Mastering the Mat: Exploring the Dynamic World of Guard Passes in BJJ

December 28, 2023
From: Spartacus
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Imagine a critical moment in a BJJ match where the tide dramatically turns. An athlete weaves through their opponent’s intricate guard with a seamless move, transitioning from a stalemate to a position of control. This pivotal maneuver isn’t just about physical prowess; it’s a masterful display of the art of guard passing – a fundamental yet complex aspect of BJJ.

Guard passing, in its essence, is about breaking through an opponent’s defensive legs to gain a more dominant position, and it’s a skill that can dramatically alter the course of a match. 

This article delves into the intricate world of guard passing, exploring various techniques and strategies that define this key aspect of BJJ. From the basics to the nuanced, we’ll unravel how mastering the guard pass can be a game-changer on the mats.

The Art of Guard Passing

Guard passing in BJJ is more than a technique; it’s a complex art form, crucial for gaining a tactical advantage on the mat. This aspect of BJJ revolves around maneuvering past an opponent’s legs – their guard – to achieve a more dominant position, be it side control, mount, or back control.

At its core, guard passing is about control and strategy. It’s a test of one’s ability to outmaneuver the opponent’s defense, which often involves a sophisticated interplay of leverage, balance, and timing. A successful guard pass requires not just physical strength, but also a deep understanding of mechanics and opponent psychology.

Guard passing encompasses a variety of techniques, each suited to different scenarios and opponent styles. Some popular methods include the Pressure Pass, where a practitioner uses their weight and force to immobilize the opponent’s hips and legs; and the Speed Pass, characterized by swift movements to bypass the opponent’s guard. Other techniques like the Knee Slice, Stack Pass, and Leg Drag involve specific movements designed to compromise the opponent’s guard structure.

What makes guard passing particularly challenging in BJJ is the dynamic nature of the guard itself. Practitioners often encounter different guard styles, such as closed guard, open guard, or half guard, each requiring a unique approach to pass effectively. This dynamic makes guard passing not just a physical challenge, but a mental puzzle.

Mastering guard passing involves rigorous training and practice. It’s about developing an arsenal of passes and knowing when to apply each. Practitioners must also learn to read their opponents, anticipating movements and countering defenses. Drills, sparring, and continuous refinement of techniques are essential in this journey.

The art of guard passing in BJJ is a fundamental skill that separates proficient practitioners from novices. It’s a blend of technique, timing, and strategy, requiring a balanced approach of force and finesse. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned practitioner, mastering the art of guard passing is a journey that can elevate your overall BJJ game.

Unpacking Different Types of Guard Passes

The ability to effectively pass an opponent’s guard stands as a cornerstone of strategic superiority in the world of BJJ. Each type of guard pass offers a unique approach, tailored to overcome the varied defensive setups encountered on the mat.

This section delves into the diverse array of guard passing techniques, unraveling the intricacies and tactical nuances of each style.

From the classic pressure pass to the swift and agile X-Pass, we’ll explore how each method serves as a key tool in a BJJ practitioner’s arsenal, enabling them to navigate through defenses with precision and efficiency.

Understanding these different guard passes is not just about learning techniques; it’s about expanding your strategic horizons in BJJ.

Pressure Pass



The Pressure Pass is all about using your body weight to your advantage. This technique involves applying constant, heavy pressure on your opponent, often focusing on immobilizing their hips and legs. The key is to make your opponent carry your weight, leading to fatigue and creating openings for the pass.

Typically initiated from a position like the half guard, you use your shoulders and chest to apply pressure, securing the opponent’s legs or hips. Gradually, you work your way past their guard, maintaining control and using methodical movements to advance to a more dominant position like side control.

Ideal for practitioners who excel in strength and control, this pass is highly effective in wearing down an opponent, making it a favored technique in competitions where physicality and endurance are pivotal.

Speed/Bullfighter Pass



Contrasting the Pressure Pass, the Speed or Bullfighter Pass relies on agility and quick movements. This pass is less about brute force and more about maneuverability, using swift actions to bypass the opponent’s guard.

The essence of this pass lies in controlling the opponent’s legs and swiftly moving to the side, almost like a matador sidestepping a bull. By gripping the opponent’s lower legs or pants, you create an angle and quickly move around their guard, often landing in side control or establishing a top position.

