16 January 2014

16/01/2014 - Teaching (Basic Open Guard Maintenance with Kev Drills)

Teaching #134
Hit Fit, (BJJ), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 16/01/2014

Using your legs is key in closed guard, and perhaps even more so with open guard. To help develop that ability to use the legs, I wanted to start with the great drilling sequence I learned from Kev Capel up at RGA Bucks. The idea is to improve your guard recovery. It begins on your back, while they pass your legs, but only to the level of your knees. Bring your outside foot over and hook inside their nearest leg.

Use that to pull yourself back into position, bringing your other leg through to re-establish a square-on open guard. For the next stage of the drill, they pass to your hip rather than your knee. That requires you to frame your hands against their leg and shrimp out, before recovering guard as before.

Finally, they pass through to knee on belly. Here, you're going to use a running escape motion, which I've taught a few times now. The motion takes a bit of getting used to. Put your near hand (not far, as there's an armbar risk) on their knee, then turn your hips away, so that your bum is in the air. You then swing your legs over back to guard, as per the screen cap from Jiu Jitsu Revolution 2.

Normally in this class I would then look into grips. However, the previous times I've taught this I had an additional thirty minutes to play with, so couldn't spend as long on technique. Also, most of the people at Hit Fit don't yet have a gi, meaning that they couldn't practice the various sleeve and trouser grips. That meant I would need to simplify this a little, but that works out well because I have less time anyway.

In open guard, your feet can be used both for creating distance and for maintaining control. In terms of pushing, the main areas are on the knees, the hips and in the biceps (as you would with spider guard). You can also hook behind the knee with your feet, which is part of many open guard sweeps. Make sure that you always have both your feet on them, rather than the floor. There are also little tricks you can use here, like sitting on their foot.

If they're standing, then grabbing behind their foot is the main grip you'll look for with your hand. I've heard conflicting reports from black belts on whether it is better to grip the bottom of the trouser leg or the heel, so I'd suggest experimenting with both (unless you don't have a gi, in which case you're stuck with grabbing the heel). Generally speaking, you always want to be grabbing something with at least one of your hands: as with your feet, keep them engaged on your opponent, rather than on the floor.

Kev has a great tweak on grabbing with the heel, where you pull that heel into your hip. That makes it harder for them to do the classic escape of kicking their foot out in a circle to break your hold. Even better, try to pull the foot off the floor slightly as you clamp it to your hip. That will unbalance them, setting you up perfectly for the tripod/sickle sweep combination (which I cover in another lesson).

If they're on their knees, then your own knees come more into play. You can use those for control in a similar way to your feet, again putting them into their biceps and hips, along with areas like their chest and shoulder, depending on their positioning.

Your arms are of particular importance if they are trying to pass. Use them to create a barrier, straight-arming into their bicep, shoulder and/or hip. That pits your skeletal structure against them rather than just your muscle. Drive your knee across for further support, also pushing on their hip to create space to recover guard. You can also push on their head. Finally, you can also use your arms to break their grips on your trousers: wrap an arm behind their gripping wrist and kick your leg between their legs. Make sure you are kicking straight on: if you kick off to one side, that may set up their pass as you'll be moving sideways.

I finished with more sparring than usual, as I think the method I learned from Kev is really useful for maintaining open guard. As before, the idea is to build up leg movement. To do that, the first round is sparring open guard, but only using your legs: both of your hands are tucked into your belt, whether you're on top or on the bottom (make sure to pull them back out if you're about to fall on your face!). That's followed by sparring with legs and one hand, then finally normal open guard sparring, with the proviso that you aren't allowed to close your guard.

Teaching & Sparring Notes: Putting this into the shorter space of an hour made for a chance, for which I didn't have a definite plan. I was planning to just see how the technique part of class went, then decided where to cut it. I definitely wanted to cover where to put your feet and grabbing the heel, but wasn't sure if that would be enough before class started. So, I had the other chunk of detail in my head, ready to use if I needed to.

For the first time since I started teaching, I've been thinking about modifying the stretch at the end. That's because I'm currently reviewing a stretching program I was sent, which has a central issue (from an instructor's perspective) of being way too long to fit into a class. So, I'm seeing if there are certain sequences I can incorporate.

Timings for the whole class worked out pretty well, as it all fit into an hour. I forgot to mention grabbing the heel during the technique part, which I must remember to say next time. I did remember later on, during the Kev sparring drills, but that's harder to show. There were a few question later, which I was pleased to be able to fit in, showing a quick tripod sweep (one of my favourite techniques).

I got in a bit of training myself, as it was odd numbers. Unfortunately as tends to be the case at the moment, my training partner wasn't wearing a gi, but it was still useful. Mainly I found myself working on the principle of initiating my pass by stepping to the side of their leg and blocking that with my own leg. I also myself swivelling through into knee on belly a few times, using the other knee in the same way Dónal showed last week.

On the bottom, I finally remembered to sit up when in open guard, like Kev taught in the private lesson back in November. I was a bit flummoxed by the lack of a gi collar to grab though, plus I'd like to practice the mawashi grip but haven't had a chance yet. Instead, I ended up grabbing wrists, which I've never found all that effective but then I don't train much nogi.

It was also very cool to see two women in class. I'm hoping the number of women will continue to rise, especially as Mark has quite a few female members at Hit Fit. BJJ is a great martial art for women! :)


  1. Thanks for this. A tad advanced for me (white belt) but useful nonetheless.

    BJJ is a great martial art for women! :) darn right!

  2. Glad you got something out of it, Rachel!

    Interesting that you found that a bit advanced, as I had thought this was one of my more basic lessons (although admittedly people do often have initial trouble with the Saulo drill). Out of interest, was there anything in particular which stood out as confusing or overly complicated? I'm always keen to get feedback. :D