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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

07 July 2011

07/07/2011 - Teaching (Passing Closed Guard)

Teaching #011
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 07/07/2011

Before I get into the class details, congrats to all the new blues at Gracie Barra Bristol, three of whom showed up tonight (Clayton, Mike and Tom). I was particularly happy to hear Kirsty got her blue. That's because (as I've read in several places recently) the most important step to building up the number of women in class is to have a senior female student. I'm hoping that now there is a female blue belt regularly training at GB Bristol, that will encourage prospective female students. :)

In terms of preparation and teaching, tonight was my toughest class so far, not helped by the fact I still haven't shaken off that cold (which is why I haven't been training much recently). Guard passing has always been the worst part of my game, ever since I started. It often feels like it hasn't improved at all in almost five years, but hard to tell from the perspective of the student.

So, I tried to look at the positive side of not being great at something you're about to teach. I guess the main plus it means you probably know some of the typical problems, as you run into them yourself so often, and have therefore spent some time considering what you're doing wrong. Before I can even get into position to pass the guard, I tend to struggle to stand and then open. Therefore I decided I'd kick off my first guard passing class by talking about posture and grips: essentially, how to prepare the pass.

There are three main ways to get their legs uncrossed. The first option, and probably the hardest, is to go from the knees. This has the advantage that you are less likely to be swept, but you're in much more danger of being submitted. As is so often the case in jiu jitsu, posture is very important: if you reverse engineer the lesson on maintaining closed guard, that means you don't want them to grip your collar or get a hold of your head.

Stay upright, back straight, head up. Also don't let them bend your arms: keep at least one of them stiff into their hip. It is very important to control their hips, as they need to angle off to attack effectively. Your other hand is ready to push them down if they attempt to raise their torso towards you, or more typically, gripping both collars and keeping their back on the mat.

For a strong base, widen your knees, sitting on your feet. Alternatively, you could try squeezing your knees to their hips to stop them moving, but that will result in a less sturdy base. Make sure you do not put your elbows on the outside of their legs: keep them inside, or they can start kicking up into your armpit for triangles, armbars, flower sweeps etc.

In order to attack, they are going to want to disrupt your base. The first way they'll probably do that, as we've covered in the last two weeks, is to establish a strong grip, on your sleeve and collar. You don't want that, so try to strip any grips before standing.

If they grab your collar, use both of your hands to grab either side of that sleeve. Push it forcefully away from your, while simultaneously leaning back slightly. If you remember the grip break from the break from the maintaining closed guard lesson, this is a similar principle, but from the opposite position. Another option is to put both your hands on their gripping arm, trapping it to their torso. Posture up forcefully to break the grip.

Alternatively, you could use that to pass regardless of the grip, like Saulo in Jiu Jitsu University (pp193-194). Turn your body to face in the opposite direction, pressing your gripped side arm into their stomach, just above the belt. Your other hand moves to their gripping side knee. Push down on that knee as you also drop your weight and shift your hips and back into that leg.

The other way they'll be looking to disrupt your base is to angle their hips away. To prevent that, you can simply follow them, making sure you keep squaring back up so they don't have that attacking angle anymore. You could also try caging their hips by squeezing your knees together, but that can result in a less stable base

If they grab a sleeve, then grab their sleeve with your free hand, after which you yank your trapped hand back as your free hand drives forward (TrumpetDan has a good video on this, here. I don't generally recommend YouTube, but he is one of the better teachers on there: I often find his stuff helpful). A simpler option is to circle your hand to one side of their arm, then chop to break the grip: some good explanation of that in Beneville's Passing the Guard, which I've been re-reading in the run-up to this class.

Should they get a hold by your knee, you can use a similar grip break. Grab their gripping wrist with your same side arm and press it to the mat, then kick your trapped leg back. Ideally, as with the previous grip break, this will now give you control of their arm, which you can immediately use to initiate your pass.

