Your guard tells a lot about what kind of fighter you are.
The guard is a display of the fighters attitude, tactics and can be used to decieve- or read your intensions.
For example: what does the traditional Muay Thai guard tell you? Hands high, arms facing forward…
To me showing your forearms to the opponent is like saying: ”I am ready to get hit”.
With the arms creating a solid frame around the head to march forward against the opponent; the thai-guard is often used by compact and powerful fighters who’d like to enter a striking-exchange with the mentality of ”take one to give one”. And this has been proved successful in thai boxing, where the gloves create a shield, and the point system favors clinching/elbows over boxing.
Compare this to a traditional western boxing-guard: turned a bit more sideways with the hands slightly lower in front of the shoulders. This makes it easier to generate power in your punches – just being able to rotate and extend the arm in a straight line. But of course harder to clinch and to defend against elbows (which it not allowed in boxing anyway).
When the fists points to the opponent you are commuicating: ”I am ready to hit you” - which is more intimidating compared to the forearms saying ”I am ready to get hit”. This is fighting psychology, and very important to know as a fighter. All animals use their body language in battle - and so should we to gain the upper hand in the ”mental warfare”.
There are pros and cons of every style, and we can use the example above:
- The thai-guard favours clinching, defense, and shorter fighters - since it is more inviting.
- The boxing-guard favours punching, offense and tall fighters who can play with their reach more.
Then there are all kinds of variations of the guard, and you shouldn’t be stuck in a specific posture – but able to change your guard depending on your opponent. Some boxers like to keep their hands hanging by the waist and rely on their footwork to get out of danger instead (think Stephen Thompson).
The low guard is often used for counter striking as you ”bait” your opponent in, while you move and catch him with a punch coming in. Another defensive tactic is the so called ”Philly-stance” using the shoulders as your main defense and distancing the head to lure the opponent in – missing – as you fire back immediately (think Floyd Mayweather).
In MMA we have such a mix of rules, so we need to utilize different stances for different distances. For example if you meet an opponent that you know wants to take the fight to the ground you may need a lower base/guard to defend the takedowns - compared to if you would fight a dynamic striker who only looks for the knockout.
So at different distances we need to use different movement patterns. Defending is not so much about how to block a specific attack – since your opponent can throw a million alternatives at you – but more about how you act according to a specific distance.
Let me repeat that for you:
Instead of reacting to your opponents attacks – act according to his distance.
For long distances (out of reach)
Your feet are the most important part of your defense here. Footwork is no.1 and your guard can be more relaxed so that you can move freely in all angles. Footwork is always prefered over taking punches on the guard, since they can still wobble you if they connect with enough force. But if you move out of the way, your opponent will have exerted more energy than you by missing.
At mid distance (in punching range)
I prefer the boxing guard, where your hands are in front of your shoulders and the fists pointing against your opponent. From this distance your head movement plays a much bigger role – so that you can counter and land strikes without being hit yourself. The Muay Thai-guard is risky with MMA-gloves because the punches often slips through. You shouldn’t stay in this dangerous distance for longer periods of time unless your name is Wanderlei Silva
In short distance (clinching/wrestling)
In this distance your shoulders plays the most important part of your defense. In this range it is easy for an elbow strike to come over the top of your guard, which goes extremely fast. Therefore your shoulders must be constantly active to catch any strikes that slips past the hands. It is also important to keep the chin tucked and control your head positioning in the clinch, so that you’re not exposing your chin.
Master all three distances.
Adjust your guard according to the distance, and mix it with footwork and head movement, and you will be a hard target to hit.
An actively changing posture is tricky and deceiving to face. Keep your opponent guessing from where your attacks till come, and what your intentions are.
Now, for kicking…
We will have to talk about that another time!