The rubber guard (RG) is a grappling position of origin unknown that was first seen being put to use in competitions by Nino Schembri in the late 1990s decade, later also picked up by Eddie Bravo in the early 2000s, who developed a training method heavily based on this particular situation and further developed it way above his predecessors. The rubber guard is a variation of the open guard where the guard player will grab his own shin with opposite arm (example: right arm grabbing left shin) over his opponent’s back, the grip should be performed with the palm of the hand facing upwards and the forearm should be in contact with the collar bone. These details will help the guard player keep his opponent’s posture down, avoiding this way for the guard passer to pose an offense.
Brief History on the Rubber Guard
The origin of the rubber guard is unknown, the shin control had been in use, according to a few Jiu-Jitsu figures, in grappling for as long as they could remember, including Nino Schembri who, when inquired about the RG for this piece, said:
For me, this is just a variation of the open guard, only after I came to the USA I heard about all these guard names. Actually, the ‘rubber guard’ I found out about 5 years ago (2009), when a student told me that I was one of the creators of the RG, I immediately asked “what is that?” (laughs) […] If I start creating names for every position, we will have millions of names, because positions are endless, there are so many controls for the omoplata and gogoplata.
Regardless of the starting date, the position was seen being performed mainly by Schembri in the late 1990s in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitions, as he developed his open guard game, heavily reliant on the omoplata and the gogoplata choke (the latter one, a creation of Nino). In Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), the first recording of the position in a mainstream event appeared in 2004 at “Pride Critical Countdown 2004”, in a fight between the aforementioned Schembri and Kazushi Sakuraba.
Eddie Bravo is a well-known name in the American grappling circuit, famed for his use of the twister submission, the rubber guard, the creation of the 10th Planet grappling academy and his close friendship with the charismatic UFC commentator Joe Rogan. Bravo and his vast following, composed by students and MMA fans, became the main advocates for this position.
The talented American became a well-known figure in the grappling circuit after his win over Royler Gracie at the ADCC (2003) 1/4 final, having submitted the legendary Gracie with a triangle. His win over such a prestigious member of the Gracie family caused major waves in the Jiu-Jitsu community. This positive feedback associated with Joe Rogan’s regular promotion of the 10th Planet rubber guard training system over the UFC broadcasts raised the awareness for Bravo’s program, often labeled as “the evolution of Jiu-Jitsu” by both Bravo and Rogan.
The banner of innovation/evolution of the rubber guard system and the tremendous TV exposure brought a legion of students through the 10th Planet academy doors, which quickly became one of the biggest grappling franchises in the world with thousands of students and academies in every corner of the planet, from the USA to Europe, Australia and even Africa. This famed method caught the interest of several already accomplished grapplers and MMA fighters such as Matt Horwich, George Sotiropoulos, Shinya Aoki, Vinny Magalhaes, Alan Belcher, and others, being Aoki the fighter who achieved the most results at a high level of competition using the guard.
Though the rubber guard system has been heavily publicized since 2003, the evolution of high-level Jiu-Jitsu in No-Gi seems to somehow have circumvented the Rubber Guard and adopted more mobile styles of guards during this period. Examples of this are the X-Guard, the reverse De La Riva, Half Guard (and all it’s variations) or 50/50, etc, though the RG is still used with frequency, mainly by students of the 10th planet system.
There may be a number of reasons for this to have happened, from its flexibility requirements, the lack of sweeping/reversal options offered by the position or even that often gi bottoms are preferred when applying it and those are not allowed in many competitions.
In MMA, and despite the position’s main aim of helping Jiu-Jitsu succeed in this environment, it seems to have fallen in a limbo. As the UFC evolved to shorter rounds with a scoring system that benefits striking, takedowns and top control on the ground, the rubber guard’s efficiency in the sport was compromised, as it too often relies on time to work the top fighter into a submission.
If there are arguments to be made for and against the rubber guard in these sports, there are others to be made for it, especially in the self-defense realm, as it is a position that presents options to nullify attacks from an aggressor.
Grapplers Known For Their Use of the Rubber Guard
Eddie Bravo on the Rubber Guard
Rubber Guard to Omoplata in MMA
Nino Schembri vs Sakuraba