same time being protected.

The “Vortex” concept is: How can I get my body into a geometrical position that allows me to withstand the pressure for a period of time, and then allows me to move to the next step? Usually, it means slipping out of your opponent’s body control by small incremental movements with your hips, i.e. a combination of small hip escapes in succession.

Ribeiro demonstrates both concepts in the following video extensively, however, they are not so easily describable in text. That’s why you need to watch the video and try to grasp them.

Additional Concepts Of BJJ Guard Retention

Inverted Guard

Inverted Guard by Ryan Hall

The Cross Grip or Cross Guard as it is often called, is one of Ryan’s most effective guard positions and something that he frequently uses in the majority of his Jiu-Jitsu matches. Ryan breaks down the Cross Grip Guard with his own step-by-step, theory-driven teaching style that always reveals the true secret of every technique that he teaches.

He begins by dismantling the myth that the Inverted Guard is only meant to be used by flexible fighters, and shows us how with proper mechanics, anyone can easily use this guard.

Additionally, Ryan also teaches his critically important “Inverted flow drills” that he has developed so you may learn how to invert at will, from any guard position during a fight.

Guard Recovery And Inverting by Lachlan Giles

Lachlan shows us how to use inverting during the initial and intermediate stages of defending our open/half-guard. Each new phase changes our movements and strategies a bit, but the core concept remains the same:

Defensive Guard Concept by Ryan Hall

Ryan Hall’s Defensive Guard concept sees the guard as a multi-defensive position, with multiple defensive walls – and each wall having its own set of tactics for defending and counter fighting. Using this strategy, Ryan teaches that the sum of multiple guard walls is far greater than the whole and if the opponent is in a position to defeat one wall, simply return to the next defensive wall and effectively continue the battle.

In addition, Ryan teaches within each individual position of the guard wall, how to move, unbalance and attack the opponent with sweeps, turnovers and submissions.

Collar Control by Firas Zahabi

In the following video, Firas Zahabi teaches us the principles of guard retention in BJJ with collar control, preventing angle cutting from your opponent, inverting/using side rolls to defend your guard, and many other things.

Points of Contact / Lines of Defense by Keenan Cornelius

Always try to have 4 points of contact with your opponent, if situation allows. Two hands, and two feet.

While you’re in transition between two guards, it’s certain that you’ll sometimes have to reduce that number to 3, but try not to go lower. Try to remember rock climbing. Your opponent’s task is to constantly try to remove your points of contact, by breaking your grips and pushing and pulling your legs. When he manages to break your grip/point of contact, immediately move it somewhere else on his body.

  • if your arm or leg is just floating in the air, you can’t push or pull anything with it, it’s useless.
  • when your opponent passes your legs, you may still be able to use your knees.
  • if they also pass your hands, you may still be able to use your elbows/forearms.
  • eventually, if they pass your knees/elbows, you may be able to bump them forward with your hands or feet from behind.

This video by Keenan Cornelius, which talks about 8 lines of defense, shows this principle:

Advanced Framing Concept by Kit Dale

This is Kit Dale’s “Advanced Framing” concept. It’s simple and effective, and can be integrated into your open-guard concepts easily:

  1. First thing is to make sure your opponent (passer) doesn’t get any upper-body control on us. (including head, of course)
  2. If he grabs the legs, that’s not a problem, as long as we are denying him to go to the upper-body. Especially make sure you don’t go flat on your back! If he tries to reach your upper-body, he inevitably needs to remove some control from your legs, which you immediately capitalize on.

Twelve BJJ Guard Retention Concepts by Stephan Kesting

Here are 12 of the most important concepts and ideas that will help you build a guard that’s REALLY tough to pass, from Stephan Kesting’s “Guard Retention Formula”.

The 12 concepts that are discussed in this video are as follows:

  • 01:26 Proper Alignment in Guard
  • 05:40 Frames and Levers for Guard Retention
  • 11:02 Layers of Frames for Defense
  • 15:28 Controlling Inside Space
  • 21:09 Knee-Elbow Connection
  • 25:22 Regulated Tension
  • 29:45 Blocking the Leading Ledge
  • 33:47 Hip Direction and Efficiency of Movement
  • 37:55 Turtle as the Last Defense!
  • 40:58 Don’t Use Closed Guard as a Beginner
  • 44:30 The 3 Phases of Guard
  • 50:18 The Ranges of Guard

Solo BJJ Drills To Improve Your Guard Retention

In this short 6-min long video, Chad “The Beast” Hardy shows us some of the most important solo drills that we can do in spare time to improve our guard game. From technical stand-up to attack, side rolls, inverting, hip escapes to back and front, etc. Chad recommends to do it for like 5-10 minutes when you can, combining them into one long sequence.

Additionaly, BJJ World Championship Silver Medalist Almiro Barros demonstrates 5 excellent solo guard recovery drills, in this 1-minute only long video. These guys at Evolve know how to pack an essence of BJJ things into extremely short but useful videos.

Solo Drills For Inverted Guard Mobility and Movement Drills

If you practice drills in the following video regularly, you’re going to see a massive improvement, not only in your inverted guard skills, but also in your overall mobility.

It is just 3,5 minute long video, packed with beautiful solo drills, on and off the wall.

Sam Byrne is a Qualified Personal Trainer, Grappler and Movement Enthusiast from the South of England, and founder of “Movement for BJJ” video series.

Final Thoughts

Preventing a guard pass is the most important aspect of Jiu-Jitsu. The position is called Guard for the very purpose that the Guard position is what protects the bottom fighter from being attacked. Lose the Guard and you will not only be vulnerable to attacks but you will also start to get tired, and once tired your technique will start to suffer. Having a difficult Guard to pass will allow you to relax and have the confidence to attack your opponent. The harder your Guard is to pass, the more you can open up and take a chance.

BJJ Guard Pass