9 Mar 2010

The Japanese Guard Pass

The Japanese guard pass? There's no such thing of course. I made it up. But I liked the Paraestra "Attack From Guard Position" instructional book so much that I bought the next book in the series: Paraestra: "Attack From Top Position". In this book, Japanese BJJ expert, Yukinori Sasa - from the Paraestra BJJ gym in Tokyo, shows us his take on several key ways to pass the guard, including ways to pass the Spiral guard that I wrote about before. Would this book offer an assortment of spinning spiralling techniques as the previous volume did?

The Book
Yeah it's all written in Japanese, but I'm a picture kinda guy anyway, so the lack of detailed English text (there is English chapter titling and other pointers) didn't bother me.

The book is American A4 size and 95 pages long. Like the previous book, the first third is printed in colour and the rest is in black and white - which doesn't really matter as Yuki wears a white gi and his partner a black gi, so it's pretty easy to figure what is what and who is who.

Here are the topics covered in the book:

Chapter 1: Basic Guard Pass - 12 techniques
Chapter 2: Cross Knee Guard Pass - 11 techniques
Chapter 3: Spider Guard Pass - 9 techniques
Chapter 4: Under leg sweep pass - 4 techniques
Chapter 5: Butterfly & Spiral guard pass - 7 techniques
Chapter 6: DeLaRiva & Quarter Guard Pass - 7 techniques
Chapter 7: Half & closed guard pass - 6 techniques
The chapter titles are slightly misleading. You would think that basic guard passes shown in chapter one for example would cover your bread and butter closed guard passes as shown in countless other instructionals. But in fact, there are only a few token pages dealing with closed guard at the back of the book. The under-leg-sweep pass refers to when your uke is trying to sweep you using a deep half guard or half an X-guard. The quarter guard pass refers to when uke is sitting up and hugging one of your legs. Overall, this book assumes you know how to break open the guard and are now at the second phase of your mission to pass the guard.

The recurring theme in this book is the cross knee pass (I think some call this the knee-slicer pass, or knee-through pass). The name pretty much says it all ie, any pass that involves moving your own knee past your uke's centre line - usually over his hip or top of thigh. Sasa has a whole chapter dedicated to this, but at least one cross knee variant appears in all the other chapters.

I must admit, I've never had much luck with any cross knee pass. I just don't use it. Maybe this book could provide a little inspiration to try it out in class? (see later)

Just as with the previous bottom game book, this volume contains a DVD that covers exactly the same material in the same order as presented in the book. So no excuses about poor quality photographs or bad camera angles or foreign languages, the DVD shows it all.

The title screen of the DVD is all in Japanese but it's not too hard to work out which chapter is which just by counting down the list - or trying to match the kanji in the book with what was on the screen (surprisingly, and satisfyingly, less hard than you think).

Trying out some techniques
The problem with attempting to improve on guard passing during sparring is the fact that a lot really depends on who you roll with and what opportunities crop up to play top game. For some reason, maybe because I am small, or maybe because I hit bottom game very early on, I don't often get to play top game as much as perhaps I should. Braulio Estima touched upon this in his Invisible Jiu-Jitsu Lesson #3. He suggests that you can actually initiate the type of guard that your opponent plays by the way you position yourself.

Another point with this book, or indeed any instructional on guard passing, is that by their nature the techniques are often broken down into many steps - much more than say a submission instructional. This means smaller pictures. So thank goodness for the included DVD that really helps accompany the book. In fact often found myself sitting at the TV and using the book as a program guide, allowing me to flick through and forward wind to bits I wanted to see. I think all DVD instructionals should come with a book and visa versa.

So with this in mind, I chose to work on three guard passes that I liked the look of and were fairly simple enough for me to remember: spider guard pass No3, half guard pass No1, and my dreaded cross knee pass.

Spider Guard Pass No3
I like this guard pass because it incorporates a very flashy leap in the air. Actually it looks far more dramatic in print that it does on video.

