The Worm Guard BJJ: History, Application, and Counters

Worm guard BJJ
Worm guard BJJ

If you have even a passing familiarity with the BJJ competition scene, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Keenan Cornelius. Keenan Cornelius has been one of BJJ’s top competitors for nearly a decade. However, it isn’t just Keenan’s competition success that makes him one of BJJ’s most popular athletes— he is also one of the sport’s top innovators. Keenan is the creator of a number of lapel-based systems and techniques that he’s successfully applied in competition against some of BJJ’s toughest competitors. The most popular of these innovations is the worm guard (BJJ).

The History of the Worm Guard BJJ

Worm guard BJJ
Worm guard BJJ

Although BJJ has always made use of the lapels, it wasn’t until Keenan Cornelius arrived on the BJJ scene that the BJJ community witnessed the true potential of lapel-based techniques. Keenan began experimenting with the lapels in his academy early in his BJJ career. However, he didn’t officially use the worm guard in competition until 2014. Since then, Keenan has developed an elaborate and highly effective lapel-based system that he routinely uses in competition to tie his opponents in knots. Despite his multiple innovations since its introduction in 2014, the worm guard remains the hallmark of Keenan’s guard system.

Worm guard BJJ

Worm Guard BJJ Basics

The worm guard is a system of guard play that makes use of the opponent’s lapel. When applied, it creates opportunities for back takes, sweeps, and submissions. In order to apply this innovative BJJ guard, the bottom player wraps the opponent’s lapel around his or her own shin. After wrapping the lapel around his or her shin, the bottom player then passes it beneath the opponent’s opposite leg. To finalize the position, the bottom player grips the lapel with his or her far-side hand. Here’s a great breakdown of how to enter this worm guard by Keenan Cornelius himself:

Worm guard BJJ

Once applied, the worm guard forces the top player’s posture downward, making him or her very uncomfortable. In addition, the position severely restricts the top player’s ability to move and pass the guard. This creates a variety of opportunities for the bottom player. Here’s some footage of the worm guard in action with some excellent analysis by BJJ Scout:

Worm guard BJJ

Getting Started with the Worm Guard

If you’re brand new to worm guard, the first thing you should focus on is simply attaining the position. If your opponent is unfamiliar with the worm guard or doesn’t understand how to counter it, attaining the position alone should be enough to stifle his or her offense. Of course, once you’ve gotten comfortable with getting to the worm guard position, you should begin building your repertoire of techniques from this position. Here are a few basic techniques to help get you started.

Keenan Cornelius worm guard BJJ

Super Easy Sweep from Worm Guard

Once you lock in the worm guard, there is an easy sweep available that requires very little additional movement on your part. As you can see in the video below, once you attain the position, you simply pull hard on the lapel, block the opponent’s far foot with your outside foot, and drive your trapped leg into the opponent. After the sweep, you can simply the opponent’s legs away from you and come on top.

Worm guard BJJ sweep

Worm Guard BJJ Pointers

There are a few common mistakes beginners make when first messing around with this guard. In order to avoid these mistakes, there are two things you should keep in mind when setting up this guard:

(1) Wrap the Opponent’s Lapel Around Your Leg

If you forget to wrap your opponent’s lapel around your leg before you pass it to your other hand, you’re playing the lapel guard, not the worm guard. There’s nothing wrong with this guard, but it’s not the almighty worm.

(2) Pass the Opponent’s Lapel Under His or Her Opposite Leg

If you forget to pass the your opponent’s lapel under his or her leg after wrapping it around your own leg, your opponent will easily be able to pass your guard. The strength of the worm guard lies in lacing the lapel under your opponent’s opposite leg.

Passing and Countering the Worm Guard

As noted above, dealing with the worm guard can be extremely difficult once it’s fully locked in. That being said, no guard is perfect, and the worm guard is no exception. In the video below, BJJ world champion Rodolfo Vieira demonstrates his method for passing the worm guard.

Worm guard BJJ pass

In the next two videos, BJJ Scout provides some helpful tips on countering the worm guard. Remember, even if you don’t plan on playing the worm guard, you need to understand how to deal with it!

Worm guard BJJ counter 1
Worm guard BJJ counter 2

Grab a Lapel and Get to Work!

The worm guard can make life very difficult for your opponents. In fact, by simply attaining the position, even higher ranked training partners will have a tough time passing your guard or generating any offense against you. Do yourself a favor and take a trip down the worm hole!

