The day after Boxing Day I was kindly invited to teach a webinar streamed directly into Kajuen Ryu’s class and shared with online teachers and students in the UK and Europe. The subject was guards for stand-up (full-contact) combat sports. Throughout the 20th century guards have evolved and branched off into a variety of directions. They are dictated by the individual – their physical make-up in relation to the majority of their likely opponents and their personality.
I did my best to provide an overview of popular guard concepts, offered some insight into specific types of guard and used it to inspire some shadow boxing or partner work. Fundamental principles that I believe to be universal start with guards are defensive postures. Even if you are discussing different martial arts such as weapon sports or submission grappling, a guard is always meant to be seen as the individual equivalent to a fortress. On from here I moved onto basic points such as the firmness, adaptability and manoeuvrability of a guard. The higher the guard the more important it is to maintain a firm defence, the lower the guard the more important it is to have faster reflexes. Guards were represented by the manipulation of the arms (shoulder to fingertips).
Our warm-up consisted of some freestyle shadow-work, getting everyone used to carrying their hands, moving through basic footwork patterns and building in all the defensive techniques – cover, parry, block, pull-back, slip, duck/bob and weave.
We then went through four guard concepts I manufactured for the sake of this seminar – staggered, long, high and low, followed by some miscellaneous options. There is a degree of overlap, as can be seen in the miscellaneous section. However, even in these basic concepts we can see that a staggered and a high guard can also be extended into a long guard. I used my definitions to look at simple overall strategies and tactics.
The staggered guard was covered first because it is the most universal type of stand-up guard found across the board and probably most represented in combat sports, even into semi/low-contact combat sports. It is often adapted in Mixed Martial Arts because it can cover a wide range of defences. The hand positioning is perfect for the basic punches such as jab/straights. However, its weakness is that it falls between the high and low guards, compromising the defences of the former and the speed of the latter. Staggered guards can be taught in a square stance, but a more angled or bladed stance is its natural complement.
The long guard can come straight from the staggered and high guards. From an attacking perspective, it can be used to manipulate guards, to frame and to paw. From a defensive perspective, it can be used to intercept, to post and create distance. We also looked at the “Dracula” guard variation. Square stance is preferable for long guards, but it can be used fairly easily from a more angled stance when be executed from a staggered guard.
The high guard is taught by some clubs as a beginner’s guard because it offers a lot of protection at the cost of some mobility. It works great at mid and close range. The peek-a-boo guard, which can resemble a mid-level guard in its classic form, uses the high guard concept, but this is always coupled with constant slipping, ducking/bobbing and weaving as well as pull-backs.
The low guard is the out-boxers choice and can work well with a muay femur. It allows the lead arm to be more relaxed and faster for jabbing. It is typically performed using a bladed stance for maxim movement and footwork. We looked at the Philly Shell as a popular variation.
Cross-arm guard was discussed with regards to its relationship with both the high and low guards. Peek-a-boo and the Philly Shell – two guards at opposite ends of the spectrum share a common ancestor in this type of guard that comes between them. Jersey Joe Walcott’s shoulder high guard also gives us something between the staggered and the low guard concepts, actively engaging BOTH shoulders to roll off attacks. Finally, we discussed the “no guard” of Muhammad Ali and Prince Naseem Hamed. These are guard purely reliant on reflexes to allow for more relaxed punches. Ali used it so he could be faster. Hamed used it so he could be more powerful.