Over his jiu-jitsu career, Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes has shown the world that he is one of the top featherweights around. In the 2011 Abu Dhabi World Pro and 2012 World Nogi Championships he went head-to-head with some of the most masterful guard players in the world – namely Rafael Mendes and Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles – and came out on top. This naturally qualified Tanquinho, meaning ‘little tank” in Portuguese, as the perfect athlete to discuss how one can develop a strong guard-passing skillset.
Although, Tanquinho has shown his prowess in dealing with complicated guards, he in fact has no preference as to where he plays his jiu-jitsu game; his top game and bottom game are equally developed.
“It all depends on what my strategy is for the match. In training I work on all of the possible situations and I like to feel ready to play on the top or the bottom. So, I feel like I have a versatile game and I can play on the bottom in one match and in the next round, switch it up and stay on top. I decide what I will do depending on who I am fighting.”
For Tanquinho, guard passing is a test of patience and focus. The slightest mistake could cost you your top position.
“If you lose your mind and get frustrated with someone’s guard, you will probably get swept. I try to keep calm and think of a way to control the fight, like trying to pass the guard instead of just defending – but flexible guards are always hard to pass, especially when the person is both stronger and more flexible!”
Although people often like to jump guard, in most cases when you are passing, chances are that you have already scored points earlier on a takedown. Tanquinho chooses his strategy depending on where the points stand.
“I think you need to impose your game first and be able to put your strategy to work, because when you face an aggressive guard-player who loves open guard, you usually score the first points with a takedown or a sweep. The other guy will be losing the match and sometimes he will start to get worried and frustrated, because now he doesn’t have too much time to work his technique – he will make a lot of mistakes.”
This is one of Tanquinho’s main strategies, and he recommends that the best way to prepare for difficult guards is to choose two to three completely different guard passes per session in order to be prepared for as many different situations as possible.
However, there is a more elusive factor to guard passing that is much harder to develop, which is the proper use of balance.
“It’s hard to perform drills to develop balance. Drilling is more to gain the technique of the position. To improve or develop your balance you need to work two things in my opinion: firstly, work on isometrics, like squats with one leg and staying low, and secondly, try not to accept getting swept in training. I know sometimes it is impossible, but when your mind is trained to not accept a position, you will see how you can defend the sweeps more often.”
After discussing both ways of drilling technique and balance, Tanquinho leaves us with one more thoughtful tip;
“I think some good advice is to keep calm and try to control the action of the fight – try to be more aggressive with passing the guard, because if you don’t try to pass a guard, your opponent will attack with sweeps and you will lose the momentum. The best way to get the proper timing is do a lot of drills and don’t be shy to try them during training. Do drills and put them into practice!”
Words by Darren Wong
Photos by Mike Calimbas