Separation Anxiety: How To Instantly Improve Your Guard Game

There’s an old adage in boxing:

“Move in, move out of trouble. Move out, move into

This refers to distance management, specifically the
tendency of the untrained (or newbies) to move their
head away from “the heat,” which is a mistake because
in doing so they break posture, limit evasive defensive
and counter-offensive possibilities and mechanics – and
position their head where they are actually more likely
to be hit.

Instead, although it may seem counter intuitive at
first, sound orthodox striking wisdom will have you
zone your head in at angles as you evade or counter an
opponent’s strikes. This not only keeps you safer from
strikes, it also puts you within range to effectively
counter with optimum body mechanics. Hence the concept
of moving in to move out of trouble.

Similar habits need to be addressed and broken in

One of the biggest frustrations I see in students is in
developing their guards. It’s no secret why… frankly
it sucks to have you guard quickly passed and then get
smashed over and over again.

And especially if you don’t have a training progression
like we discuss in 40 Plus BJJ and all you do for live
training is roll competitively, your window to develop
your guard game may be very short… sometimes you only
get to play for just seconds before you’re passed once
again, then you have to wait to get submitted or have
the round end before you get another shot.

(Another danger of this is that you get so frustrated
with the experience you try to avoid playing guard at
all, which leads to a huge hole in your game and
diminishing returns long term.)

When this happens, a lot of people go in the wrong

They look for the answer in a new guard game or more
techniques, and start researching what so-and-so
(insert name of world class competitor with great
guard) does.

I just answered an email the other day that goes back
to my super simple guard training model:

1. Knees to chest / legs between you and opponent
2. Grips (always fight for and deny dominant grips)
3. Foot position (wherever your feet go, there’s
4. Angles
5. Offensive pressures (to sweep, submit, or stand)

Specifics of the particular guard you’re playing aside,
one of these is the missing link that is getting you
passed. The beauty of this model, as well as other
similar models like Matt Thornton’s 5 point passing, is
that it’s a powerful diagnostic tool.

Most often, we come back to #1. That’s why I titled
this article separation anxiety:

At some point, a separation occurs between your knees
and your chest. If this is the case, your opponent will
always have a moment to pass you. A lot of the time,
the real answer you’re looking for is literally that

If you are not actively involved with stretching your
partner out in some way so that their posture in
compromised and they are forced into a defensive mode,
then chances are any separation you create is going to
create the opening you opponent needs to improve his or
her position.

Move out, move into trouble.

So instead of looking for the answer “out there,” look
closer to home to improve your guard. In particular,
the home base of keeping those knees in tight!


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