BJJ Basics: The Ultimate Guard Retention System

By November 22, 2022No Comments

Hey Everybody,

As a part of BJJ Basics series, this is my Ultimate Guard Retention System!

Having a strong Guard that is difficult to pass and that regularly and predictably delivers sweeps and submissions is the cornerstone of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Although this system will help anyone of any level, my Ultimate Guard Retention formula was written for the complete newbie in mind.

BJJ Basics Guard Retention System is my way to help you get good at Jiu Jitsu in the shortest time possible.

BJJ Basics

First off..let’s start with some fundamentals..Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is fundamentally just stick fighting.  And human beings are just 5 sticks duct taped together 🙂


And sticks can be two things:

  1. Frames
  2. Levers

Frames stop motion.

Levers amplify motion.

So how do frames and levers relate to when we’re rolling and doing Jiu Jitsu?

When we’re rolling and doing doing Jiu Jitsu:

I always want to be a set of FRAMES.

and I always want YOU to be a set of LEVERS.

In Jiu Jitsu, I’m always hunting for levers so I can control my partner and eventually submit them.


I can use levers to control my training partner.

And I can use levers to submit my partner.


For now, let’s set aside the concept of levers.  We’ll take a look at levers again at the the end of this article.

Right now, we need to focus on frames.

And how frames are the most critical element in having a strong impassable Guard.

BJJ Basics: Guard

Guard is basically a wall.

And walls are built to provide protection.  Walls are built to protect you from people just walking into your house and helping themselves to your fridge. Similarly, it’s the same thing in Jiu Jitsu.  Meaning, that Guard is just a big fat wall that keeps your opponent away from your head, neck and torso.

And what do all walls need?  All walls need support.



All walls need to be supported by a frame.


Thus, your Guard is simply a wall that’s supported by a frame.


Your Guard needs to guard you against your partner’s weight.  That’s why it’s called a GUARD!!

And that’s why you always need a frame (a stick) to constant support your partner’s weight.

No frame.  No Guard.


It’s a common misconception that as long as I have my legs controlling my partner – I’m safe!

No! 🚫

This is incredibly wrong.

No frame.  No Guard.  And thus, no sense of safely.

When you’re on bottom, you’re top priority is to stay safe.  Above all, you constantly need to keep your wall up and point a frame towards your partner.

Let’s look at some examples to illustrate my point.

Half Guard with the Underhook. You NEED to frame with your shoulder or else you’re gonna get smashed!



Your Closed Guard needs to have a frame otherwise you can still get Ezekiel Choked!



Your Butterfly Guard is only effective if  you’re sitting up with a strong frame.



For your Guard to be effective and functional, your Guard always needs to have a frame.

So, now we need to..


In an Open Guard scenario, you can see that it’s easy for our partner to just run around our Frame.

Thus, for our Guards to be functional, all of our frames need two things:

  1. Hooks to stop your partner from just running around your wall
  2. Hands. I need to stop my partner from grabbing the wall and moving it.

The examples below help illustrate what I mean.

Hooks– To stop your opponent from just running around your wall.

When I have an Open Guard, not only do I need a frame on my partner’s hip so to keep them away from me, I also need a hook on their knee so they just don’t run around me.


If my partner is kneeling, I still need a hook to stop my partner from moving around my friend.  I”m fighting from Half Guard in the image below. My left leg is the frame and then right leg is the hook so my partner on top doesn’t circle around me.


Hands– To stop your opponent from just removing your frames

In the video below, notice how I’m always stripping my partner’s hands off of my feet.

This is so that my partner can’t just grab my foot, move my leg and then run around my Guard 😳

Watch this video

I explain my definition of Guard with more vivid examples

BJJ Basics: Guard Passing  

If Guard is just a wall; then, in the same way, Guard Passing is just getting to the other side of the wall. And there’s only 4 ways to get to the other side of a wall.

  1. Around
  2. Under
  3. Over
  4. Through

Thus, there’s ONLY 4 types of Guard Passes:


1) I can go around the right side or the left side of the wall. Toreando Pass. Matador Pass.

2) I can go under the wall. Double Under Pass. Leg Drag Pass.

3) I can go through the wall. Knee Cut Pass.

4) I can go over the wall. Over/Under Pass. Smash Pass.

Now let’s talk about how to defeat each of these types of Guard Passing.

Going Around The Wall

By going around the wall, your partner has grabbed your leg, moved the wall and then ran around your Guard.

Your Guard is a wall.

And that wall is supported by a frame.


Your partner has essentially turned that frame into a lever.


Jiu Jitsu is just stick fighting.  It’s simply turning frames into levers.  And levers into frames.

To defeat this Guard Pass, I need to reestablish my frame.

With every Guard Pass, your partner has either turned your frame into a lever.  Or, they’ve just removed your frame.

Let’s look at another example.

When my partner is doing the Double Under Pass and going under the wall, they’re turning my spine into a lever.

Notice how I’m stacked up high on my shoulders with my spine almost vertical.  This is very dangerous and I always need to avoid this scenario.


You need to make sure that your spine doesn’t turn into a lever.  As your partner tries to pick your hips up, you need to walk on your shoulders.

Another example of when my frame is removed is the Knee Cut Pass.  You need to have something blocking and stopping your partner from driving forward. The Knee Cut Guard Pass works when all of your frames have been displaced.


As soon as your partner removes your foot from their hip, you need to replace it.  This can be tough and you may need to use your hands to push but it’s essential for you to reestablish your frame and get your foot back anywhere on your partner’s body.

