Williams Guard BJJ & MMA Breakdown

Williams Guard

Key Points

The Williams Guard is a trapping guard that provides control over your opponent’s posture and can be similar to a rubber guard but requires less flexibility as you only need to bring your knee to your shoulder. The trapping nature gives you excellent control that will prevent an opponent from striking with any power in MMA but also limits the ability to take the back, sweeping and choking options.

Videos Are Included for All Key Positions Discussed.

Setups will aim to get an overhook on the opponent, which can be when they place a hand on the mat or from pummeling in, then wrapping behind your leg to lock your hands together, creating a frame. Gripping options for the frame can vary, but a gable grip would be typical. The frame will then block the opponents head by keeping it at a 90-degree angle, or Neil Melanson prefers to drive it up into the collar bone.      

Ideally, you want to be on your side with a hip angle and not flat on your back when playing the guard, which will provide you with more attacking opportunities. You will then have a hooking arm and leg, leading to a trapped arm and leg on your opponent, with the other side acting as the free arm and leg.    

The most common attacks will then be the armbar, triangle and omoplata, which will be set up depending on the opponent’s free arm position and if they are driving into the frame or pulling away from it. I will look closer at these attacks in future Nano Breakdowns.      

Prominent advocates for it are Shawn Williams where it gets the name Williams Guard from which was given to it by John Danaher and Neil Melanson, who calls it the Shoulder Pin, which he detailed in his excellent triangle chokes book.      

In grappling and MMA competitions, people who have used it include Dean Lister, Dominyka Obelenyte, Braulio Estima, Clark Gracie, Roger Gracie, Marcin Held, Jimy Hettes, Jake Swinney & Chris Holdsworth.


Far Arm Bar

After establishing the frame on the trapped arm, your attacks will vary depending on your opponent’s free arm position. 

If they have kept an inside bicep tie with their free arm or kept it on your chest, which is usually a good defence, and then chooses to drive back into you to square their hips, it will set up an opportunity to attack with a far armbar. 

As the frame will ensure that you keep your angle even though they are driving back towards you. Even if you only have some angle remaining and they look to bring their hand back toward the inside space, you may still have a chance to attack with the far armbar. 

If they then elect to pull away, it opens up the opportunity to attack with triangle chokes and omoplatas, which we will take a look at next.

Triangle Choke

If the opponent has placed their far arm outside of the frame or onto the mat, you can look to attack with the triangle choke by bringing your knee underneath their arm and kicking over for the triangle. Once you have your far knee underneath their arm, you can release the framing arm while still holding the shoulder pin as if they choose to drive back into the frame; it works to their disadvantage. 

That allows you to use your free arm to flight their grip and help manipulate the wrist to secure the triangle. The first lock you get on the triangle might be a reverse triangle, so you can look to finish that using a reverse triangle technique, or you can switch the legs over and bring the arm across for a regular triangle. Alternately kimura attacks are available on the opponent’s arm if they keep it on one side of their body. 

Next up, we will look at Omoplata setups from the same position.


Once you have established the frame on the trapped arm, you can seek to either attack the Omoplata proactively or reactively. Proactively will be where you initiate the Omoplata by using one of your free hands to reach up and grab your leg to pull down over the head of your opponent into an Omoplata position. 

Ideally, you reach under your leg for your grip so you can maintain the maximum amount of knee pressure on their shoulder the whole time during the transition. Alternatively, if your opponent pulls away from the frame, you will be able to transition into the Omoplata reactively. 

The Omoplata is the highest percentage attack from the Williams Guard / Shoulder pin, but like most Omoplata attacks, it still becomes more prone to end in a sweep rather than a submission. But if I get a sweep from the guard, I still consider the improvement in position successful, especially for a mixed martial arts situation. 

Next, I will finish this look at the Williams Guard by examining how to deal with the most common counters, notably the pinwheel or cartwheel pass. 

Williams Guard Counters

As with any guard, the Williams / Shoulderpin guard is susceptible to counters. It was initially in the 10th Planet system where it was called “London” but was removed by Eddie Bravo after he decided that the pinwheel/cartwheel pass counter to the guard was too powerful. 

The pinwheel pas is where you rotate around and step over the opponents head-on the trapped arm side, and as both of the guarders hands are used in the frame, they cannot stop the pass. 

Shawn Williams counters this by immediately transitioning into a deep low single leg as the opponent steps over your head. I would still consider this an upgrade in position going from guard into a deep single-leg, especially in MMA. From there, you have multiple options to finish the single, which you should become proficient at completing. 

Another way to prevent this is to anticipate it and switch to the omoplata as they begin to step around. You can then face the back of your palm towards the opponent’s hips which will let you use their momentum and leverage to lift you into top position. 

As with all guards, the stack is another counter that can prevent you from establishing your frame. To deal with this, you can look to switch the side you attack the opponent. 

In the meantime, check out the work of Shawn Williams and Neil Melanson, who go in-depth on this guard with their Instructionals on BJJ Fanatics. 

That concludes the Breakdown series on the Williams / Shoulder Pin Guard.