Lapel guards have been a problem since the conception of BJJ. The Gi is a powerful weapon to use against your opponent. There is a multitude of chokes and positions available through Gi manipulation. A unique trait of BJJ is using the opponent’s Gi against them by trapping them with lapels. The lasso guard reigned supreme amongst the lapel wrapping guards for competition. However, lately, another guard has taken over the mantle of most annoying guard to pass. Que the notorious and verry annoying, worm guard.
Ask any BJJ practitioner and they’ll tell you how much they despise the worm guard. It is an evolutionary product of the seated half guard, made more secure with the use of the lapel. It is a guard that surfaced in 2014, thanks to BJJ World Champion Keenan Cornelius. Keenan has utilized the worm guard in many of his matches successfully. Other notable BJJ World Champions like Joao Miyao and Rafael Mendes, soon followed suit.
Why Is The Worm Guard So Effective?
In order to deal with this very annoying guard, you first need to understand it.The worm guard is a grappling position developed by Atos Team’s Keenan Cornelius. It is a variation of the lapel guard, which enables you to control your opponent by manipulating their own lapel. In the worm guard, you wrap the opponent’s leg with their own lapels. The guard player’s foot is usually past the opponent’s hip. This little maneuver makes it difficult for the opponent posture up while making it easier for you to sweep them.
The leverage created by this control severely restricts the movement of the passer, as well as their ability to put pressure on the bottom grappler. This way, a variety of sweeps, reversals and back takes open up for the bottom player. Because of this, passing the worm guard has proven to be a tough challenge for most BJJ students.
Want to see Keenan deal with an internet troll? Here you go: https://bjj-world.com/keenan-cornelius-confronts-internet-troll-baseball-bat-best-bjj-commercial-ever/
Dealing With The Worm Guard
So, let’s say that you’ve been caught in the Worm Guard by an enthusiastic early adopter of this position at your club. We’ll look at a few concepts that’ll allow you to control the situation and make your opponent think twice about using it on you again.
BJJ World Champion Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida figured out a great way to shut down Keenan’s worm guard. Buchecha’s concept is based on removing the main tool of the worm guard – the lapel. Throughout the match, Buchecha focused on breaking the lapel grips. Lapel grips make the worm guard work, and they’re an essential component in completing any technique from the worm guard. Eventually, he did pass Keenan’s guard and won the match. Breaking the lapel grips will break the opponent’s complete worm guard game.
Just like Keenan Cornelius, Miyao is known for his worm guard prowess. When he faced Bruno Malfacine, however, Miyao’s worm guard hit an obstacle. Malfacine’s base is elite level and he used it to effectively prevent Miyao from sweeping him. Not even the De la Riva hook could make any difference. Malfacine remained in a squatting position, making it difficult for Miyao to create any space for a sweep.
Due to the guard structure, it is very easy to go for a sweep from the position. This is mainly because of the space that exists to insert leg hooks and grab the lapel. By closing all the gaps possible, you’ll leave very little room for the lapel to be fed, effectively preventing the guard.
Whenever you’re passing the open guard, remember to keep your arms and knees close to your body. This prevents your opponent from attacking a limb and submitting you. Better yet, check out Rickson’s guard passing strategies: https://bjj-world.com/rickson-gracie-closed-guard-pass-arm-stack-pass/
Smashing The Worm Guard
Having good posture, regardless of which guard you are passing, is essential in BJJ. The minute your posture is broken, it will be easier for your opponent to attack. This is especially true for any lapel guard.
Arguably the world’s greatest guard passer, Rodolfo Vieira showed zero respect for Braulio Estima’s lapel game. Granted, Estima did not use the worm guard, but he did use a very similar lapel guard. The concepts Vieira uses to pass his guard easily apply to the worm guard as well. Throughout the match, Vieira keeps his posture rock solid, making it difficult for Estima to maintain the lapel grip and attack.
Now that we’ve established that grip breaking, base and staying tight will keep you safe, let’s see how to smash the worm guard. Leandro Lo has one of the best passing games in the game today. Lo also came up against Keenan Cornelius and his worm guard. Actually, Lo and Keenan met up twice in a short period of time. In the first match, Keenan’s lapel game proved to be too much for Leandro.
In their second match, though, Lo uses the cross-face to pressure Keenan into releasing the guard. As you can see, Leandro steps over the De la Riva leg, forcing a switch from the worm guard to a half guard, a much easier guard to pass.
Remember, in BJJ, you must stay 2-3 moves ahead of your opponent. If you are up against a difficult opponent, you must anticipate that your first attack wouldn’t work. Therefore, thinking about counters is going to allow you to prevent surprises and play your game.
A Few More Technical Tips
Apart from a concept-based approach, there are also specialized techniques available for passing the worm guard. These moves have been developed by top-class black belts like Rodolfo Vieira to counter and dismantle annoying lapel guards when they arise.
As always, the key to making these tips part of your repertoire is constant drilling. When you feel confident with these techniques, you can slowly apply them during sparring until they become second nature.
Here, Isaac Doederlein explains a great way to not only combat the tie-up, but he also shows how you can take the back from there.
A passing article wouldn’t be complete without 4 x BJJ World Champion and 6 x World Cup Champion Rodolfo Vieira. Here’s his side smash pass to destroy the worm guard: