How to Defend the Toreando "Bullfighter" Guard Pass in BJJ

Updated on April 2, 2020
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Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.

Toreando Tales

The toreando (or "bullfight" guard pass) is one of the all-time classics, and it continues to be used at all levels of jiu-jitsu today. It is therefore important to have a comprehensive, systematic way to deal with the pass. While this tutorial itself involves some fundamental guard-pass prevention concepts, it's much more specific to this particular pass, and we'll go over some dynamic ways to control the grip here.

This pass typically begins with your partner grabbing the inside of both of your knees, although many different variations exist on gripping philosophy and strategy. Starting with this as a baseline, when the person grabs your knees to start pinning them, you had better be sitting up right away.

A good rule of thumb is that if your feet are in the air, you should be making a "chair sit" position, balling up, but as soon as your feet hit the floor, your back needs to be off the mat. This is largely so that you can bring your arms into the equation, either to frame or to strip the grips. Here, as your partner brings your knees toward them, sit up and grab their sleeves.

The good thing about this pass is that they're going to grab more or less in the same place each time (again, infinite variations abound, but use the most common situations as a start). Among the simplest ways to deal with the grip is to simply kick your feet out at a 45-degree angle, straightening your legs as you do this, and also turning your wrist up so that the tension is tighter.

Elbow Control

This method is very, very effective against even the strongest of grips. If the simple grip-strip method above fails (or if you think it's going to fail), this is a viable next choice. As you sit up (this principle will always apply—sit up when they pull you forward!), this time, hug both arms around their gripping hands, making sure to find their wrists inside your own elbows, as you recreate a scene from I Dream of Jeanie. As you pull their arms toward you, try flaring your knees out simultaneously, making the grip break a snap.

  • Note: this is considerably more powerful than the one-armed grip strip we started with, and there are some good options to off-balance your partner from here, although having both sleeves under control is always ideal.

Elbow Redirects

Another really good way to deal with the unbreakable grip is to sit up and redirect your partner's elbows. As you are forced (once again) to sit up to deal with your partner's guard pass, find their elbows with your hands. Make a "C" grip, and use your fingers around your partner's triceps area to connect with them. As your partner tries to pass one direction, simply lift the opposite elbow up while bringing the near-side elbow in close to you. This will operate like a steering wheel, forcing your partner to start doing a slow-motion face plant into the ground.

Most likely, they're going to let go of your legs so that they can address the impending face plant doom, but it's also possible that they'll simply come back to the center and stop that particular guard pass attempt. Once you've stabilized the position, you might consider trying one of the grip breaks outlined above.

Which is tougher to deal with?

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Survival is where it's at! If you haven't already considered brushing up on your guard maintenance skills, now is almost certainly a great time to do so. If you lose the grip battle entirely, it's going to be time to recover guard one way or another.

The toreando itself, while it has gone through some evolutionary steps, remains effectively the same initial grip fight it has been for the last 20 years: a battle for inside space control. The two grip strips addressed here, coupled with the elbow redirection concept, can help you survive this initial struggle, get back on track, and sweep or submit your opponent in short order. First, though, you have to survive.

© 2017 Andrew Smith


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