Eddie Bravo made a nice point in an interview with the folks over at BloodyKnux.com. Asked what beginners in jiu jitsu ought to focus on in the beginning, Bravo was certainly talking his book. But you can't deny the point:
TH: What is the most important position to master in Jiu-Jitsu in your opinion? Guard, mount , pass guard or side mount?
EB: All are important but mastering the guard first is most important to me. When you have a good guard you don’t mind being on your back and then your whole game flourishes. A lot of people won't bother mounting from side control because they are afraid of getting rolled. It is very easy to get rolled from the mount in the beginning when your mount isn’t good. A lot of people just stay in and work from side control. Its not as powerful as the mount but it seems like it because you have less risk of being rolled than from the mount. So once you get your guard together you’ll be able to improve your mount because if you get bucked off from the mount like you do when starting JJ, you’ll end up in your guard and will feel comfortable in that position.
I still don't like the idea of getting reversed. After all, a reversal costs points in a tournament setting. But I do think that mastering the guard would help a guy like me who still has a strong wrestling bias to begin to think of himself as a jiu jitsu fighter instead. Patience, defense, and using the opponent against himself are the hallmarks of jiu jitsu as far as I'm concerned. And all of those traits are further developed by focusing on the guard game.
A large part of this is being willing to take more risks in sparring. That's another thing Rodrigo has been exhorting us to do. "Better try it here than in a tournament." He couldn't be more right about that. Too many times when I've got someone in my guard, I just freeze up and try to maintain the closed guard uber alles, without aggressively trying a sweep or even a submission. That has got to stop.
I should pick a few closed guard sweeps--the scissors sweep that Joe (the White) uses so well will probably be one of them--and just keep working them the same way I've been working guard passes. My guard pass game isn't first-rate. But it is a lot better since I started focusing on getting tightly into the guard, securing good hand position, and standing up to pass (or, using the Saulo Ribeiro ground pass). So let's pick two more sweeps and start working them in 2006!
I like the "omoplata sweep" that I hit a little while ago when rolling with Arnell. Certainly if the guy stands up in my guard and doesn't move quickly to pass then I can catch guys with that sweep. I've got a "feel" for it, I think. So I don't want to include it in the "three sweeps for 2006" that I'm thinking about.
That's the main goal: improve my guard game. Work both closed and open guards. Work the spider guard. Work the butterfly and X-guards when things get dicey. But keep moving. There are at least four different guards--I need to make sure to spend at least a little time in each one every single night that I'm on the mat.