The inverted guard. A guard that has been the subject of more than a little controversy with one side deriding the pure ‘sport only’ aspect of the guard while others seeing it as an evolution of the sport, often with the claim that no BJJ practitioner would actually attempt the inverted guard in the oft-quoted ‘street situation’. This sport, street, and self-defense argument fervently continues (mainly on the Internet, of course) and is unlikely to be definitively resolved anytime soon. Fortunately, that is not the intent of this article, in this article; we will be taking a look at the development of the inverted guard and its use in grappling today.
Before that, let’s take a look at the match that is most brought up when people argue that the inverted guard is, in short, totally ridiculous.
First, let us clarify the differences between the inverted guard and the inversion as a movement itself. While the inverted guard itself is quite rare, even among prolific guard players, the inversion as a movement is common place as it is often used for guard retention as well as various sweeps and submission attacks (especially leg attacks). A person without the skill to invert quickly and correctly is unlikely to have a very effective open guard, and the inversion could be argued to be a fundamental guard skill today.
When talking about the inversion position as a guard in and of itself however, the development is likely to have begun from Roberto ‘Roleta’ Magalhaes, who used it very effectively in many tournaments throughout the 90s, with a notable last second sweep victory over Wallid Ismail in the 1996 Mundials semi-finals, which Roleta would go on to win.
The next grappling standout to bring the inverted guard back into popularity after Roleta gradually retired from competition was none other than Ryan Hall. Hall was particularly well known for his extreme flexibility and triangle skills, which he used to dominate the lower belt divisions. One of his favorite triangle set ups was from the inverted guard, and as he became more and more popular in North America (particularly due to marketing efforts by Lloyd Irvin, who was his coach at that time), the inverted guard too started to be used more and more amongst local competitors.
While Ryan Hall was actively competing in America, down south in Brazil, Roberto ‘Cyborg’ Abreu was also dominating numerous competitions with the inverted guard, which he called the ‘tornado guard’. What was noticeably different was that Cyborg only entered the tornado guard from half guard, meaning that one of his legs was already under the opponent’s hips, which he used to elevate and sweep, with his free leg giving him momentum.
What makes the inverted guard so challenging to pass is the fact that the guard player’s hips are entirely elevated making them hard to control. However, as BJJ progressed into the late 2000s and the leg drag pass began to gain popularity, mainly due to the Mendes brothers, the leg drag became the highest percentage way to pass the inverted guard.
Today, the inverted guard is still relatively rare in competition, and even in most cases where it seen the guard player typically only hangs out in that position for a short amount of time before recomposing back to a more ‘regular’ guard. However, the inversion as a move is extremely commonplace as many modern guard sweeps and attacks such as the berimbolo and the ‘kiss of the dragon’ (spin-under sweep from Reverse De La Riva) require the practitioner to be adept at this movement. Even barring such attacks, inversion is almost a requirement nowadays for having good guard retention abilities.