The K-Guard is a fairly recent addition to the gi and nogi jiu-jitsu scene hence there are only a few detailed video tutorials out there. This report looks at four K-Guard instructionals, each instructor with his own distinct interpretations of the system and specific objectives.
For a fully in-depth video based review, see my Youtube episode below. Or, skip it and read on, as I pretty much say the same things as per my video…
The K-Guard first became widely famous thanks to Lachlan Giles’ amazing run at ADCC in 2019. Most people assume, me included, that the K-guard was so named due to the shape of the position resembling the letter K. However Neil Melanson asserts that he named it in honour of MMA legend Karo Parisyan who first started using a version of the K many years prior.
The K-guard is very easy to set up directly from the closed guard so is an ideal guard for complete beginners to try. It is also fairly safe from counterattacks and offers a good variety of attacks. The K is also very adaptable, and judging by these four instructionals, one can see how it is an effective method to sweep, attack upper body, attack for leg locks and access back control – whether for gi, nogi or even MMA.
What is the K-Guard?
The diagram above gives you a fairly broad synopsis of the position. The general K-Guard is an open guard with your legs placed in a staggered position and one of your arms underhooking your opponent’s leg. The underhooking arm acts as an anchor point with which you can disrupt the opponent’s balance or use to pull yourself towards a more advantageous attacking position, eg backside 50/50.
The idea of using your arm to underhook your opponent’s leg of course isn’t new and has been used for a small number of techniques such as the Muscle Sweep or the Pendulum Sweep. With the K-guard however, you get a vastly increased number of options after underhooking the leg.
Josh Cisneros – K Guard Kulture, JiuJitsuX:
Available here at JiuJitsuX.
Josh Cisneros is an American black belt Pans champ who competes at featherweight. This instructional is a great introduction to the K-guard if you are completely new to the position or wish to explore it on the understanding that it is solely dedicated for use in the gi under IBJJF rules.
Josh’s set starts out with entries from the closed guard and the de la Riva guard. In keeping with most JJX instructionals, each chapter is kept in short easy to digest segments. They are all filmed in the clean white studio space and the lapel mic means there is excellent audio clarity. Total running time is one hour.
The specific cross sleeve grip and collar grip set up (see photo above) that Josh uses in these opening chapters pretty much determines the rest of the techniques in this instructional. These two grips are crucial in the success of the K-guard as they break the opponent’s posture. It is interesting to compare the way Josh uses the K and the way Neil Melanson uses it. More about his stuff later. All the techniques in Josh’s set are shown vs a standing opponent (apart from the opening k-guard entry chapter vs kneeling opponent).
Of all the attacks from this instructional, the ones I had most success with are the omoplata and the forward roll sweep. In fact I often try the omoplata and if it fails the forward roll sweep comes naturally straight after. I also liked the back takes that Josh shows and I’ve had a small degree of success (Mikey’s set goes into a huge amount more detail on backtakes – more on that later). The triangle choke is another go to attack from K but I have had difficulty finishing this and any of the other triangle attacks taught in the other instructionals, so that’s definitely a work in progress for me.
Overall, Josh’s K-Guard culture set is a really nice easy to digest and easy to use intro to the system. It is definitely geared for upper body attacks although he does at least show one leg attack (knee bar). Highly recommended for beginners and improving guard players.
Mikey Musumeci – K Guard and Matrix System, Attacking Legs From the Knees Part 1
Available on BJJ Fanatics here.
Mikey Musumeci is a four-time black belt World Champion in the gi along with numerous other titles gi and nogi. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the best pound for pound jiujitsu athletes competing right now.
