Sunday, December 22, 2013

Breaking Down Roger Gracie's Guard

Thinking About Roger's Guard

There's actually nothing magical about it. Roger does several things really well, one of his biggest strengths and sometimes weakness is his patience.

There's a movie called Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman. In one classic scene, Gene Hackman is explaining to a writer, what makes a good gunslinger. It's not the fastest shooter, it's the guy who takes his gun out, takes his time to aim, and commits to shooting. Many fast shooters would pull their guns out and miss. That's when guys like Clint and Gene's character would shoot them dead. They won't miss. (If you haven't seen this movie, you are missing out and I urge you to own this movie! It's that good with lots of life lessons us BJJ'ers need.)

He's Not Slow!

Often times Roger gets mislabeled as slow, or that he has this slow game. He's not slow, he's making sure he has what he needs before he moves on. He's doing it as quickly as possible but he makes sure he takes the time to do it right. Roger will scramble, explode, and frantically escape submissions. Same can be said with other guys. I've never seen a slow Rickson match, same with Kron. There are moments in between where they take the time to see what's going on and what they have, and once they secure a position, they do things step by step, making sure not to skip over anything.

So let's break it down...

Roger Gracie In Action

Key components:

  • As soon as Roger gets to closed guard, he gets a 2 on 1 grip on the non-dominant arm of his opponent. Typically their left arm. (Why fight their strongest arm when it's energy efficient to attack the weaker one?)
  • Instead of a typical arm-drag grip, cupping behind their armpit with the cross arm, he grips their sleeve and the elbow material.
  • He posts his right foot on their hip for 2 reasons. First to prevent his opponent from retrieving the arm. Second to bring his hip up and then out to the side to while completing the armdrag past the center line.
  • From there he clamps down on their back with his arm, securing his grip behind their lat. Preventing them from posturing.
  • Then he re-configures and re-locks his legs.
  • He works his way to the back.

From here whatever he does next is dictated by what his opponent does.

  • If the opponent stays where he is, he takes the back, gets his hooks, rolls him, then finishes.
  • If the opponent drives into Roger, he sweeps.
  • If the opponent holds his collar, blocks his movements with their head, or posts a leg out, or if there isn't enough time, Roger will climb as high as he can and begin to scoot backwards away from his opponent to prevent a stack.
  • He pushes his opponent's arm to their hip, isolating it.
  • He posts his foot on their hip to climb his legs (not his body) higher on his opponent.
  • He clamps down on their shoulder with his guard.
  • He has a hold of the arm he is about to lock and also grabs the triceps of the defending arm. This is to complete the turn and set up the counter to their defense.
  • Instead of swinging or throwing his legs over his opponent, he pivots his leg over, and pushes his opponent's face away immediately (this is key, don't wait to get into position then execute the armbar).
  • Then he crosses his ankles (instead of the classic Gracie way of leaving the ankles unlocked, pinching knees, and biting down on the ankles).
  • He lifts his hips up, spreads his knees apart, pulls on the elbow of the defending arm (to break their counter), then completes the armbar. Because of the angle, he has to cross his ankles and split his legs to complete the lock, otherwise he would not have enough leverage with the space provided.


Closed guard is very time consuming. As good as Roger is, this is why he prefers to takedown, and play on top. If down on points, or with time running out, even a 10 minute match may not seem long enough. If you get to this position with lots of time on the clock or up on points, it can become a very conservative way to secure the win if you fight like the good gunslingers and take your time, aim, and commit to finish.

Other Breakdowns:

Chael Sonnen Vs Mauricio "Shogun" Rua: A Lesson In Patterns
BJJ To MMA: Sergio Moraes Breakdown UFC 163
The Art Of Baiting For BJJ


Sam Yang from an early age has been obsessed with connecting the dots between martial arts and efficiency, health, mindset, business, science, and habits to improve optimal well-being. For more info, join his newsletter. You can also connect to Inner BJJ on Facebook and Twitter.

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  1. I agree that Roger isn't slow in BJJ. He's methodical and for a lot of people that means he slow. However, when fights MMA I do think he tends to be on the slow side. The action happens just so fast and because he's methodical I don't think he reacts quickly enough. In BJJ this is an asset, but not so much in MMA.

    1. Agree. he does look slow in MMA, but that could be he thinks a lot in MMA, which in BJJ was his strength, in MMA speed kills. Also he said he had a tough weight cut to 185. He also started full time MMA training pretty late. And his takedowns aren't near where they need to be for MMA.



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