With this guard pass, uke has only one foot on your bicep, but he controls both your sleeves. I like Sasa's suggestion on how to lose the foot on bicep (shift weight off centre and lower yourself into a deep squat, then use your knee to shove the foot off the bicep and onto your shoulder). With a nifty bit of handiwork, Sasa re-grips onto both of uke's knees and cartwheels over his partner's legs into knee on belly position.

It was great fun to try this on my lighter training partners, but I must admit I bottled out when sparring the bigger guys. The main aspect I think with this is to ensure the opposite knee is pushed firmly flat onto the floor before leaping. This is a little harder to do against stronger bigger and more aware guys, but not impossible.

Half Guard Pass No1
Sasa only shows x3 half guard passes in his book, all of which are variants on stuff I've been taught before, apart from a few minor details - he likes to grip the inside trouser pants as he extracts his trapped leg (see photo below, english annotation is from me) and he uses his hips a lot to apply a lot of pressure under uke's near armpit.

I tried Sasa's half guard passes a couple of times in class (I found it is actually quite easy to make your opponent go into half guard, by just sort of offering one of your legs in the scramble). I found that as long as I have a good strong controlling grip underhooking my uke's neck and gripping his his far shoulder it was fairly straight forward to extract my leg - by just hopping out (as long as your second hand controls the leg as discussed earlier).

The Cross Knee Pass
I didn't select a specific technique in particular. What I did was to try to use the basic aspects every time the opportunity arose. These were: step to the side, one hand holds uke's knee, other hand grabs uke's lapel, pass the knee through, lower my base (key point as per photo below - Sasa plants his elbow onto uke's chest), step out wider, extract your leg and take side control.

I realise for a lot of people, the cross knee pass is a very basic guard pass that is taught early on from white belt onwards. But for me, the cross knee is admittedly a bit tricky - there just seems too many gaps, holes and opportunities for your uke to sweep. But over the course of several sparring sessions, I persisted with using it and I think it's improving. Well ok, I still suck at it but I am at least trying whereas before I would try a different guard pass (not that I have many in my arsenal).

I love the fact that in the book, there are loads of examples of where and when to use the cross knee pass. It’s clearly a staple of Sasa’s repertoire and his heavy emphasis on it gave me the confidence that I could and should succeed in using it for myself.

The double whammy combination of both a book and DVD means both learning styles are catered for and you won't miss a trick if you refer to both. For me, I browse the book when I commute into work and take mental notes of which techniques I want to watch on the DVD when I get home. It's a great way to kill time and learn on the go.

Although the level of the techniques offered are fairly intermediate to advanced, don't let that put you off. The techniques on show here are the next stage in guard passage (after breaking open the guard). There is a good range and variety to suit all types of player, from the tight and controlled, to those who like something more flamboyant. But with each page, the highlighting of grips, positioning and (in some cases) mistakes to avoid show that this book has been created with a lot of thought and attention to detail.

But for those looking for a repeat of the showpiece spinning techniques from his previous book, then Top Position might be a disappointment. Apart from one or two techniques that require a token of acrobatic effort, most of the content of this book is core guard passing mostly based on the cross knee pass.

I bought the book at Scramble online BJJ store.

Other guard passing books:
Passing the guard, Beneville etc.

About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


matt said...

Really good review dude. By coincidence I took mine off the shelf today, and really enjoyed reading it again.

A.D. McClish said...

Do they speak in Japanese on the video? Is it hard to figure out what they're telling you to do?

matt said...

I've actually been having lots of success with the cross knee pass but probably because I roll with a bunch of white belts all the time! Key is to control that near arm.

Meerkatsu said...

@Allie - the commentary is all Japanese, but I did not find it hard to follow. Yuki is probably having a natter about the morning's price of fish and how much he likes green tea, followed by smashing skulls, you know, nothing actually relevant to the technique he is showing...I guess.

Gonna try me some more cross knee stuff tonight.


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