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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

04 August 2011

04/08/2011 - Teaching (Passing Open Guard)

Teaching #014
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 04/08/2011

When I taught passing the closed guard a month ago, I mentioned that along with escaping side control, it is one of the things in jiu jitsu that never seems to get any easier. Arguably, passing open guard is even harder: getting past that endless array of grips, blocks and counters can be incredibly frustrating.

As much trouble as I have with passing closed guard, I think passing open guard is probably what I find most difficult in jiu jitsu. So, I was hoping this lesson would be good for me too. In the run-up to the class, I tried to spar from open guard as much as possible, either getting to the top and trying to pass, or playing open guard and watching closely how people passed me.

I kicked off with a drill for the bullfighter pass, as that is what I'd be covering in the technique section. I followed the method I was taught by Kev a while ago. Start by holding their knees. Step to one side, swinging your inside leg back. That grip on their knees means you can, at the same time, bring their near leg backwards and to the mat. This should enable your inside leg to swing through, moving to knee on belly. They escape and recover position using the open guard drill I taught a few weeks ago (again from Kev), after which you repeat, going to the other side. I'm particularly fond of drills that allow both people to work something, so hopefully it was helpful to the students.

For the technical portion of the class, I was focusing on a very basic open guard, where they've just got their feet on your hips. As with passing closed guard, you want to maintain good posture. To recap (as this goes for open guard in the same way it goes for standing in the closed guard), don't lean forwards too much. That could give them the opportunity to flip you right over their head, pushing on your hips. It also puts you closer to their submission zone.

Instead, you want to start upright, hips thrusting forwards. As when passing closed guard from standing, be careful of your foot position. They will be looking to establish some kind of control over your legs in order to go for a sweep or submission. Therefore you want to break any grips they establish. A simple option if they grip your heel is to kick your foot forward and circle it back. That works best against a heel grab, as if they get a good grip on your trousers, their hold will be tougher to dislodge.

To pass the open guard, it is advisable to grip on the inside of both their knees for control (though not everyone would agree on that: others suggest gripping lower on the trousers by their shin, knuckles facing forward, or even at the bottom of the trousers). The main danger is that they will try to loop their leg over your arm, which you can mitigate by gripping a little lower than the knee. If their legs are raised, twist your elbows in, so that your forearms are next to the inside of their lower legs.

That means you can then start to move their legs in several directions. Side to side will set you up for perhaps the most simple version of what is known as the toreador or 'bullfighter' pass (also called the toreana, toreada, toreando and matador, among other names. Google tells me the Portuguese for bullfighter is in fact 'toureiro'). The reason it has that name is because in this context, your opponent is the bull: your aim is to turn their legs into the red flag.

Like a matador (the reality of bullfighting is extremely unpleasant, but it works well as a metaphor), you're going to fake them out by going to one side, then the other. Thrust their knees sideways towards the mat, while simultaneously moving around to the opposite side. You want them to think you're trying to pass that way, then reverse direction and go the other way: switch as many times as you need, in order to trick them. As you move round for real, pin their knees to the mat. Some instructors advocate a slightly different grip, where you put one hand on the hip, still gripping the leg on the side you want to pass.

I thought that was enough for the students to work on for the initial technique, so as usual had them drill that in pairs, four minutes each. I decided to just up the resistance during the four minutes of drilling, as I didn't think it was necessary to have a further three minutes for just that technique.

So, continuing the technical instruction, you can also fake them out by driving forwards, having bent your legs slightly (rather than just leaning forwards). The reaction you want is that they push back. Go with that motion, bringing them backwards, then use your weight to bring their feet to the mat. Straighten your arms to really focus your weight, staying on your toes. That should put as much pressure as possible into their legs, keeping them squashed down as you move around for the pass.

Similarly, you could try stepping backwards, then simultaneously sprawl and punch your hands into the ground. You want to get their knees into the mat, so they're turned to the side. To finish, pass around behind their knees, then shift to side control.

Alternatively, if they don't react, you can still pass after having driven their knees towards their chest. Thrust one leg forward, then step back, pulling the other leg with you. Drive that leg into the mat with a straight arm and your body weight, then pass around on that side.

Finishing the pass off can be difficult, if they manage to get arms in the way, hook your leg or something along those lines. If you're able to really glue their knees to the mat, it may be possible to walk all the way around. You could also get just slightly past their legs, then drop your shoulder into their hip, falling forward. This will be the shoulder you have forwards: as you do that, be careful you don't bring your elbow outside their knee. Instead, maintain a solid grip throughout on their legs.

If all goes well, that should enable you to use your weight to help immobilise them, bring your knee into their hip and settle into side control. That led into the three minutes each of progressive resistance.

There was still plenty of time left after that, which was ideal. Whenever I teach a technique that I'm less confident about, I like to do a lot of drilling and sparring. That way, the students at least have a chance to get a lot of specific training on the position, hopefully helping to isolate any problems they're having. The first round was open guard sparring (no closed guard or half guard), but the bottom person is only recovering or maintaining their guard. After each person had a go, same again, but this time they could sweep and submit as well.

For the last fifteen minutes, we did king of the hill. I thought after all that sparring, they might want a chance to get their own back, so I made sure to join in. ;)


  1. That was a tough tough lesson, I was really drained from all the sparring. Probably didn't help that it was my first class back from a stomach bug but I'm sure I'd have been exhausted anyway.

    Thanks for the class sir. Need all the practise I can get with passing - as you said it's a difficult skill. I still really struggle to prevent the bullfighter pass as well, a linked problem perhaps. I can't work out how some people are able to immobilise my legs so effectively once they get my feet to the floor, yet I can't do the same at all from that position.

  2. Yeah, passing is horrible. I've been trying to pay close attention to how people are passing me: it's a bit of a change in mindset (observing rather than just focusing on your attack), but potentially helpful.