Phases of Guard

Guard has three distinct phases: engagement, maintenance, and retention. Know the right strategy for each.

Understanding how to properly retain and offensively use your guard requires an understanding of the three phases of guard. Knowing which phase of guard you are in will give you a clear idea of your goals when playing the bottom position. There are three phases of guard that can be easily classified:

  1. Engagement, where contact is made
  2. Maintenance, where you are “in” guard as it’s normally thought of
  3. Retention, where you are preventing your guard from being passed.

#1: The engagement phase

This is first guard phase and is where contact with your opponent is made. Usually two opponents are trying to get grips and look to hand fight so they can enter the next phase of guard on their terms. This is crucial to becoming successful in BJJ competition and to be efficient with energy, regardless of fighting from the top or bottom positions.

Many schools neglect the importance of the engagement phase, and their students often lack this critical concept. This results in the student getting their guard passed easily, and a feeling of always playing on the defense. If you can always win the engagement phase, your ability to manage distance and set up your attacks will always have a solid foundation.

#2: The maintenance phase

This is the second phase of guard, and it takes place once contact has been established between opponents. There can be many variations of guards, employing various mechanisms to manage distance. To have a guard, you must have your legs in a position to frame, manipulate levers, manage distance, or clamp onto your opponent’s legs or torso.

#3: The retention phase

In the third phase of guard, the retention phase, your guard has essentially been passed. This is a critical time where your opponent has occupied the space between your elbows and legs with a lever or their torso. This is a critical time in competition because your opponent will be given points if they achieve this position for a few seconds. Understanding how to prevent this phase of guard by breaking your opponent’s alignment and managing distance is essentially for consistent guard retention.