There are many different variations of open guard out there, and probably 1 or 2 new variations after this most recent World Championships! Intermediate BJJ students will move beyond the basic closed guard to see the possibilities of open guard. These students should experiment with all of the different guards to find their own style. This is both a challenging and really fun time in your jiu-jitsu.
Regardless of whether you are in love with De la Riva, spider guard, or butterfly guard, there are some concepts that apply to all of the guards. Learning these concepts will help make your guard more effective.
When you are initially learning a new guard style, you will be primarily focused on the mechanics of the guard position. You will be asking questions such as, “Where should I grab with this hand? Sleeve or collar?”
You will also learn the most effective, high percentage techniques from that specific guard. For example, you will learn what the most important sweep from De la Riva guard is.
Once you have achieved some level of understanding of these first two aspects, you can look at applying the following concepts to whichever guard you are trying to add to your game.
Here are three details intermediate students need to remember when using open guard.
1) Control the distance
For any guard, there is an optimal distance between you and your opponent. And that might be very different for different specific guards.
For example, you want to get close when using the butterfly guard, so close in fact that you are underneath your opponent to undermine their base. With the spider guard, it may be the opposite, though. Stretching out your opponent is crucial to prevent them from gaining posture and breaking your grips.
The sweet spot of optimal distance varies from guard to guard.
2) Use those grips!
The most common open guard mistake I see is students lying on their backs with their legs sticking up in air like an expired cockroach. They also have no grips while trying to make some weak hooks by circling their feet. This is not very effective at preventing the guard pass!
It is not enough to simply take a sleeve grip or put your foot in the opponent’s hip. An effective open guard is doing more with your hooks and grips than merely placing your limbs in the correct configuration. You must make your opponent uncomfortable by using those grips and hooks to disrupt their balance.
If you have a collar grip, really pull to break their posture. If you have a foot in the hip, really push to stretch the opponent out and disturb their base.
Ask yourself how can you use each grip and hook to maximum effectiveness?
3) Have a 2 dimensional guard
A 1 dimensional guard is a guard where you are only lying on your back and looking to sweep or submit.
What is the other, forgotten dimension?
Standing up! Looking for a single or double leg take down by sitting up.
This is surprisingly common, strategic omission for many BJJ students. There is often an unspoken agreement that if one guy finds himself on the bottom, he is now obligated to lie back and play guard.
By threatening to sit up for an ankle pick or single leg, the opponent must stop their passing attempt and prevent you from standing up. This double threat is much more difficult to defend than a guard player who accepts the bottom position.
How can you apply these concepts to your open guard game?