Mikey’s K-Guard instructional is huge! It weighs in at over five hours of instruction spread over 8 ‘discs’ (most folk watch instrutionals via streamed content but BJJ Fanatics still uses the ‘disc’ structure to separate the content.) Despite including an incredible volume of content and detail, if I could sum up one objective with this instructional – it is basically how to take the back using the K-Guard. There is no detailed information on sweeps, leglocks or upperbody attacks. It may even be better titled as “The K-guard leg hug knee shield system plus Matrix”
That being said, the opening conceptual chapters are incredible and well worth studying as a general guide that apply to other open guards. It also has one of the best instructions on how to break down your opponent’s stubborn posture when kneeling (all the techniques are shown against a kneeling partner).
The way Mikey explains things is like a scientist. He shows you the theory and concepts then demonstrates it in practice. I can’t emphasise how awesome disc one alone is – it’s a masterclass on the physics of using the open guard. He even uses props, like this tripod in the screengrab photo below.
A large proportion of the rest of this instructional continues the conceptual explanations of the K-Guard, especially concerning the grips, leg positioning, and counter reactions from your opponent. Since Mikey’s main objective is to access the back then his version of the K-guard drops his knee to the ground just like Josh and Lachlan does – but Neil Melanson does not (more about that later). While much of the set focuses on Mikey’s concepts, there are several chapters where he gives us very focused drills to play with.
It is not until you reach Disc 6 that Mikey begins to show his main K-guard objective which is the take the back using the Matrix. Actually Mikey loves the berimbolo method to take the back, but here he argues that the Matrix is way easier to use (which means geriatric old mortals like me can try it!) note however this safety warning about the Matrix.
As one can by now expect, Mikey’s chapters on the Matrix and other back take techniques is very detailed and heavy on concept. At this stage, I must admit, my interest in this set waned a little as I was more interested in leglock attacks rather than back takes. That being said, I couldn’t help but absorb some of the very useful Matrix concepts and I even found myself using them in sparring, which I never really did before. On Disc 7 when Mikey shows the various back takes via the Matrix, he drills them in real time possibly 9-10 times in quick succession. It’s very impressive to see, although I’m not sure the inverting aspects would suit my slower and less flexible abilities.
Overall, Mikey’s K-Guard set will appeal to two quite different audiences. The brilliantly explained set of fundamentals in the opening discs should be essential viewing for beginners. By contrast however, Mikey’s very detailed explanations on the Matrix style back takes from the K-guard seem to me way too advanced for beginners. And thus there doesn’t seem to be much in the middle to bridge the two, in my opinion. Mind you, this is only Part 1, I’m sure Mikey has more K-guard based instructionals in the pipeline.
Neil Nelanson – Special K-guard
Available on BJJ Fanatics here.
Neil is an MMA grappling coach, hence his system is always based on the ability to defend from strikes and attack with strikes. But don’t let that put you off, the fundamentals that Neil teaches in this set are incredible and apply very well to jiujitsu – they’re so good that I found them very easy to use immediately after watching just the once.
As mentioned earlier, Neil asserts that he began using and systemising the K-control position after seeing how MMA legend Karo Parisyan used it when grappling. The ‘K’ was named in honour of Karo, not after the shape of the letter.
There are numerous differences in the way Neil uses the K guard compared to all the other instructionals. For a start, all the techniques he shows are against a kneeling opponent who is already postured with their hips high. My assumption is that in MMA, a ground and pounder is likely to adopt a high kneeling posture but there’s no discussion on how to get the opponent into this position. You will need to refer to Mikey’s set for a detailed breakdown on breaking down the heavy kneeling opponent. Lachlan addresses this briefly too.
Another major difference is that Neil far prefers to keep the knee of his lower leg (the one on the under hooking side) pointing upwards. Compare this to most other K-guard instructors who will immediately aim to point their knee towards the ground in readiness to invert or swing for back attacks and backside 50/50. Neil argues that dropping the knee and swinging your far leg over commits your attack with little chance of recovering back to a safe K-guard. He argues that it is far better to play with your opponent and see if you can work the unbalancing and gripping concepts that he teaches with the aim of targeting an upper body attack – sweeps, triangles, armbars, kimuras are shown throughout his set. The K-guard he shows all require your hips to be high off the ground (see photo below), used this way, it offers a very robust guard without danger of being squashed, stacked, etc.
