The de la Riva Guard


By Don Whitefield and Stephan Kesting

We asked BJJ legend Ricardo de la Riva to show us the Five Most Imporant Techniques from the ‘de la Riva Guard! Here’s what he showed us, and we’ll go through each one of them!

  1. The Basic de la Riva Sweep
  2. The Reverse de la Riva Sweep
  3. The Entangled Leg Sweep
  4. The Back Trip Sweep
  5. The Cross Knee Guard Pass Counter

Ricardo de la Riva is a slight unassuming man with a gentle smile. Talking to him it is hard to imagine that this man is on the cutting edge of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Voted as one of the top five technical fighters of all times by his peers, every BJJ school on the planet is teaching his famous de la Riva guard.

Nobody could have imagined the impact this skinny 15 year old kid would have on the jiu-jitsu world, when he walked into one of Carlson Gracie’s affiliate schools in Copacabana and started training under the then brown belt Marcus Soares. When Marcus closed his gym, de la Riva started training at Carlson Gracie’s main academy; de la Riva had previously impressed Carlson by beating Carlson’s nephew in an inter-academy tournament.

The young de la Riva helped teach classes as a blue belt, and within six years Carlson awarded him his black belt. We recently a chance to train with de la Riva and asked him how his guard came about.

Carlson Gracie had his own approach to teaching Jiu-Jitsu with an aggressive style of training and a reputation of not holding back any information from his students. His academy was only the second jiu-jitsu academy to open, and Carlson, at the time still in his twenties and being a very aggressive fighter himself, attracted the most athletic and talented fighters around.

De la Riva still remembers well the extremely proud and competitive training atmosphere of the training at the legendary Carlson academy. Even getting onto the Gracie Competition Team was a very tough process, and once on it you had to compete against the other schools.  The rivalry between Helio’s style of “technical” jiu-jitsu and Carlson aggressive style of jiu-Jitsu went back a long way and there are still Carlson student today claiming that no Helio fighter has ever defeated a Carlson fighter.

De la Riva also remembers how future champions like Mario Sperry, Murillo Bustamente, Allan Goes and others started training at the Carlson’s famous Rua Figueiredo Magalhaes academy as white belts. “Their talent was obvious and the level of jiu-jitsu was very high. You could see right from the beginning how gifted they were.” He especially remembers Amaury Bitetti and Ricardo Liborio sparring with their teammates.

De La Riva also remembers the “original bad boy” Wallid Ismail walking in as a young blue belt from an affiliate academy; “He always had a temper and would fight like crazy.” The eighties turned out to be high watermark for the Carlson Gracie team producing many of the famous champions among the more then 100 black belts promoted by Carlson.

With his small stature de la Riva found a way to survive in this aggressive atmosphere by fighting mostly from the bottom, trying to keep his stronger opponents from passing. This led to his innovation:  the famous de la Riva guard position.

What is only known to his students, however, is that it also led de la Riva to develop a very sophisticated half guard and butterfly guard game. “We never gave it names back then and just used to call all of it the open guard,” he says. The technical expertise in this open guard allowed de la Riva to compete successfully for years, beating notables like Royler, Rolker and Royce Gracie.

In 1986 he opened the de la Riva jiu-jitsu academy, teaching his very own technical and creative style of BJJ. Over the years he produced dozens of black belts, training people like Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira and Marcello Montiero along the way.

As time went by and he continued to beat the best fighters in Brazil, including Royce Gracie twice, his fame started to spread beyond Copacabana. De la Riva academies started to open across South America, North America and Europe.

These days, de la Riva spends his time teaching seminars around the globe, as well as teaching at his own academy. He even has a whole BJJ tournament series named in honor of his achievements. The de la Riva Championships in Japan attract the best and brightest of the grappling community in that country every year.

When asked about his success he proves to be very humble. In his typical modest style that never really takes himself too serious.  He thinks that it was partially genetics that helped him succeed: “I share very flexible ankles with my brother, and that helped me to survive as long as I did.” He finishes jokingly: “I really didn’t have a choice. When I was young I only could either play soccer or do jiu-jitsu and these ankles sure were no good for soccer.

