Fighting off your back is a significant thing that makes Brazilian jiu-jitsu unique among grappling martial arts. But even if you can be dangerous from the guard, getting on top is usually better, not to mention it earns points in the competition. One of the most common ways to do both simultaneously is with BJJ sweeps. But what exactly are they?
A sweep in jiu-jitsu is a technique executed by the guard that inverts positions, and the person on the bottom ends up on top. A sweep is worth 2 points in the competition. Reversals of position from the bottom mount or bottom side control are not considered sweeps- they are reversals, while sweeps are only reversals from guard.
Sweeps are fundamental in BJJ, and everyone must have at least a few reliable ones from the guards he commonly uses. We will review the fundamental principles of sweeps and examine a few popular ones used at all levels.
The word sweep in martial arts has two meanings. From standing, a sweep is a form of takedown where you reap one or both legs under an opponent, forcing them to the ground. Judo, for example, has many such standing foot sweeps united in a category called Kari-ashi.
But sweeps in Brazilian jiu-jitsu are what we are interested in in this article, and they are quite different than standing sweeps. In BJJ, a sweep is used from bottom guard to reverse the positions and end up on top. The key word here is guard. A sweep in jiu-jitsu is only possible from the bottom guard when you transition to a top position and manage to hold it for 3 seconds.
If you are in mount or side control and manage to escape and move to a top position, this is great, but it is not considered a sweep; it’s called a reversal and is not awarded points by itself. Sweeps are reversals from any bottom guard. This technical distinction is important for competitions because sweeps are worth 2 points, while reversals are not scored.
Sports BJJ has had its fair share of bizarre rules, and sweeps can be hard to understand when it comes to when they are scored and when they are not. Here is a detailed video from the IBJJF trying to explain some of the more subtle nuances better:
How Sweeps Work
Even though there are dozens of ways to sweep someone, there are a few common boxes each sweep has to check to work.
The first requirement of a sweep is to disrupt the opponent’s balance. If he has a nice, stable base, the sweep will not work. This means you must rotate them to the left or right, pull them, push them, or even roll them forward.
Every sweep starts with the grips, which control the opponent’s posture and arms. If you don’t control the arms, they will post on them or regain their balance. The arm on the side you will be turning to must be either pinned to the body or fully extended; in both cases, it can’t be used for a post. Only then can you start thinking about how you will turn their hips over and end up on top.
You can turn your opponent’s hips over in several ways: push or pull their shoulders, push or pull their hips directly, or push or pull their legs.
Then, as soon as the opponent is turned over on his back, you must immediately hold the top position. Any adequate person will try to scramble and regain position, so the job is only done after you’ve established the top position. This is why sweeps are only scored after you’ve held the positions for 3 seconds (just like with takedowns, mounts, and other positions).
Three Fundamental Sweeps You Should Know
There are a ton of possible sweeps from all the different guards. We can only encompass some of them, the most important part is to know how and why sweeps work, and then you can use the knowledge and experience to sweep people, even if it’s not necessarily a specific technique you’ve been taught.
As beginners, we need a set of tried and tested techniques to use long before we start experimenting, so here are 3 of the most common BJJ sweeps most white belts are taught first.
The scissor sweep is often the first full guard sweep you will learn, and it works equally well in gi and no-gi. It may seem complicated to pull off in sparring at first, but it’s a reliable and powerful weapon once you get the hang of it.
The name of the scissor sweep comes from the leg motion, which forces the top person to topple over. It is most effective against kneeling or half-kneeling opponents. The classic scissor sweep involves a collar and sleeve grip. The sleeve grip prevents the opponent from posting on the arm in the direction you are about to sweep them, while the collar grip breaks the posture.
With the grips established, you must turn to your side with your top shin on the opponent’s belt. Once the grips and legs are in position, you need to disrupt the opponent’s balance, just scissoring your legs won’t do anything. Use the collar grip and pull the opponent diagonally while scissoring the legs to make him topple.
The pendulum sweep is another popular sweep from closed guard used by white and black belts alike. This sweep is another one which needs minimal adjustment from gi to no-gi and can even be used in MMA with similar efficiency.
You need to start by controlling the opponent’s arm with a sleeve or a wrist grip which will prevent him from posting on this arm. Then you will move your hips to one side, allowing you to do the pendulum motion with your leg, giving you the inertia to off-balance the opponent.
The general movement required for the pendulum sweep is great to master because it’s necessary for many other movements, like the armbar, which we will cover in a moment.
The fundamental sweep requires you to hug the leg of the opponent with an underhook, and then you use the momentum of your bottom leg to help kick upward and across against your partner’s armpit. As usual, breaking the balance is crucial for the sweep to succeed.
When you swing your legs, you can choose to finish the sweep or instead go for an armbar, as demonstrated by Lachlan Giles in the video.
Hip Bump and Kimura Sweep
The kimura is a highly versatile move in BJJ, and it’s far more than just a shoulder lock. The figure four grip, also known as the double wrist grip, can be used to change positions and set up traps, but what we are interested in is the kimura sweep.
The basic hip bump sweep and the kimura sweep have the same initial phase, and even some people use the terms interchangeably, so I’ve grouped them together.
The basic hip bump sweep involves you opening the guard, posting on one hand, getting up, and looking to throw an arm over to trap the opponent’s arm at the elbow by hooking the arm. Then continue with the hip bump for the sweep.
After you posture up, the full kimura sweep version is done by securing the figure four on the opponent’s wrist. If your grip is tight, you could continue for the submission or use the trapped arm to sweep in the same direction.
This textbook works at the beginner level but is extremely hard to do later because people have seen it a million times. Usually, you will have to either break his posture earlier or secure the kimura grip before you reach up. There are many setups and possible ways of getting the grip.
A sweep in BJJ is a move from bottom guard into a top position. You can do countless sweeps, but the good news is you don’t need to know all of them. Having a few reliable ones is enough, and most high-level grapplers also use just 2 or 3 moves but do it with great precision.
Sweeps are rather complicated to do because you need to understand all of the mechanics behind them and then be able to quickly go through the series of motions against a resisting opponent. This is why learning the basic sweeps is important, but even more so is understanding how sweeps work, so you can start toppling people over with less effort.