Without pressure, there are no diamonds – The Fundamentals of Pressure Passing

In the realm of guard passing, pressure is king. The use of pressure to pass the guard is extremely effective and is seen at the highest level of competition, across all weight categories. The variety of body types across the weight classes means that the pressure approach comes in a variety of styles, but all are underpinned with a succinct number of key concepts and principles that tie them all together.

L1 – Long Range

L2 – Medium Range

L3 – Close Range

At CF24 Jiu Jitsu we categorise the different styles into 3 ranges and we have Systems to address all 3. The table above illustrates the 3 ranges with the red line indicating the position of the guard passers hips in each range:

L1 – Long range – Headquarters System

  • Top player is within the guard players’ long range/first lines of defence (shins and feet).

L 2 – Medium range – Over / Under System and Side Saddle System

  • Top player is within the guard players’ medium range/second line of defence (knees).

L3 – Close range – Ground Zero System

  • Top player is within the guard players’ close range/last lines of defence (hips and hands).

All the ranges outlined above follow a fundamental overarching concept – control of the inside space. The game plan is straight forward – you are aiming to unlock your opponents guard by overwhelming their lines of defence so that you can occupy the inside space. Each of the systems mentioned above are built around this strategy to break through your opponents’ defence, pitch your tent behind enemy lines and then shut down your opponents’ defences one by one. Each step you make forward, through the lines of defence, you claim more territory, bit by bit, until your opponent has no option other than to yield under the pressure. It is this enforced claustrophobia that makes pressure passing so effective, the experience for the guard player should feel like you (the guard passer) are an avalanche, unstoppably flowing from one system to the next as you pass through their lines of defence. For that avalanche effect you need to be able to seamlessly connect the systems in each of the 3 ranges, and for that an understanding of the underlying concepts and principles that tie each together is required.

Key Principles and Concepts

To understand the concepts and principles at play when pressure passing we first need to understand what we define as a concept and what we define as a principle. A concept is a simple to follow rule set/plan that enables the practitioner to understand key aspects of Jiu Jitsu. The concepts of Jiu Jitsu form the structure for the practitioners’ intentions during sparring. A principle is a fundamental truth that forms the foundation for any position, technique or system in Jiu Jitsu.

Box Theory

When discussing ‘inside space’ it is hard to find a better concept than the Box Theory.

Box Theory

Box Theory and the 45 degree principle

Damien Maia introduced the Box Theory in his excellent instructional series ‘Science of Jiu Jitsu’. This theory considers your opponents’ torso as a box (illustrated above with the green lines), with the shoulders and hips forming the 4 corners. Box theory dictates that in order to enact complete control of your opponent you need to control each of these four corners. The goal is to ensure that the four corners of the box remain immobile, whether that be through pinning them to the floor, elevating them off the floor or by any other means.  The Box Theory has a deeper underlying principle for effective retention of inside space control – The 45 Degree Principle. When considering the control of the inside space via the Box Theory, maximum control is realised when focussing the control to opposing corners of the ‘box’ (the diagram above illustrates an example of this with the red line connecting two opposing corners of the green box). If control is lost from these two corners, then your opponent can start to escape and even initiate their own attacks. So how can we use this in practice?

45-Degree Principle

 The 45-degree principle is accessible and easy to understand and is utilised by elite guard passers in all weight divisions. The steps required to enact the 45-degree principle are as follows:

Create an anchor (yellow arrow– The anchor is the first step to making the 45-degree principle work. For simplicity we can use the example in the image above with Marcelo Garcia playing the Ground Zero system (L3 – Close range). When in the Ground Zero you are pinning the near-side hip of your opponent with your knees and hip. By pinning their hip you essentially anchor one corner of your opponents ‘box’. This anchor point creates a very obvious and readable response from the guard player.  For the guard player to put up any semblance of an offence they will look to rotate their shoulders towards the side of the anchor point.  This follows the concept of posture – with shoulders and hip alignment required to enable efficient and powerful movements. Elite guard passers use this easy to predict reaction to ensure that the guard player can never achieve good posture, allowing them to pressure the position and pass.

Creating the anchor can come in many forms and its application is required through all phases of a passing sequence. Essentially to create the anchor you are looking to position your body in such a way that you immobilise one of your opponents’ joints.

Apply the 45 (red arrow) – Applying the 45 refers to the act of preventing rotation in your opponents’ hips or shoulders. As a rule, we always look to control our opponent at their joints. Using the datum of your opponents’ feet as the lowest point on their body, the area that you will be looking to prevent from rotating is located on the next joint up from the anchor point and on the opposing side to the anchor point. This can be seen in the image above with Marcelo applying the 45 (red arrow) to the farside shoulder, as he has created an anchor point (yellow arrow) on the nearside hip. This rotation prevention does two things depending on which range the anchor point has been created.

Applying the 45 in the different ranges

As you progress through the ranges it is important to recognise how the application of this step changes as the anchor point moves.

