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How to Turn Away Safely to Turtle and Recover Guard: A BJJ Tutorial

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

Turtle isn't your enemy; it's a good friend in some circumstances, and it's really just a transitional tool to recover guard or get on top.

Turtle isn't your enemy; it's a good friend in some circumstances, and it's really just a transitional tool to recover guard or get on top.

Adding Another Dimension to Pass Prevention

Being able to turn away from the guard pass was one of those "aha" moments for me about 10 years ago when I realized that your guard isn't necessarily passed just because you hit your knees during a pass. However, there are considerable complications that need to be taken into consideration.

It's the combination and flow between guard maintenance and defenses from the turtle position that makes this powerful and effective maneuver actually work for you. Here are a few key details on turning away to survive the guard pass, and then on getting back to guard.

The Initial Turn Away

So why turn away? While turtling certainly shouldn't be the first line of defense against a guard pass (see Guard Maintenance Drills for your first line of defense from the outside pass), it is sometimes a necessity against a very savvy guard passer. In this first video, Daniel is passing my guard with an X-pass against my reverse De La Riva guard, but similar situations could arise from many different types of passing.

During the very first part of the turn away, the absolute most important detail is not to allow your partner to underhook your arm as you attempt to turtle. If this happens, you can bank on your partner getting your back for sure (or establishing top side control). My arm is hidden inside of my thigh in this case, making a "harness" back control all but impossible. I'm using my right foot to build my base up so that I can get to my knees safely while defending my neck with my free (non-hidden) arm.

Simple Option: The Sit-In

By far the simplest (and laziest!) option from the turtle position is to simply turn in to your partner and sit. While this is relatively easy to conceptualize, as usual, there are more details to consider. First and foremost, the same arm that you avoided having hooked while initially turning away must be jealously guarded once again, lest you give up a Kimura or harness grip (leading to a back take). Next up, you need to post forward with your right elbow so that you can turn in and sit, but if you allow your elbow to separate from your knee (remember, your knee is protecting your elbow here), you're going to give up your back or arm.

The solution? Slide your elbow and knee forward simultaneously, and then sit to guard. Be ready with defensive frames right away! In the second sit-in video, you can really see how my right elbow stays inside of my right knee the entire time. Having a healthy respect for your partner's ability to attack is a must!

Option B: The "Flamethrower" Spin Back to Guard

Another excellent option from the turtle is to turn away (again, focused 100% on keeping your far elbow inside your thigh), and then open up your hips to spin back to guard. This is most easily accomplished if you can build up your far (right) leg as a "tent pole" to support your opponent's weight, making sure your hips can go up high in the air. Now, you're essentially doing a rolling breakfall over your left shoulder, looking away the entire time, until you spin back through to a "double unders" type of guard. From here, the idea is to drop your hips to the ground right away.

If you miss the chance to drop your hips, you might consider trying to set up a triangle from double unders. If you get really smooth with the roll, you can try putting the turn away and the roll together into one move, as shown in alternative side control escapes.

Wrapping Up

As always, when I figure something out that is a fundamental game-changer, I get really excited by it, and this last decade for me has been no exception, particularly as I get a little bit older. Turtle isn't your enemy; it's a good friend in some circumstances, and it's really just a transitional tool to recover guard or get on top. Play with both basic options along with the original turning away motion, and please let me know how the movements work out for you!

© 2015 Andrew Smith