Guard Passing Will Save Your Knees
The question that divides our BJJ Community:
Are you Team Take Down? OR Team Guard Pull?
There are many opinions and view-points on which is superior as a strategy, a philosophy and also a style of competing.The point of this discussion is to understand which is better for your knees?
We will break each side down into its major bio-mechanical parts and movements to give you the right approach to returning from injury and also how best to manage your training when working around a knee that isn’t 100%.
The chance of injury in either position is more or less equal depending on the nature of your game and how prepared your body is for the stress of rolling. If you have strong tendons, ligaments and muscles you are less likely to suffer an injury but the dynamic nature of BJJ means no one is immune.
There are two kinds of kinetic chain exercises: open and closed. In open kinetic chain exercises, the segment furthest away from the body — known as the distal aspect, usually the hand or foot — is free and not fixed to an object. In a closed chain exercise, it is fixed, or stationary.
Let’s look more closely at each position.
Playing Guard: Being on your back with your feet in the air, makes them mostly OPEN CHAIN movement sequences.
Playing Top Game: When passing guard your feet are mostly based on the ground making it mainly a series of CLOSED CHAIN movements.
There are exceptions to each of these statements eg. Passing in a floating style with your hands based on the ground and your legs elevated to leg pummel making it an open chain set of movements. Then there is closed guard and Z-guard, both of which can definitely be classified as a closed chain positions.
The major down side of playing guard with an injuries or limited function at the knee joint, is your foot isn’t based on the ground this make the knee joint less stable and much more susceptible to injury.
The upside of passing guard is that your foot is planted on the ground, your toes grip the ground, the arch of your foot sets and your calf muscles, quadriceps and hamstrings all engage to stabilise the knee joint.
There are clearly muscle co-contractions that make the knee stable when playing Guard but certain position like Lasso, 50/ 50 and Dela Riva all put the knee under intense torque and load while in vulnerable situations.
The other major factor is how controlled and experience are your training partners. If you have a knee injury you should only train/ drill with partners that you fully trust.
If you have spent most of your time playing guard this is my strong recommendation for you to start to learn how to pass and play from the top.The more time spent balancing and developing your proprioception around your knee will only help with knee stability.
Once your knees are fully rehabilitated, feeling healthy and strong then feel free to get back to your Berimbolo ways. In the mean time work your passing game in conjunction with your rehab and your knees will thank you!
Academy: Garage BJJ Wollongong
Started Bjj: 2019
Rank: White Belt
How did you discover/ start BJJ? Through my sons (8 and 13 year olds and training at Garage Jiu-Jitsu, Wollongong) and Sam Harris.
Have you had any martial arts training/ sporting experience before bjj? I love sport, but zero martial arts prior to starting BJJ. In my youth it was mostly all about ball sports (soccer, cricket, tennis, squash, golf, rugby). I’ve surfed all my life and I love mountain biking too.
Have you had any major injuries or set backs ? I’ve been pretty lucky really, with no major injuries to speak of. I have a very long list of minor injuries: cracked ribs, cranked neck, pulled hamstrings, rolled ankles, lacerations, black eyes, fat lips, bleeding ears, broken larynx, broken nose, AC joint sprains.
How has the bulletproof for BJJ program helped you? I’m 45 years old and my joints ain't what they used to be. It felt like, without a strength and mobility program, over time I’d develop a whole pile of minor injuries, sprains and strains because my body was simply not up to the demands that I was placing on it. The Bulletproof program has achieved a beautifully simple balance between squeezing a little bit of extremely effective, targeted training in off the mats to keep you on the mats for longer.
Narrative history: I can’t believe I used to feel sorry for myself, crawling around on the floor with my two baby sons. What an idiot! What an opportunity missed! Back then, I would not have believed that a respectable group of adults in our society were rolling around on the floor for fun! And yet, I had heard of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu through the Sam Harris podcast, Making Sense. I really had no idea what he was talking about - ‘pleasurable drowning, empowerment through learning to escape the traps that your partner sets for you, etc’.
Seven years later, my son started lessons at Garage Jiu-Jitsu Wollongong, under instructor Ryan Walsh. Curious to learn more about what Sam was talking about, I go and take a peep. A little shocked and confused, I find adults locked together on the floor like a bunch of walruses, trying to kill one another. Small women effortlessly dominating much larger men, stranglings even. And yet, there was no denying it - these people were quite obviously having the time of their lives! With a great degree of fear and knowing full well that others would say ‘oh, he’s just having a midlife crisis, it will pass’, I signed up at Garage, and I have been going every week for almost 3 years now. I’m a very proud white belt. Slow and enjoyable progression is my motto.
Turns out Sam Harris was right: deep water, not knowing how to swim...tick, a powerful lens through which we can view some primary human concerns....tick,, a return to child-like humility...tick, willing to court injury....tick. It's this last one that brought me to Bulletproof for BJJ. While some injuries are, unfortunately, unavoidable, others aren’t. Strength and mobility are the quintessential risk management device leading to longevity on the mats, especially at my age. Strangely, I now seem to be developing a passion for lifting kettlebells and performing pistol squats. I’m all about injury prevention more than becoming a savage on the mats. That said, I do enjoy a smidgen of savagery every now and then (apparently it’s perfectly ok, in small, controlled doses). If this is what a mid-life crisis looks like, I just hope this crisis continues for a very, very long time!