I often see new students struggle with the logistics of Jiu-Jitsu, which is to be expected, but recently I’ve observed both white and blue belts who were confused about one particular aspect, which is something I also used to have trouble understanding, so I thought I would do a simple public service announcement about passing guard. What really prompted me to write this is that I recently saw two blue belts doing positional sparring from guard, and the one on top was unable to pass, so they ended up sitting back and pulling the other one into their guard, then they said “I win, that’s an escape”. First of all, you never escape guard, an escape comes from when you’re on the bottom of a dominant position, such a mount or side control (and escapes don’t score points in competition). Guard is essentially neutral, and you don’t improve your position by going from the top to the bottom, so if you start in someone’s guard and they end up in your guard, you haven’t escaped or won anything, you’ve actually been swept.
In the simplest form, “you cannot pass guard to guard”. I mean, you can, I even did it once during a competition a few years ago, but it wasn’t a pass, it counted as a sweep for my opponent. When you are in someone’s guard, you usually only have two acceptable options (when we do positional sparring, the instructor will tell you exactly what they are): pass, or take the back. For a pass to count (and earn points in competition) you must end up in a dominant position on top (mount, etc.). If you take the back from a passing position, you will get back mount points if you establish it, but it will not count as a guard pass. Another option from inside someone’s guard is submitting them, because it is possible, but that’s not usually allowed during positional training, and it’s not something new students should do, because they need to learn how to pass.
All of the things I said about points are based on IBJJF, and other competitions may have varying rules, but I believe what counts as a pass is universal. Also, not all of the local refs even seem to understand the workings of passing, and they might not award you points if your pass was “too scrambly”, but I think it’s simple if you look at it this way: if you start on the top of guard and end up on the bottom of guard (or any other bottom position), then you were swept (even if you did it to yourself, like I did in the following video) and if you start on the top of guard and end up in a more dominant top position (such as side control), then you passed!
(Note: I hated rewatching this video, because I feel like I knew nothing back then!)