In part one of a study of Lo’s guard, we look at his unique guard strategy. Lo again modifies the “conventional” with his guard play and is famous for having one of the hardest guards to pass at the blackbelt level as well as his “Lo Sweep”, a modified one legged X-guard sweep.
Spider was the old 50/50
Spider used to have a reputation as a “staller’s guard” when it first appeared on the competition scene. With both feet on the biceps, it kept the passer away and by the same token, also kept the spider guarder at bay. This made offense with this guard more tricky, requiring (1) spinning in/inversion (thus keeping it in the realm of the more flexible/smaller BJJ players) or (2) switching to “near guards” like sleeve/lapel, DLR etc when the guarder wanted to initiate an attack. Check out this excellent article on the spider guard by The Jiu Jitsu Laboratory here.
There have been many amazing spider players (Mauricio “Tinguinha” Mariano, Cobrinha, Romulo Barral, Marcelino Freitas etc) and of note, Michael Langhi, is a pioneer in using/developing this guard. He combines amazing flexibility to spin/invert under an opponent as well as superb tactical awareness to switch to open/DLR/sleeve and lapel/50-50/one legged X guard to bamboozle his opponents. Langhi (to me) is the most technical guarder in his division and has bested many athletically superior opponents from his mastery of a variety of guards. As an aside, I sort of put off his 3 losses to Lo to his injury (dislocated shoulder), and if that is 100% I think he could pull it off against Lo this Mundials if he can get a single leg type sweep going (I can understand someone with an unstable shoulder being unwilling to drive into an opponent’s legs) or trap Lo in 50/50.
Spider by itself is limited offensively and the really good players combine guards
Langhi has shown that the defensive spider guard when combined with a variety of other guards to get close makes a world championship winning strategy. Langhi is excellent at spinning under but when he needs to, he can switch to sleeve/lapel to close the distance to work omaplatas (for example here vs Tanquinho) or he can even engage in a 50/50 war if he has to (here vs Gilbert Burns). His seamless switching makes his guard extraordinarily hard to get past as the moment you think you have found your way through, he is already recomposing into another guard.
(a nice highlight on Michael Langhi)
Lo shows the way through a good spider guard
Lo has faced Langhi 3 times now and is 3-0. In two of the matches where Lo was passer, he showed how Langhi can be neutralised by constant retreating and using toreandos/leg drags (I don’t think Langhi has ever faced a passer like Lo). In the first victory, Langhi played pure spider throughout and Lo’s passing/toreando aggression got him the advantage (and victory). In the second one, Langhi again plays spider and after getting no where and one advantage down, decides to switch to lapel/sleeve to try get better leverage to sweep and during the transition gets caught in one of Lo’s knee slide sequences. Losing the spider control can be risky if things go wrong as you might not always be able to recompose back to the super defensive spider guard. The window was small but against a high caliber passer like Lo, that’s all it takes sometimes.
Lo modifies the Spider Guard to improve its main weakness: Distance Control
Lo utilizes an unusual guard, he aims to get a DLR hook on one side and typical spider sleeve/bicep control on the other. With the addition of the DLR hook/pant grab, retreat is not longer so easy for the passer and Lo can close distance very fast to get under. When this guard is locked on, Lo can easily push back with the spider to stop smashes/stacks and also frustrate toreando passers with the DLR side, who need to clear their trapped leg to initiate their pass. Leg draggers also have problems because the spider control stops two hands “double teaming” a leg. In particular, taking the DLR side hand off to try double team the spider guard side frees Lo’s DLR leg to shoot in between the passer’s leg to initiate his trademark sweep.
Lo’s Modified One Legged X-Guard Sweep
What makes Lo’s sweeping game dangerous is that Lo doesn’t go for spins/berimbolos/overhead sweeps. He takes the most direct/quickest path to get under, (1) shooting his DLR leg between the passer’s legs (2) simultaneously pulling in with his DLR leg pant grabbing hand, to initiate a one legged x-guard sweep. Here is a small instructional by the man himself:
DLR hook or “Active Posting” Leg?
Lo can switch to normal open/spider to defend passes, but he often also turns his DLR hooking leg into a leg lasso or a knee shield (against an opponent’s shoulder/chest) if he needs to. In fact, Lo doesn’t need to have the hook on “tight” like a typical DLR player would. Rather that leg is almost like an “active posting” leg, that can (1) DLR hook to stop retreats, (2) push off against the passer’s hip/shoulder to add to defence, or (3) shoot in for his signature sweep. This is also why Lo’s own DLR counter (pushing the DLR knee down to frustrate inversions) doesn’t work on Lo and instead helps him set up the kick through to get the sweep.
Taken further, conceptually, what makes Lo dangerous as a sweeper is that he can always “kick out” with his spider control to quickly recompose back to the same defensive structure if his sweep attempts get disrupted. This makes it hard for a passer to capitalize on a “compromised guard structure” that typically happens when someone attempts a sweep (what Lo himself is excellent at). Lo can go after small/marginal chances to get the sweep, constantly looking to kick his leg through, knowing that he has the “insurance” of a semi-spider to recompose back to quickly if needed (vs risking getting into an unpredictable scramble, typical during spinning/inversions). This “instant recompose” is one of the main benefits of his guard strategy, making him so hard to pass.
Check out the video which shows the various ways Lo can make that one simple sweep a deadly weapon. Enjoy.
Continue on to part 2 of the Guard Study here.