This pass is particularly effective for practitioners with quick reflexes and good cardio. It’s a go-to technique when facing a flexible or strong-legged opponent, as it minimizes the need for direct confrontation with their guard.

Leg Drag Pass



The Leg Drag Pass involves manipulating and controlling one of the opponent’s legs to move past their guard. This pass is about redirecting the opponent’s leg across your body, thereby limiting their mobility and opening a path to pass their guard.

It starts by gripping the opponent’s leg near the ankle and the knee. You then pull the leg across your body while shifting your weight forward, effectively ‘dragging’ the leg and pinning it down. This movement places you beside the opponent, ideally in a position to secure side control or transition to the back.

TheLeg Drag Pass is highly effective against opponents with a strong guard. It’s a strategic choice for controlling the pace of the match and for practitioners who excel in precise, controlled movements.

Knee Slice Pass



Also known as the Knee Cut Pass, this method is characterized by ‘slicing’ your knee through the opponent’s guard. It combines elements of speed and pressure, making it a versatile option for many BJJ fighters.

From a position like the half guard, you place pressure on the opponent’s thigh with your knee, slicing through their guard while maintaining upper body control. The free leg swings over to help you slide past the guard, and you end up in a dominant top position, typically in side control.

The Knee Slice Pass is effective in a variety of situations and works well against different guard styles. It’s particularly favored for its balance of speed and control, allowing for quick transitions while maintaining a strong position.

Stack Pass



The Stack Pass is all about compressing and controlling the opponent. This pass involves lifting and stacking the opponent’s legs towards their head, which compromises their guard and mobility.

Initiated typically from the guard, you grip the opponent’s legs and gradually lift them, driving forward and stacking them onto their shoulders. This movement limits their movement and opens up their guard, allowing you to pass to the side or establish a top position.

Ideal for practitioners who leverage strength and pressure, the Stack Pass is effective in breaking open even the most resilient guards. It’s particularly useful against opponents with flexible guard play.

Double Under Pass



The Double Under Pass is a powerful guard passing method that involves getting both arms under the opponent’s legs. The aim is to lift and control the opponent’s lower body, reducing their mobility and opening up avenues to bypass their guard.

From within the opponent’s guard, you secure both arms under their legs, clasp your hands together, and lift their hips off the mat. By driving forward and applying pressure, you create the opportunity to pass to either side of the guard, often transitioning into a dominant top position.

This pass is particularly effective against opponents with a strong guard. It’s a favorite among BJJ practitioners who rely on strength and leverage, as it allows for substantial control over the opponent’s movements.

Over-Under Passes



The Over-Under Passes are characterized by an asymmetrical approach to guard passing. One arm goes over one of the opponent’s legs, and the other arm goes under the other leg, creating a combination of pressure and control.

From the guard, you position one arm over the opponent’s thigh (near the knee) and the other arm under their opposite leg (near the hip). This setup allows you to apply uneven pressure, destabilizing their guard. As you advance, you use your body weight and movement to slide past the guard, often aiming for side control.

Over-Under Passes are versatile and efficient, suitable for practitioners who excel in creating and exploiting imbalances in the opponent’s guard. These passes are effective against various types of guards and are essential techniques for competitors and serious practitioners.




The X-Pass is characterized by its fluid and dynamic motion. It involves a swift movement of the legs, resembling the drawing of an ‘X’, to bypass the opponent’s guard.

Typically initiated when facing an open guard, you control one of the opponent’s legs and use your other leg to step around, creating an ‘X’ motion. This movement allows you to swiftly move past the opponent’s guard, often transitioning to side control or establishing a top position.

The X-Pass is especially effective for practitioners who excel in quick movements and agility. It’s a preferred technique against flexible opponents or in situations where speed is essential to pass the guard.

Torreando Pass



Named after the movements of a bullfighter, the Torreando Pass involves sidestepping and redirecting the opponent’s legs to pass their guard.

From the opponent’s open guard, you grip their legs near the knees and move them to one side while quickly passing to the other side. This bullfighter-like motion requires agility and precise timing to be effective.