Keenan Cornelius

Keenan Cornelius is a professional BJJ athlete. Keenan garnered worldwide recognition through his early wins in the lower belt divisions. During this time, Keenan took gold in multiple major competitions, including the World Jiu-Jitsu IBJJF Championship, Pan Jiu-Jitsu IBJJF Championship, and European Jiu-Jitsu IBJJF Championship. Many consider Keenan Cornelius to be the most accomplished BJJ brown belt in history. Early in his career, Keenan Cornelius was a member of Team Lloyd Irvin. Later, he moved to Atos, where he received his black belt from Andre Galvão in September 2013.

Worm guard BJJ
Keenan Cornelius, creator of the worm guard (BJJ), and Andre Galvão

Keenan Cornelius Lloyd Irvin Split

Following several disturbing allegations regarding Team Lloyd Irvin, Keenan Cornelius decided to cut ties with the team. Upon his departure, Cornelius explained his decision in a Facebook post, saying:

“I think some of you could care less about where I go, or what I do, and I get that, but a lot of people, including professional publications, have asked why I’ve left TLI. I want to make it clear what my reasoning is so there’s no more speculation, or worse the wrong reasons assumed.”

“Obviously, the circumstances surrounding TLI having been public so I don’t need to clarify a subject that many of you already understand and have been saturated with. In the last 6 weeks, article and blogs have spun out of control, testimonies given, and arguments and explanations made; clearly there are many views – much of which contradict each other.”

worm guard bjj
Keenan Cornelius, creator of the worm guard (BJJ), and Lloyd Irvin

“What I believe and feel about these issues is personal and private, but let me make something understood, I would, and will never, endorse, or support wrongdoing whether it’s on the mat or off. And though I have made truly great friends through TLI, have had the best training of my life here, and the greatest success, its time for me to go. I can no longer be absolutely sure that this is the right environment for me under the current and enlightening circumstances.”

“Leaving a team is not easy – especially a team like TLI. I owe a great deal of gratitude for many things that Lloyd Irvin has done for me and the training I have had with TLI. And in my decision to leave, I in no way dismiss what was good about training in MD. So I want to thank TLI and Lloyd Irvin for that experience; it was the best I’ve had. However, not all things, or circumstances, are all good, and I had to weigh what was good for, against what was not, and proceed.”

Worm guard bjj
Keenan Cornelius, creator of the worm guard (BJJ), during his Team Lloyd Irvin days

“I have to to say that my family has been very supportive (everyone should have one of those), but ultimately leaving was my decision. Though their opinion was respected and appreciated; in the end, I came to this decision independent of them.”

“The future…where I’ll train…I don’t know. From what I’ve read, I think a lot of you know where I’m headed more that I do. But yeah, there’s a lot to think about and hopefully there’ll be a bit of time to do that. I know there is great jiu jitsu and training and good times ahead. My life is bjj, and I hope to be heading out to meet and train with some great athletes who feel the same. But I’ll tell you, I’m gonna make sure that where, how, and who I do that with, is practicing that life on the mat in a way that I can truly get behind.”

Keenan Cornelius ATOS Split

Following his split with Team Lloyd Irvin, Keenan Cornelius, creator of the worm guard (BJJ), joined ATOS, the BJJ team headed by accomplished BJJ black belt Andre Galvão. During his time with ATOS, Cornelius continued to dominate the BJJ competition scene, confusing opponents with the worm guard, squid guard, and other lapel-based techniques that he developed. However, in 2019, Keenan severed ties with Andre Galvão and ATOS. Although the relationship between Cornelius and Galvão had been deteriorating for some time, the last straw came when Galvão refused to allow Cornelius to participate in class after Keenan showed up late. This episode exposed a long-running personality clash between the BJJ black belts.

Worm guard BJJ
Keenan Cornelius, creator of the worm guard (BJJ), and Andre Galvão

The split occurred just weeks prior to the 2019 IBJJF World Championship. Without a team at the time, Keenan Cornelius prepared for the tournament by attending several different gyms, including the Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu Academy in San Diego, California, and Gracie Barra in Northridge, California. Ultimately, Keenan represented the BJJ Globetrotters team at the tournament.

Keenan Cornelius worm guard BJJ
Keenan Cornelius, creator of the worm guard (BJJ), and BJJ Globetrotters

Following his split from Atos in 2019, Keenan formed Legion American Jiu Jitsu.

Keenan BJJ
Keenan Cornelius: creator of the worm guard (BJJ)

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