Neil only shows a few leglocks from the K-guard. He acknowledges that there are those that use the K as a platform to attack the legs and namechecks Lachlan Giles. He personally is just not as fond from this position, in stead he prefers upper body attacks. That being said, he does show a kneebar and a heel hook. The back takes he shows are also fairly simple, wrestling based movements, rather than anything more complex like Mikey’s use of the Matrix.
I really enjoyed testing out Neil’s K-control system. In fact I would go as far to say that his K is my preferred go-to posture when using it in sparring. I like how robust it feels and it is very effective at getting sweeps, there is also always the option of both upper and lower body submissions. The only problem when relying solely on this instructional is the tricky problem of an opponent who denies you access to underhook their leg. And in such cases, thanks to Mikey’s set and Lachlan’s, I understand a bit more on how to achieve this.
Lachlan Giles, K-Guard, No Gi Open Guard Volume 1
Available from BJJ Fanatics Here.
This DVD is HUGE! Over six hours of content spread over 8 ‘discs’!! Yet that isn’t even the whole story. It is worth pointing out that this instructional is only one part of a three-set collection which also includes Volume 2 (DLR & Waiter) and Volume 3 (RDLR & Leg Entanglements). If you are investing yourself fully into Lachlan’s leglock game then you also need to get his 50/50 Instructional and his two Guard Retention sets. All these titles are interlinked with a lot of connection and cross-over. In the K-Guard title he discusses several other guard positions and guard retention movements and how the K fits in among them. Although the huge bulk of these titles might be daunting to newcomers, unfortunately this is the reality of an open guard gameplan – there is so much stuff and they all interlink between each other. But the investment is worth it, Lachlan doesn’t hide any secrets, all the cool stuff you see him doing at ADCC and in the video below is presented in his DVDs.
In this instructional Lachlan’s main objective when using K-guard is to attack the leg with a heel hook, ideally from the backside 50/50 position. He does also cover how to transition to other guards (dlr and guard) and he covers other attacks and how to take the back, but only briefly. The main focus is on getting the heel hook submission. Nearly all the techniques are against a kneeling or combat based opponent but he does also cover what to do when they stand up (spoiler alert: shallow K).
But before we get to the submissions, Lachlan spends a lot of time discussing open guard concepts and then plenty of likely what if scenarios you are likely to face when using the K-Guard. For example, common reactions from your opponent will be to sit back heavy and deny access to underhook their leg. Another common reaction will be to use their combat base to frame against your guard. And plenty more – Lachlan offers answers to all of these. These chapters are vital viewing prior to attempting backside 50/50 etc but it does contrast with Neil Melanson’s approach which offers a more robust uncommitted K-Guard starting point (ie he does not drop his knee or lower his hip and does not swing his leg too early in the process). There’s absolutely no harm of course mixing and matching both instructor’s techniques, in my opinion they both mutually compatible in the right hands.
If you have already bought this set, or are interested in doing so, then chances are high that you’re really interested in the heel hook backside 50/50 portion of this instructional. And Lachlan does not disappoint, his chapters on entry, securing the hold and finishing the submission as well as dealing with likely defenses is as excellent as you can expect. The only thing that one could add to this leglock system is to also investigate Ryan Hall’s Modern 50/50 Guard instructional where he covers this and adds a bit more detail around it. I will be doing a mega 50/50 Guard instructional review at some point soon so I can compare Lachlan and Ryan’s sets in more detail.