The Torreando Pass is a go-to for BJJ fighters who rely on rapid, decisive movements. Its effectiveness lies in the ability to outpace the opponent’s reactions, making it a formidable tool in the arsenal of a speed-focused practitioner.

Half Guard Pass



The Half Guard Pass involves navigating past an opponent’s control of one of your legs. It’s a common scenario where precision and patience play key roles.

The goal is to free your trapped leg while maintaining upper body control. Techniques often involve using pressure to flatten the opponent, creating space to extract your leg, and then transitioning to side control or mount. Key elements include controlling the opponent’s hips and shoulders and using your free leg effectively.

Mastering the Half Guard Pass is essential, as the half guard is a frequent position in BJJ. This pass teaches practitioners about weight distribution, balance, and transitioning under resistance.

Butterfly Guard Pass



The Butterfly Guard is characterized by the opponent having both feet inside your thighs, using their legs to control and manipulate your movement. Passing this guard requires neutralizing their leg movement.

Common strategies include pinning the opponent’s legs to the mat to limit their mobility, using grips to control their upper body, and employing a combination of pressure and movement to pass to one side. Timing and control are crucial, as the butterfly guard allows for quick sweeps and reversals.

The Butterfly Guard Pass is vital against opponents who favor a more active, movement-based guard game. It enhances a practitioner’s ability to deal with dynamic guards and improves their pressure application skills.

No-Gi Passes



In no-gi BJJ, the lack of traditional gi grips necessitates different passing strategies. These passes rely more on underhooks, body locks, and limb control.

Without the gi for grips, practitioners focus on controlling the opponent’s body directly, using pressure, underhooks, and leg pummeling. The passes often involve more fluid and dynamic movements, as the lack of grips makes holding positions more challenging.

Practicing no-gi passes enhances a practitioner’s ability to control an opponent through body mechanics rather than relying on cloth grips. It develops a more adaptive, versatile guard passing style suitable for both gi and no-gi scenarios.

The art of guard passing is a testament to the adaptability and depth of BJJ. Practitioners who master these diverse techniques not only enhance their ability to control the fight but also deepen their understanding of the sport’s intricacies. Whether you favor the relentless pressure pass or the dexterity of a speed pass, each style has its place and time on the mat. As BJJ continues to evolve, so too will the methods of guard passing, reflecting the endless pursuit of mastery in this ever-challenging and rewarding martial art.

Common Mistakes in Guard Passing 

Mastering the guard pass in BJJ is a critical aspect of advancing in the sport, but it’s common for practitioners to face certain obstacles along the way. Identifying and addressing these common mistakes is key to improving your guard passing technique. Let’s explore these challenges and strategize on overcoming them.

  • Rushing the Pass: Many practitioners try to force the guard pass too quickly, leading to errors and missed opportunities. Patience is crucial in BJJ. Take your time to set up the pass correctly, focusing on controlling your opponent’s hips and legs before advancing. Strategic positioning will make the pass more effective.
  • Over-reliance on Strength: Using brute force instead of technique can be exhausting and less effective, especially against a skilled guard player. Focus on technique over strength. Use leverage and body positioning to your advantage. Practicing drills that emphasize technique can help shift the focus from power to skill.
  • Neglecting Grip Control: Failing to control the opponent’s grips can leave you vulnerable to counter-attacks and prevent successful guard passing. Work on grip fighting and breaking your opponent’s grips before attempting to pass. Establishing your own grips will give you better control and make your pass more effective.
  • Poor Posture and Balance: Poor posture can make you susceptible to sweeps and attacks from the bottom player. Maintain strong, balanced posture throughout the pass. Engage your core and be mindful of your center of gravity. Drill positions that improve balance and posture.
  • Predictability: Repeatedly using the same guard pass can become predictable, allowing opponents to easily defend. Diversify your guard passing arsenal. Practice different types of passes so you can adapt to various situations and keep your opponent guessing.
  • Ignoring the Opponent’s Intentions: Not paying attention to the opponent’s movements and strategies can lead to being caught off guard. Develop awareness and anticipation. Pay attention to your opponent’s movements and react accordingly. Sparring with different partners can help improve your adaptability.