Watch 👀 the video 📺 below ⬇️

In the video below, I break down this perspective on Guard Passing in a more dynamic manner.

BJJ Basics: Guard Retention

Okay, so now that Guard Passing is simplified for you, I’d now like to introduce you to my GRAND UNIFIED THEORY ON GUARD RETENTION.

My GUT on Guard Retention is build on 3 pillars:

  1. Head
  2. Hands
  3. Heels

Whether it’s Butterfly Guard, Dela Riva Guard or Closed Guard, these 3 things need to be a part of the system or else you’re going to get your Guard passed.

Let’s quickly look at each of these things in greater detail.

Head. You always need to protect your head. If your opponent can punch you; then, you don’t have a strong, offensive Guard. By “Head”, I also mean chest, neck and collar. I can not let my opponent grab my collar. I can’t let them drive their shoulder into my jaw. And I can not let them place their knee on my chest and start to smash me. Protecting your head is a key element to maintaining a strong formidable Guard. If your opponent is able to control your collar, smash into your neck or hinder you from breathing in any way; then, this will be the beginning of the end of your Guard.

Hands. Hands keep your frames safe. Plus, they keep your head and collar safe. As well, hands are used as hooks so that you can keep your frames pointed at your opponent. And finally, hands act like frames when your “Leg” Guard is passed and you need to use your “Arm” Guard to stop your opponent from smashing you.

Heels. Heels refer to the feet that you use to maintain your Guard.  Your Guard is the wall that keeps you safe when you’re fighting off your back.  Walls need frames for support. These frames are your shins, your feet and your knees. Frames constantly need two things in order to be effective.

  1. Hooks- to stop your opponent from just running around you
  2. Hands- to stop your opponent from just moving your frames.


Consequently, the Guard Retention GUT of Head/Hands/Heels is kinda like spinning plates.

Sometimes, one plate needs all of your attention because it’s about to fall. You give the wobbling plate some attention but right away you’ve got to jump to another plate that’s wobbling.

Think of Head/Hands/Heels as a tripod where each of these elements make up a leg. If one leg is missing the entire tripod collapses. Each component is critically important. When your Guard gets passed, it is because one of these elements was not being maintained.

With this GUT, you can now self diagnose why and how your Guard got defeated and what you can do to fix it. So, with this simple three prong formula, you can be your own coach and solve any Guard Retention problems you come across.

As a result, the main problem with the Guard Retention GUT is that you’ll have a hard time prioritizing how to use your hands.

Should I use my hands to grip strip the collar control?
Maybe I should use my hands to defend against the crossface?
Perhaps I need to use my hand to strip my opponent’s control of my pant leg?
Should I use my hand to hook my opponent’s heel so they don’t run around my frames?

The correct answer is..DO ALL OF IT!!  Your hands will be moving the most when you are playing Guard Retention.  Fast hands win fights!

Here’s the video I made that breaks down the Guard Retention GUT.

And now, here’s the shocking finale.  Ultimately, this is so surprising that many of you may need a bucket near by when you hear it..

Guard Retention and Guard Attacks ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS!!

BJJ Basics: Guard Retention VS Guard Attacks

That’s right…Guard Retention and Guard Attacks are two completely different strategies.

If you’re confused, great!  You should be. This means that your Guard Retention is about to get 1000X better 😃

Guard Retention should be your #1 priority.  When you’re on bottom, you’re top priority is to stay safe.  Thus, you always need to keep your wall up and point a frame towards your partner.

Only when you know you’re safe should you look for Guard Attacks.  Particularly, you’re looking for your partner’s arms, legs and neck to control.  Guard Attacks are simply controls on your partner’s arms, legs and neck.  Your partner’s arms, legs and neck are levers for you to sweep or submit your partner with.


This all come back to our very first principle that Jiu Jitsu is just stick fighting.


And the human body is just 5 sticks duct taped together.

I am always fighting to be a frame.

But my partner is always fighting to turn me into a lever.

Meaning, if you can turn your partner’s arm, leg or neck into a lever; THEN, attack..

If you can’t; then you need to focus on maintaining your frames and focus on Guard Retention.




Jiu Jitsu is a constant dance between Guard Retention and Guard Attack.  With a greater prioritization placed on Guard Retention.

That should be your winning strategy.  To always establish frames and maintain your Guard; and then, opportunistically look for levers to grab onto so you can sweep or submit your partner.

Here’s my latest video that breaks it all down.


So, in conclusion of our BJJ Basics Guard Retention series, we have the entire topic of how to keep your Guard and how to attack from your Guard neatly wrapped up on a single blog article.


Jiu Jitsu is just stick fighting.  It’s simply turning frames into levers.  And levers into frames.

There’s 4 types of Guard Passes- over, under, around and through

Guard Retention GUT – Hand, Hands, Head

If this helped your Guard game even the slightest bit, I would totally appreciate you sharing this article with your friends and training partners 🙂


Ritchie Yip

Ritchie Yip

Ritchie Yip is the Head Instructor for InFighting Training Centers located in Downtown Vancouver and Brentwood Burnaby. InFighting Training Centers offers programs in Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Bootcamp Conditioning Classes and Personal Training

Do you live in the Greater Vancouver, or Brentwood Burnaby area?
Are you looking for a BJJ program specifically designed for the absolute beginner? Then, come check out our world class 7,000 sq ft facility directly across the street from the Amazing Brentwood Mall. 😃

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