It’s not all backside 50/50 heel hooks, Lachlan is also keen to show how K-guard fits very well with a couple of other guards: namely the de la Riva guard and the 70/30 guard. I’m less familiar with the latter so can’t really comment on it. He also shows how to get to a lateral closed guard, which is an advantageous position for accessing the back, unfortunately, it does require a degree of flexibility (see photo):
Lachlan’s set is an amazing gift to leglock enthusiasts – he covers so many what-if scenarios from the K and also shows how it links with other open guards. His systematic approach to jiujitsu means you’ll be able to grab any of his other guard based instructionals and understand how they all fit together seamlessly. Yes, this title alone is huge and combined with his others will mean it offers years and years of study, but the opening concept chapters are ideal for complete beginners and there’s more than enough material for that same student to make measured progress over the coming months and years, assuming they understand that leglocks are really the main objectives of this (and his other guard based) instructionals.
Notable other K-Guard Instructionals
There are several other titles where the K-guard is offered as part of a wider theme. They’re still worth viewing as each instructor will have their own opinion and interpretation of the position:
Junny Ocasio, Precision Leg Entanglements Vol 3. BJJ Fanatics
Available on BJJ Fanatics here. Junny’s leg entanglement series is spread over three separate instructionals. This title focuses on leg entanglements from the bottom and he dedicates a whole ‘disc’ to the K-guard and the backside 50/50. When Junny uses the K against a standing opponent, he prefers to keep his foot high against the hip line rather than use the shallow K, which is preferred by Lachlan. As well as the regular backside 50/50 heel hook, Junny also shows an unusual heel hook finish which makes use of his own head. There’s way more to this title of course and it would not be a Junny leg lock tutorial if he did not also include his favourite Z-lock and the Reverse K-Guard techniques. The latter I haven’t studied yet but the Z-lock is very attainable and usually catches people by surprise.
Margot Ciccerelli, Underhook De La Riva System, JiuJitsuX
Available on JiuJitsuX here. In Margot’s very interesting instructional, she offers a single chapter to show her K-guard to Matrix technique. What I like about it is that she shows how she transitions from DLR guard (with one arm using an underhook) to the K-guard. It fits in nicely with her overall underhook DLR system.
Youtube: if you don’t wish to purchase a fully fledged instructional then there’s a fair number of K-guard videos on Youtube – many of them by Lachlan himself:
I should also mention Raoul Audhoe’s turtle instructional (read my review) actually inspired me to investigate K-guard more. He doesn’t teach it in any of his chapters but he alludes to it as part of his attacking from the turtle concepts. Another notable mention is Ryan Hall’s Modern 50/50 Guard which doesn’t mention K-guard at all, but it does cover the backside 50/50 heel hook in great detail. I’ll be reviewing this alongside other 50/50 Guard tutorials very soon.
Rolling Thoughts & Conclusions
I roll a lot more often in the gi than I do nogi so I found Josh Cisneros’s instructional to be of immediate help when I was very new to the K-guard. Using it in the gi worked really well when the opponent stood up since it made underhooking the leg much easier and I had all that gi material to grab. I found the omoplata very much available, as was the forward sweep.
When my opponent was on their knees, I found that they could easily shut down my attempt to underhook them simply by sitting back. In such scenarios I used Neil Melanson’s tips on how to use my legs as a frame in K-guard and unbalance them backwards or to one side. I found a lot of success with (what I call) the push sweep which nudges my partner backwards – in one case I even got to mount.
To access the back, even though I haven’t made it my main focus, I was still able to use a few of Mikey’s concepts when seeking the back. I’m in two minds about the Matrix as it looks like I still have to invert at some points in order to make the most of it. I’ll play with this more for sure.
In nogi I found it easy to swing my free leg over and attempt backside 50/50 positions. I was also happy to just the use my K as a frame against my partner who was trying to squash me or grab my head, thanks to Lachlans and Neil’s tips.
The single most useful concept for me, after studying all four of these instructionals, is what I do with my knee on the underhook side. If I point it towards the ground, which is what Mikey, Josh and Lachlan show, then I am more or less committed to attacking from there without much ability to revert back, so I’ve mainly been using Melanson’s version of the K guard and then playing around from there. There’s plenty more for me to work on but I really love the K-guard and I think you would too!