A common misperception in the art of learning that beginners routinely make is the desire to focus on every intricate detail of a technique that they can get their hands on. Principle-based learning is a proven way to consolidate a vast arsenal of techniques into a few easy-to-apply concepts.
In Open Guard Translated, Chicago-based Professor Adem Redzovic breaks down the six central principles of playing, maintaining, and recovering open guard. As an early blue belt, I along with my teammates had the privilege of being the guinea pigs for Professor Adem’s initial distribution of the Open Guard Translated principles in live class. Now, this set of concepts has since created international demand for his seminars. Over the last four years, I have pointed any and every training partner that’s asked me about playing open guard to this video as a crash course in playing the bottom. It has brought great clarity and understanding of any guard that I plug into its template — spider guard, x-guard, z-guard, you name it. These concepts are tried and true, and will stand the test of time.
Principle #1: If You Open Your Guard, You’ll Play Open Guard. If Your Opponent Opens Your Guard, He Is Likely To Pass
When operating from closed guard, a good opponent will inevitably engage in proper posture and grip strategies to pry apart your legs. If they should initiate that opening, you will be playing catch-up in your attempt to establish any type of open guard. If you break open your guard before your legs are forced open, while you are conceding a line of defense, you gain the right of way in establishing a meaningful open guard. Do not allow your opponent to initiate the guard break or else you may be at risk of getting smashed.
Principle #2: Always Have Four Points Of Contact
In opening your guard, your first priority needs to be establishing points of contact on your opponent with your feet as well as attaining grips with both hands. Anytime our opponent breaks one of these four points of contact, you are under no other obligation than to get that point of contact back somewhere. If you have a collar and sleeve grip with both feet on the hips, for example, should your opponent break the collar grip, it would be wise to transition that grip to the next available opportunity, usually another sleeve grip or perhaps an ankle grip. Professor Adem brings up a fair point brought to him by Professor Samuel Braga: is it possible to climb a mountain with one, two, or three points of contact on the rocks? Ideally, you will need four points in order to make meaningful momentum.
Principle #3: The Feet Are Your First Line Of Defense
In dealing with your opponent’s pressure, regardless of how much they weigh, you will feel the minimum amount of weight on the bottom should your feet be blocking their progression. Whether you have a foot on the bicep, foot on the hip, or even a De La Riva hook, your first line of defense is the primary barrier that your opponent must address in order to execute a positional advancement. Keeping him behind your feet adds another barrier to defense. Coupled with two grips, this creates a formidable wall of defense that can keep guard passers at bay.
Principle #4: The Knees Are Your Second Line of Defense
This principle can be understood by taking a closer look at the knee shield half-guard. Your knees, while comparably less powerful than the feet, hold a significant capability to manage the passing pressure of your opponent. Several guard variations begin by using the knee connection as an intermediate position, acting as a segway to attacks and sweeps. The popular Shaolin sweep uses knee connections in addition to a pant and sleeve grip in completing the reversal. The classic scissor sweep similarly employs a knee contact across the chest to load the opponent’s weight. The knees are an incredibly valuable point of contact, often being the best option for managing body position when the feet are taken out of the picture.
Principle #5: Initiative And Proper Body-Positioning Are Your Third Lines of Defense
There is a requirement for the third line of defense to take effect: the initiative to control the transition to a new position. Transitioning from a knee shield half-guard to an underhook dog-fight half-guard requires conscious execution of timing, kicking the knee shield through, and simultaneously attaining the underhook on your terms. A deep-half guard requires swimming underneath your opponent avoiding a crossface or kimura counter. This can only be done if you are not forced into a corner, rather you initiate the movement towards your favored position when you feel there is an appropriate opening. Similar to Principle #1, if a guard passer forces himself past your feet, then your knees, you are going to feel the brunt of their pressure. Controlling the transition effectively puts you on the offensive, forcing your opponent to have to shift their focus towards a different position.
Principle #6: The Concept Of Recovering Your Lines Of Defense
In order to make the first five principles work in live sparring, you need the ability to move between your lines of defense seamlessly. The sixth principle is simply the concept of understanding that everything is interconnected. If you have a knee shield, you can use your knees to reconfigure yourself to reattain your feet as a point of contact. You can use your knees and feet to help you get back to closed guard. It is a good strategy to make your default goal in any open guard to get back to closed guard. Within this concept, there will be various transitions that employ the first, second, and/or third lines of defense. Setting your GPS to closed guard gives you a solid destination and reference to go off of. As you become more advanced, you may begin filtering various points of contact into your favorite type of guard, creating a malleable game that is built upon a sound foundation of different lines of defense.
Wherever you are in your journey, take these principles and insert them into your intentions overnight. You will find that any game, any guard, any style fits into this template. Having a guard game built upon layers gives you the freedom and safety net to experiment with sub-categories of guards, opening you up to a world of possibility based upon your body type and preferences.