When you first start out all guards are new. Nothing will work great, but some will work better than others. Over time, this is the guard you will spend most of your time using. This is partially because it will be the most rewarding, but also because it will be the guard you are best able to get to and maintain. The process becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophesy: you’re good at the guard you’re good at because you’re good at it!
This is how I developed my guard game until very recently. My closed guard and a sort of bastardized collar and sleeve open guard represented about 90% of my guard skill. But then I saw shin to shin and I knew I wanted more from my guard.
The choice to not branch out earlier had always been an easy one. Spider guard was too hard on my fingers and I’ve got short legs anyway. De la Riva makes my knee feel uncomfortable. Butterfly felt too much like work to implement. Half-guard always felt like I was asking my partner to do their best to flatten my head with a cross-face. Sit-up guard is a lot like half-guard…except you end up with a knee on your chest before they cross-face you.
Branch out? Nah. I’ll pass.
Then Sam Joseph, my instructor, showed me shin to shin and explained that its provides the control of sit-up guard without having to accept the inevitable pressure that accompanies sit-up guard. Color me interested.
Sam taught an entry and two sweeps from shin to shin. This was enough for me to start with.
In a very happy coincidence Ben Forte, the president of the Georgia State University BJJ club, showed a couple more sweeps from shin to shin. I was hooked. At least for a couple months.
For a brief time I found the position quite effective…but as is the case with every new move my training partners adapted. I did what I could to keep my shin to shin game progressing, but the reality is there wasn’t much information available online.
BJJ Scout’s excellent examination of Michelle Nicolini’s guard was (and still is) the best resource I was able to find on using shin to shin.
Where Nicolini was able to find ongoing success with shin to shin, I was not. But I wanted it to work. It felt right. It felt natural. I just didn’t know enough for it to be successful, yet.
Last weekend Atlanta received more than two inches of snow. This meant that much of the city was shut down (Atlanta doesn’t really ‘do’ snow)…including my BJJ school. After missing my Friday class due to the weather I was eager to train on Saturday – but shock and horror! Thirty minutes before leaving for class I read online that the power was out at the academy! We tried to talk Sam into opening anyway…but he remained resolute (maybe something to do with the fact that the inside of the academy was hovering around freezing.) and classes were canceled again.
Well, my gi was already packed, my water bottle already filled – I was going to find somewhere to train.
A couple minutes spent searching online revealed that I’d be able to make it to the noon class at a nearby gym. So by 11:45 I found myself standing in an unfamiliar gym with a fellow training partner (who had actually made it to our gym and thus received the hard news when he encountered a locked door and hand written note) signing a waiver and paying the mat fee.
The gym’s receptionist informed us that we shouldn’t expect many people, because he had been instructed to post on their Facebook page that classes were cancelled. Four people, myself and my friend included, showed up for class. A black belt, a brown belt, a purple belt, and a blue belt (quite a spectrum!).
And then the magical words were spoken:
What do you guys want to learn?”
Shin to shin was my answer. And the following hour was spent on how to deal with the problems I had been having with shin to shin. The most important concept was to not expect to remain in shin to shin forever. Its a transitionary position, leading either to a sweep or a different guard. It transitions well to two guards in particular: singled leg x-guard and x-guard.
During the rolls that followed my single-leg x-guard sweeps were critiqued and suggestions were offered for improvement.
For months my shin to shin game has progressed hardly at all, but in the span of an afternoon I learned how to incorporate it into my game more thoroughly. In rolls since that time I have found myself to be far more effective when I can move between shin to shin and single-leg x.
The process is far from over. My single-leg x is only decent and my x-guard is rudimentary at best. Far from bad news, this means I know where to focus my efforts. I know where to go next.