De la Riva’s Guard Techniques

The de la Riva guard is an open guard position where one leg is wrapped around the outside of the opponent’s leg with the foot hooking his inner thigh. Typically you control one or both sleeves and attack with a variety of sweeps and submissions.Here are 5 techniques that de la Riva considers to be key in mastering his style of guard. Learn these and you’ll be off to a great start

De la Riva (in blue) teaching the de la Riva guard at a recent seminar. Note especially the position of his left leg and foot.



1: De la Riva has Boca in the open guard with both feet on his hips controlling both his sleeves with his hands.

Open Guard
2: De la Riva shifts his hips over to one side to hook his foot behind Boca’s knee on the inside of the thigh.
De la Riva 2
3: He places his other foot on Boca’s knee and grabs his far sleeve with both hands…
de la Riva Sweep 3
4: …straightens his hooking leg, pushes on Boca’s knee with the other foot and pulls on his sleeve to get the sweep
de la Riva Sweep 4
5: De la Riva swims under Boca’s armpit with his far arm and switches his hip to disengage his legs…
de la Riva Sweep 5
6: …and slides his hip out to gain cross side
de la Riva Sweep 6


1: De la Riva starts the sweep by controlling Boca’s sleeves and inserting his hook behind Boca’s knee.
Reverse de la Riva Sweep
2: He proceeds by shifting his hip away from the hooking leg and switching his right hand from the sleeve to the lapel
reverse de la riva sweep 2
3: He starts the sweep by pulling Boca towards him…
reverse de la riva sweep 3
4: …and then rolling him to his left, immediately working to pass Boca’s guard.
reverse de la riva sweep 4
Alternate Finish, Photo 1: if Boca resists by backing out, de la Riva will place his left hand behind him on the ground and sit up…
reverse de la riva sweep 5
Alternate Finish, Photo 2: …sweeping Boca backwards, passing his legs as before
reverse de la riva sweep 6


1: Boca is back in de la Riva’s open guard.
entangled leg sweep 1
2: Boca removes de la Riva’s hook by pointing his knee to the outside.
entangled leg sweep 2
3: De La Riva reacts by swinging his other leg over Boca’s arm and hooking his foot under Boca’s thigh.
entangled leg sweep 3
4: De la Riva places his other foot on the ground and shifts his hip away from Boca and kicks his hook straight up to sweep him.
entangled leg sweep 4
5: De la Riva pulls his sweeping leg free and comes to the top position
entangled leg sweep 5


1: Boca attempts to escape De la Riva’s guard by standing up
back trip sweep 1
2: De la Riva counters by sitting up using his hooking leg and …
back trip sweep 2
3: …traps Boca’s right arm and leg.
back trip sweep 3
4: He places his left hand on the ground and sit up into Boca causing him to fall backwards.
back trip sweep 4
5: He now comes to the top, clears the guard and achieves cross side position.
back trip sweep 5


1: Boca decides to try and pass the guard by cross-sliding his right knee over De La Riva’s right leg
cross knee guard pass counter 1
2: De la Riva places his hooking foot on the ground, grabs his other leg by the knee to support his leg and pivots the foot under Boca’s far thigh.
cross knee guard pass counter 2
3: He kicks his right leg up and lifts his hips to raise Boca’s leg…
cross knee guard pass counter 3
4: … and now switches legs, placing his left foot under Boca’s thigh, grabbing the leg and sleeve, and sweeps Boca to his right
cross knee guard pass counter 4
5: He follows Boca and gains cross side
cross knee guard pass counter 5

More de la Riva material on Grapplearts…

ball and chain sweep from de la riva guardThe Easiest Way to Develop Fast Guard Sweeps

This article includes a video in which BJJ black belt and friend of Grapplearts Brandon ‘Wolverine’ Mullins demonstrates his favourite sweep from the de la Riva guard, the ‘Ball and Chain Sweep’

reverse de la riva guardA Reverse de la Riva Guard Tutorial

In this article Ostap Manastyrski breaks down a closely related position – the Reverse de la Riva – which has become very important in modern BJJ competition in part because it is a counter to the cross-knee slide guard pass used by many competitors.

Don Whitefield is the head instructor at West Coast Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, located in Maple Ridge, BC (

Stephan Kesting operates  Click here to download his free BJJ instructional app, The Roadmap for BJJ.

Originally published March 13, 2012, this article was updated on December 25th, 2015

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