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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

25 October 2011

25/10/2011 - Gracie Barra Bristol (X-Guard)

Class #426
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Donal Carmody, Bristol, UK - 25/10/2011

My wrist and neck are still not in working order, but Donal's classes have been too good to miss, especially as he is currently going through open guard. It did unfortunately mean I couldn't do all the drills, like the gorilla walk, but I could at least get the technical benefits from Donal's impressively cheerful instruction. ;)

Tonight it was x guard, going through the classic sweep from that position. First, Donal showed how to get into the position. Starting in a simple spider guard, where you have their sleeves pulled around your knees, the x-guard entry beckons when they stand up. Hook your instep around the outside of their far hip, while the knee of that same leg goes behind their near knee. The instep of your other foot also hooks on the far side, but this time behind their upper leg. Your legs and feet now form a sort of 'x', hence the name of the guard.

You also want to make sure you scoot underneath them, so you may need to wriggle your bum sideways and forwards to get in position. The aim is to get your near arm wrapped around the leg closest to your head. Push with your legs to stretch them out, which also makes their near leg light: it should now be a simple matter to bump that up onto your shoulder with your wrapping arm. Immediately lock that to your head, clamping it in place with both your skull and your arm (either grab your gi with your hand, or hold your own head).

There is still another grip you need, to fully break their posture. Ideally, you want to grab their far sleeve. If that is out of range, the second best option is their near sleeve. If you can't get that either, you'll have to make do with any lapel that is dangling within reach, making sure you really pull that tight, feeding it as far into your grip as you can. This should now force them to lean towards you awkwardly, making it hard for them to balance.

If you can get the far sleeve, you have a chance to totally mess up their posture. Pull that far sleeve right to your shoulder, so they're yanked forward. Pass that sleeve to your other hand (but still keeping the arm wrapped around their leg). This will put an even better grip in range: the armpit of that far sleeve. Grab that and pull it towards you. From here, you barely have to do anything to knock them over to get the sweep, as their posture is completely broken.

Should that not be possible and you're left with a slightly less awesome grip, push on their far leg with your feet to stretch it out. The normal process would be to then keep pushing with the sole of the foot you had on their outside hip, transferring it to the side of their knee. That would then enable you to do a technical stand-up, lifting their leg up onto your shoulder as a result (because you still have it wrapped with your arm). Simply keep moving forward to knock them over, then pass.

Donal does it slightly differently, as he doesn't put the sole of his foot on their knee. Instead, he keeps the instep hooked and pushes with that. Also, when standing up, Donal noted that you don't have to drive forward to get them down. You can instead just pull their leg in tight and shove your shoulder into it to start your pass.

Sparring was next, in the 1-2-3 set-up Donal normally uses, but I wasn't confident my injuries would hold up against excited white belts. So instead, I had a roll with Tony's son (I think he's 8 or 9), which gave me a chance to go into instructor mode. I tried to give him a chance to work his guard recovery, as well as practice x-guard, although given the difference in leg length that wasn't easy. I'm not yet used to teaching kids, but if they were all as attentive and polite as this one, it would be a doddle. ;)

To finish off, I had three light rolls, first with Luke, then Donal, then a flow roll with Luke again (although Luke has such good control it always pretty much feels like a flow roll). In the course of that, I got a good tip from Donal. At one point he was passing my guard, while I still had a pocket grip on the bottom of his trousers (by which I mean you create a 'pocket' with your thumb by rolling it under the cuff, then put your four fingers into that pocket). I tend to get nervous about my fingers, so will often switch to the less secure grip of the heel.

However, Donal said that you need to have faith in that pocket grip. Like Big Mick said in his lesson a while ago, if you just stick with that grip, it makes it really tough for them to pass. Donal gave the example that when they are trying to drive their leg through, maintain that grip and squeeze your knees together on both sides of the leg (without locking your feet, as then you can squeeze even more). Turn their leg over your body in the other direction, then open your knees back up to re-establish guard.


  1. Yes, good advice on the grips. Nick B is such a fine example of awesome gripping - not power, just precise placement and timing. I've learned a lot just by having more faith in my own grips. Interestingly, Stephen Kesting's most recent newsletter discusses this point - actually the fight for grips and I find it interesting how, with so much discussion on BJJ techniques, that something so simple as grips, are largely overlooked and yet make so much fundamental difference to how one plays the game.

  2. I think the answer is fairly simple: grips are important but quite boring (as opposed to a flashy spider guard sweep or something), so people don't pay as much attention to them. ;)