In the long and medium range, where the anchor point is on your opponents’ foot or knee, the goal is to prevent your opponent from gaining hip vision (hip vision is defined as the moment your opponents’ hips can ‘see’ you or the front of their hips are facing you). In this range you are utilising the principle of hip deflection. By preventing rotation of the hips towards the anchor point you simultaneously prevent hip vision and deflect the hip away from you. This process ensures that your opponent never gets an opportunity to form any sort of offence.

In the close range, the goal is to prevent the shoulder from turning towards the anchor point. Preventing rotation of the shoulders towards the anchored side ultimately keeps your opponents’ shoulders flat. This essentially creates a posture break as the shoulders and hips are out of alignment, and a ‘rinse’ in the spine is created. This ‘rinse’ weakens the movements of the guard player and nullifies their effective offensive options, allowing you to dominate the inside space and work your own attacks.

Applying the 45 to prevent rotation is the often overlooked element of pressure passing and is the real game changer for many people’s understanding of Jiu Jitsu as a whole. One of the most well-known applications of the rotation prevention within the 45-degree principle is the far side underhook. Something that all practitioners will have been taught as an important aspect of many techniques but not necessarily something that’s truly understood. So, it is true that underhooks are important but it’s just as important to understand why they are effective, that’s where the 45-degree principle comes in. The far side underhook is effective because it prevents rotation of your opponents’ shoulders, which ultimatley allows you to control your opponents posture and the inside space. There are many other options to achieve the rotation prevention such as: Invisible underhooks, Head Positioning, Arm pins, Mantis hooks, the pit hook, or any other action that abides by the 45 degree principle.

45-degree principle In Action

Let’s look at a couple of examples of the 45-degree principle in action

1 – Pablo Popovitch

Close range application of the 45-degree principle

The images above show multiple time ADCC Champion Pablo Popovitch using the Ground Zero system (Close Range) to pressure pass his opponent. Pablo is in the ‘Advantage’ position in both of these scenarios and has created an anchor point on the near side hip of his opponent. Having successfully created the anchor point he is applying the 45 to the farside shoulder of his opponent (the opposite corner of the ‘box’ / the corner at 45 degrees from the anchor point). Pablo uses this control to prevent his opponents’ shoulders from rotating towards the anchor point, allowing him to maintain inside space control.

2 – Gui Mendes 

Close range application of the 45 degree principle

Medium range transition to close range application of the 45 degree principle

Gui Mendes, was one of the best pressure passers in the game. The 4-time World Champion dominated his division for many years utilising the key concepts and principles of pressure passing. In the two scenarios shown above, Gui is creating the anchor using his shin across his opponents’ thigh with his knee in contact with his opponents’ hip. To prevent rotation in the shoulders he is utilising the invisible underhook (farside lapel passed behind opponents’ shoulders to his nearside hand). This posture break of his opponent allows him to control the inside space and pass the guard (or in Gui’s case set up the Baseball bat/brabo choke). During his competitive career Gui favoured the medium range Side Saddle System and used it to transition into the close range Ground Zero system predominantly with the knee-slide technique.

3 – Murilo Santana

Medium range application of the 45 degree principle

Here you can see Murilo Santana implementing his infamous over/under pass. This medium range system has the anchor point at his opponents’ knee. Murilo creates the anchor by controlling the knee with his legs. The rotation to control in this range is that of the next joint up from the anchor, the hips. Murilo applies the 45 by Tipping the Hip away from him using his over under grips and driving his weight at a 45-degree angle between the anchor point and rotation point. In this particular example Murilos’ opponent has connecting their feet together in an attempt to prevent Murilo from passing to the near side with the wind shield wiper step. This ‘defence’ opens up the guard players farside hip, Murilo can make use of this to Level Up to the next system, the Ground Zero. This levelling up will be covered in Part 2 where we cover the Climbing Concept but essentially the goal when progressing through the ranges is to create the anchor point on the next line of defence and apply the 45-degree principle accordingly from there.

 Summary and Further Learning

We deem this to be an area of extreme importance for everyone’s progression in Jiu Jitsu. Using the concepts approach to learning Jiu Jitsu is one method of accelerating your development. Concepts expose you to the threshold learning idea that once a student develops an understanding in one area, all proceeding understanding is more easily obtained and retained.

Now that you are armed with a new insight into the underlying principles at play during a guard passing exchange, it is time to delve into your own research. If used correctly YouTube can be a great resource for this. Concentrate your research on high level matches with the following athletes – Roger Gracie, Marcelo Garcia, Rodlfo Viera, Lucas Lepri, Murilo Santana and Gui Mendes. The athletes mentioned cover nearly all weight categories and a good mix of body types. These athletes are all elite guard passers, that all favour pressure passing. Look for the moments when the 45-degree principle is in play and see how that correlates to successfully passing the guard. Here is one of our favourite examples to get you started – This match is between Marcelo Garcia and Leo Viera in the final of the 2011 ADCC. Marcelo uses the Ground Zero system and the 45-degree principle to dominate top position before passing and eventually finishing with a triangle.

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In our next post we will go into detail about the Climbing Concept. The Climbing Concept binds the 3 ranges together and sets out the rule set to follow to seamlessly transition from one layer of your opponents’ guard to the next.