By acknowledging and working to correct these common guard passing mistakes, BJJ practitioners can significantly enhance their skills on the mat. Remember, the journey to mastering guard passes is a continuous process of learning, adapting, and evolving.


As we conclude our exploration into the dynamic world of guard passes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it’s evident that mastering these techniques is a journey filled with continuous learning and adaptation. From the foundational Pressure and Speed Passes to the nuanced approaches of the X-Pass and Torreando Pass, each method offers a unique challenge and strategic depth. The art of passing the guard is not just about physical prowess; it encapsulates the essence of BJJ – a blend of technique, timing, and tactical acumen.

Understanding and mastering different guard passes equips practitioners with the tools to navigate through an opponent’s defenses, laying the groundwork for advanced strategies and successful engagements on the mat. This journey, however, is not without its challenges. Common pitfalls remind us that BJJ is a discipline where growth and improvement are constant, and every mistake is an opportunity for learning.

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the guard pass is more than a technique; it’s a metaphor for overcoming obstacles, both on the mat and in life. As you continue to train and refine your guard passing skills, remember that each session is a step towards not just being a better fighter, but a more adept and resilient individual. The world of BJJ guard passes is vast and rich with techniques waiting to be mastered, and the journey through it is as rewarding as it is challenging. So, embrace this journey with patience, persistence, and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, for that is the true essence of mastering the mat in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.


What are the basic principles of a successful guard pass in BJJ?

Successful guard passing in BJJ hinges on several key principles. Firstly, control and balance are crucial; maintain your balance while controlling your opponent’s hips and legs. Leverage and technique are more important than brute strength. Patience and timing are also essential, as hasty moves can lead to mistakes. Additionally, a deep understanding of different guard styles and adapting your approach accordingly is key.

How do you effectively perform a pressure pass in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

To effectively perform a pressure pass, start by establishing control over your opponent’s legs or hips. Use your body weight to apply constant pressure, making it difficult for them to move or counter. Gradually work to free your legs from their guard while maintaining this pressure. It’s important to stay patient and methodical, advancing your position steadily.

What are the key differences between a speed pass and a leg drag pass?

The speed pass, often known as the bullfighter pass, relies on quick movements and agility to bypass the opponent’s legs. In contrast, the leg drag pass involves controlling and dragging the opponent’s leg across your body, using a combination of pressure and positioning to pass the guard. While the speed pass is about rapid maneuvering, the leg drag pass focuses more on control and misdirection.

What techniques can overcome a strong butterfly guard in BJJ?

Overcoming a strong butterfly guard involves neutralizing the opponent’s hooks and controlling their legs or hips. Techniques like pinning the opponent’s legs to the mat, using pressure passes, or employing standing passes to disengage their hooks can be effective. It’s crucial to control the upper body as well, preventing them from sitting up or creating leverage.

How can a practitioner transition from a half guard pass to full control?

Transitioning from a half guard pass to full control involves a few key steps. First, secure control over the upper body to prevent the opponent from creating space. Work to free your trapped leg by applying pressure or using a knee slice motion. Once the leg is free, quickly transition to a dominant position such as side control or mount, maintaining tight control throughout.

What are the most effective no-gi guard passes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

In no-gi BJJ, effective guard passes often involve underhooks, body locks, and limb control. Passes like the double under, over-under, and leg drag can be very effective. These passes require a focus on body mechanics and leverage, as the lack of a gi removes many grip options.

How do you counter an opponent’s defense during a guard pass?

Countering an opponent’s defense during a guard pass requires adaptability and quick thinking. If an opponent is countering your pass, switch to a different type of pass or adjust your angle of attack. Feints and misdirection can also be useful in breaking through a strong defense.

How important is grip control in executing a successful guard pass?

Grip control is extremely important in executing a successful guard pass. Controlling the opponent’s legs, hips, or upper body with effective grips can dictate the success of a pass. In no-gi, this translates to controlling the limbs or body directly.

What common mistakes should practitioners avoid when passing the guard?

Common mistakes include over-relying on strength instead of technique, neglecting balance, being too predictable, and ignoring the opponent’s intentions or counters. Avoiding these pitfalls and focusing on skillful, adaptable techniques is key to effective guard passing.

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