If you can actually get to the right position (a tough battle in itself), a basic method for getting the legs open from here is to put a knee in the middle, then step the other leg back. It is essential that you keep an arm driven into their hip, as otherwise their hips remain mobile. You need to get them static in order to generate enough force to pop the ankles open. Move your hip back, turning the point of your hip into their ankles to break it open. Saulo recommends bringing your body slightly downwards to achieve that break.

Best of all is if you can get a grip which takes one of their arms out of the equation, such as pressing their sleeve into their hip. It can also be a big help with the second option for opening the guard, which is also probably the safest: standing up. This means you now have gravity on your side, though there is more of a risk that they can sweep you. If you can grab their sleeve, then you'll be able to step your foot up on that side with impunity, as they can't use their arm to attack it.

Just as when on your knees, posture is key. You want to be upright, hips driving forwards, still making certain your elbows stay inside their legs. You should also have one leg stepped back and to the side to make it harder to sweep you. Angle the knee you have by their bum towards them, like in Cane Prevost's video (see his awesome post about standing in guard here): he suggests that this helps stability. From there, his next step is to arch his back to pop open the ankles.

There is another basic option you can try if they attempt to hook your foot. Kick your foot forward and out to break their grip, then put it back down out of their reach. This is particularly effective if they are only grabbing behind your heel, slightly less so if they have a firm grip of the gi material.

I was a lot less comfortable demonstrating passing posture from standing up than I was when on my knees. I continue to feel awkward when standing inside somebody's guard, and I don't feel like I generate enough pressure or have sufficient balance and base. Next time, I'll spend some more time looking into the fine details of standing posture, so I can pass that on. In free sparring, I've been trying to move straight to the pass rather than my usual immediate flopping to my back, so that should help when I come to teach passing again (presuming I finally shake off this damn cold and get back to proper training).

I had an interesting unexpected addition to the class, when the doorbell rang after I'd just finished teaching the first part of class. A gentleman in his late thirties/early forties was standing there, with a towel, shorts and a t-shirt. He asked simply, "I was hoping I could get in a roll?"

People have occasionally turned up before unannounced, but normally they are looking to become a member. They'll say how they spoke to Geeza earlier and wanted to start BJJ, at which point I'll beckon them inside. This chap was visiting from the US, and given he wanted to roll, presumably wasn't a total beginner. He said he didn't have a gi, so I thought at first he might be an MMA guy. I was a bit uncertain about whether to let him in, as class had already been going for some time.

However, he then mentioned he used to train at Alliance with Jacare, then later with Roberto Traven. It's unlikely somebody outside of BJJ would have any idea who they were, so I decided it would be fine to let him join in. As I showed him where the changing rooms were, I innocently asked if he had gotten any rank while at Traven's.

"Yeah, black belt."

So, that was kinda cool. Thanks for training with us, Paul! :D


  1. Hahah lol at the random passer by being a black belt. I hope he offered some neat tips in class whilst rolling - I presume you rolled with him too?

  2. Heh - no, due to aforementioned sniffle, I wasn't rolling. I don't tend to when teaching unless there are odd numbers or a small class, as I feel bad about taking away a student's opportunity to roll.

    On the other hand, rolling can be a great way to teach one-on-one. Depends on numbers. :)

  3. I really enjoyed this class. It was great to really focus on grips and posture and just drill a load. The way the we were rotating through wasc great as well because we got both a focused goal and plenty of variation in partners to keep it interesting.

  4. Glad you found it useful Mike, and thanks for the feedback. :)

    I'm a big fan of the GB Brum 1-2-3 method, as I find that otherwise in king of the hill sparring, the most adept people tend to monopolise sparring time.

  5. Thanks for that video link. I'm still watching it, but I have such a deep aversion to standing, that I know it's going to be helpful. I just started trying the JJU pass a couple weeks back and I really like it, though I'm still having some issues with getting caught in triangles.

  6. No probs: as I also hate standing, I'm hopeful that teaching it will rub off on my own sparring. :)

    Key to avoiding triangles is keeping that elbow inside. Roy Dean does a great breakdown on No Gi Essentials.