Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 27/08/2013
Passing the closed guard is something I've always found difficult, so I'm particularly keen to break down the methods in order to make it easier for everyone else. That will in turn hopefully help me as well. Working out exactly what to teach takes some thought, as there is a lot to cover, even at the basic level of how to initiate your attempts to open the guard.
First thing I wanted to cover was posture. Stay upright, with your head up. Curving your back slightly can help too. 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.
That collar grip is something I've been experimenting with recently, after taking a private lesson with Dónal on breaking open the closed guard and passing. The standard way to grab the collars is to simply grip and twist. Dónal prefers to open them both up, put them together then start twisting the collar inwards to take out any slack. That means that when you grab, your hand should stay in place, rather than shifting up or down their body.
Another option is to grab their belt instead, but be warned that can come undone, automatically removing your grip. Whichever one you use, if possible, jam your collar gripping hand just under their sternum, to wedge it in place. You can either use the heel of your hand or possibly a fist, depending on how you're gripping their gi.
For a strong base, widen your knees, sitting on your heels. 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.
A key detail is to come up on your toes. This will feel uncomfortable at first, but it provides you with much better base than having your insteps flat on the floor. With your toes up, you can resist their attempts to pull your around. It also enables you to drive forward and improves your mobility.
Another 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.
In order to attack, they are going to want to disrupt your base and break your posture down. The first way they'll probably do that is to establish a strong grip, on your sleeve and collar. You don't want that, so try to strip any grips before beginning your pass. Not to say that it's impossible to pass if they've got grips, but you'll find it easier if they don't.
If they grab your collar, use both of your hands to grab either side of that sleeve or wrist. Push it forcefully away from you, while simultaneously leaning back slightly. If you remember the grip break from the maintaining closed guard lesson I taught a while back, 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.
If they get a grip on your sleeve, then grab their sleeve with your free hand. To break the grip, yank your trapped hand back as your gripping 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. A simpler option is to circle your hand either inside or outside of their arm, then chop downwards to break the grip: there is a good explanation of that in Beneville's excellent Passing the Guard.
Should they get a hold of the material 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.
There is also a one-handed grip break you can try, which Xande showed recently: he calls it the 'y grip break'. This has some similarities to circling your hand, but this time you circle it underneath their hand, shoving the 'v' between your thumb and index finger into the heel of their hand. Thrust your arm forward forcefully to free your sleeve. You might also be able to use your hand position to grab their wrist, putting you in control and negating their own grip.
Teaching & Sparring Notes: This was a particularly simple lesson, which judging by feedback was perhaps a little too simple. Asking Chris and Mike, there is scope to add in a bit more technique: putting in the basic guard break from the knees could work. I'm not sure whether I should do that as part of the posture details at the start or with the grip breaks in the second part. Another option would be to reduce the number of grip breaks, or as Chris suggested, do what I've done in the past with a 'basic' option and an 'advanced' option.
In other words, I could show the grip breaks, then tell people they can just stick with that if they want, but they can also do the guard break if they're already comfortable with stripping the grips, after which I show the guard break itself. Mike also suggested that I probably don't need as much time doing progressive resistance on the posture stuff: I cut it down to 2 minutes each rather than the usual 3, but could cut it down further. Or perhaps just include it in the general drilling?
The most useful thing from that lesson is probably coming up on your toes, so I kept emphasising that during progressive resistance and sparring. I know from personal experience it isn't a comfortable position to hold, but it makes a significant difference.
I also had the chance to get in a bit of sparring, which as with drilling on Sunday was useful. On top I was looking to secure the two firm grips on the chest and hip in order to start wriggling backwards, but that can be easier said than done. What I ended up doing was switching my arms to press my elbow down on their collar grip, to loosen it up sufficiently that I could initiate my guard break.
I wasn't generally breaking the grips: I'm still not sure whether it is possible to move around the grips or they have to be broken before you can start your pass. I did manage to open the guard and move into a single underhook pass while they still had grips, but that might have been due to them going light or the difference in experience. Something I'll keep playing with at study hall, along with back escapes.
Underneath, I'm not feeling super-confident yet either. I focused first on breaking their posture by bringing my knees to my chest. However, they were generally doing a good job of keeping that arm into my chest, which automatically makes it harder to disrupt their base and knock them down. I also attempted to angle off a few times, to see if I could move around the arm that was pressing into my chest. Finally, when they grabbed my sleeve, I pulled it back towards my head to get them moving forwards, again to help break their posture (though I'm not sure if that is potentially dangerous, if they were able to get control of my sleeve and pin my hand somehow).
I did briefly go for the grip break I taught a while back, without much success. I started pulling the arm behind my head, but it became a force thing, meaning I lost my grip. I then switched to pushing across, but they were now wise to it and scuppered my efforts before I got too far. Useful stuff, hopefully beneficial to my approach to closed guard going forwards. Though I definitely want to get in at least one more private on the topic, for more details on posture breaking and correctly angling off if nothing else.