The BJJ Z-Guard is arguably the most famous guard variation used today. People of all levels are playing it and everyone seems to be having success with it. The position as such is nothing revolutionary, but it seems that it is more effective against the modern game than virtually any other. What is that the BJJ Z-Guard offers exactly, to be so superior? How come this so basic knee shield half guard works in both GI and No-Gi? ISn’t it too simple to work at the highest level? We’ll answer all these questions today, and get to the bottom of the reason the Z-guard is such a popular jIu-Jitsu guard nowadays.
When it comes to playing guard in BJJ, people simply love to overcomplicate things. On top of that, everyone wants to be just as effective from every guard position there is. Suffice to say, this is pointless and unattainable. The closer you go to fundamentals, the more successful you’ll be. The BJJ Z-Guard is a standing indictment of this. Just take a look at all the star level grapplers that are crushing with it, like Craig Jones and Bernardo Faria among many others! This guard is so widespread precisely because it is so fundamental! To be honest, working an effective guard without needing super strength or crazy flexibility is a real relief in modern Jiu-Jitsu. I’m all for it!
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Just Another Half Guard?
In essence, the BJJ Z-Guard is just a half guard variation. We already know that the half guard is one of the most effective ways to attack from the bottom. In my eyes, the half guard trumps both open guard variations as well as the BJJ closed guard.
The reason I favor the half guard is that it provides a lot of safety, mobility and offensive options at the same time. Open guards allow for a lot more mobility, and even offensive options, to be honest. However, they lack a solid defensive structure. This makes them great for young, flexible and mobile grapplers, but not so much for the rest of us.
The closed guard, on the other hand, is defensively superior but very short on mobility. There’s no real lack of attacks, but the lack of mobility limits their number as well. The half guard, along with most of its variations, bridges this particular gap easily, by offering everything you’d want from a bottom position. And the Z-Guard is the pinnacle of half guard variations, at least for now.
There’s one more crucial aspect of the half guard that’s uniquely specific to this position. The way in which you’re set up as you both on the inside (between the legs of the opponent) and the outside. This means that you’re in a prime position to easily go into any other guard variation, closed or open, whenever you want to. Moreover, you can always get back to the half guard at all times. The half guard is the king of fundamentals, and it the Z-guard is it’s cutting edge.
The BJJ Z-Guard Secret
What the BJJ Z-guard brings to the table is literally a safe spot to start your complete game from. You can start as easily as standing, by pulling half guard and going straight into the Z-guard. The one main difference that sets this guard aside from other half guard variations is the “knee shield”. Actually, this is the name we knew this guard by for a long time. It is also the main secret behind the success and popularity of the BJJ Z-Guard.
That knee shield is arguably the most powerful frame in JIu-Jitsu and the main reason behind the guard’s success. Yes, it sounds painfully obvious, but try to play the Z-guard with your knee an inch to either side, and you’ll realize that the correct frame makes or breaks the guard. A part of the half guard’s success was always due to the fact that it gets you under the opponent. This gave birth to the underhook, which eventually lost its effectiveness as a result of the modern front headlock game. Enter The Z-guard.
Another aspect of the Z-guard is the fact that you can not only stay mobile, defense and attack, but also control distance. This is what all other half guard variations lack. Once again, it comes down to the knee, or rather, shin placement, and the opportunity such positioning brings. Speaking of opportunities, let’s look at just some of the possibilities you have from the Z-guard. Just remember that it is all about that shin position!
An Overview Of Options
With the BJJ Z-guard, it is hard to pick a place to start from. SImply getting to the position itself feels like a threat to people on top. Yes, certain passes exist but passing means the opponent opens up for attacks that much more. Plus, guard retention and recovery is a breeze, given that you’ve got inside position and distance control. For now, however, let’s look at attacking.
Attacking from the Z-guard sis no different in essence from attacking form any other bottom position, You either want on top or to get a submission, The sneakier the submission, the better. Well, the Z-guard reigns supreme here. Working from it in the Gi offers so many weapons your greatest problem is going to be choosing ho to finish an opponent. No-GI? No problem! The lack of lapels does not reduce the attacking options, nor the guards basic dynamic.
Getting a sweep from the BJJ Z-Guard is almost half done just by getting to the guard. The shin across the belly/chest, plus a couple of solid grips means you’re halfway through a scissor sweep already. But the scissor sweep doesn’t work at black belt level! Check out some of Craig Jones’ matches for clear evidence to the contrary. We’re talking fundamentals here, remember? The simpler the better, and a scissor sweep from the Z-guard is as simple and efficient as it gets.
Another extremely basic sweep you can do is a half guard rollover sweep. This one is not just easy to get but also works as a continuation to the scissor sweep. For the scissor, you want distance and grips on the sleeve (cross grip) and the pants. For the rollover, you’ll use the same two grips, only this time, in a different direction. This time, you’ll send the opponent to flying in the opposite direction. All you need to do is get their torso past your shield and they’ll be ready to roll!
There are a lot more sweeping options that include going in every possible direction. This is not an article on Z-Guard sweeps, however, but rather one on its effectiveness. So we’ll keep it short and basic and provide you some fundamental sweeping ideas to play with the next time you hit the mats.
Once again, we’ll keep things sweet and simple. On offer today we have an arm lock, a leg lock, and a choke. Our top strangle option from the BJJ Z-guard is the loop choke. One reason is that it takes just a nominal effort to get it in place. Another is that it works great off an initial threat with the scissor/rollover sweeps. Whenever you tilt your opponent to the side, you can think about hitting a loop choke, regardless of your initial success with the sweep. SImply use a collar grip when starting the sweep and the opponent’s neck is going to get in place pretty much on its own.
Another option that ties in great with both fundamental sweet, as well as the loop choke, is the Kimura. The Kimura from Z-Guard works much better than the regular half guard one because of the distance. Her, the opponent can’t go towards you because fo the knee shield and they can’t pull back because of the figure four grip. So whenever you see the arm on the floor, you know what to do!
Finally a leg lock option for those that just can’t live without them. When nothing else seems to work, f#*^ it and go for a leg lock. From the BJJ Z-guard, getting an underhook on the free leg, means you have a pivot point to rotate around. This means you can kneebar that same leg just by swinging the knee shield leg over and doing a Granby. Oh, and there’s a heel hook there as well.
The BJJ Z-Guard is a popular choice among top grapplers because it is simple and very hard to beat. The attacks from there are so fundamental, that people underestimate them, and the guard as a whole. This gives you a huge edge over everyone you grapple against. Just remember to keep things basic and go slow. After all, there’s no guard you’re safe from while attacking apart from the Z-guard! Time to give it a try once again now and leave the berimobolos and lapels guards to others.