Artemis BJJ (Bristol Sports Centre), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 02/07/2014
Using your legs is key in closed guard, and perhaps even more so with open guard, our new Position of the Month at Artemis BJJ. 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.
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 I'll be teaching next week).
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 Notes: This is very much a class focused on drills, so I'm still working out how best (or indeed whether or not) to include a brief bit of technical discussion about placing your arms and legs, along with grips. I think it is worth at least briefly running through the point that you want to be engaging your legs and hands at all times, as well as that quick list of hooking, pushing and pulling with the feet. Grips are important too, especially on the foot as that's the main grip when they are standing up.
That did generate a bit of discussion tonight, leading me to think that I could teach it slightly differently. Normally I just say "you can grab the trouser leg or the heel, but if you do the latter be aware they can kick it free." However, it is worth emphasising Kev's tips for the heel grip (pulling their foot onto your hip), as well as simply sitting on their foot, which I've been doing recently. I could go into detail on gripping the sleeve too, with pocket grips and pistol grips. The problem I'm having is how best to organise that info, in a way that's both memorable and useful. Something for me to think about some more.
Also, Dónal added in some useful ideas at the end, when I asked if there were any questions. Chris mentioned two that he had, regarding what to do when being stacked. That's definitely something worth covering: you could probably do a whole lesson just on that, or at least some drills. My response is normally to shoulder walk backwards to make space, as well as framing on their head if they're stacking especially close. Dónal suggested pushing off firmly with the back of your upper leg on their shoulder, along with a cool triangle set-up if they were going for the double unders (basically gable-gripping on the arm and using that to kick your leg free and move into the submission).
Unrelated to that, Dónal had some funky side control things he was playing with at the end, pulling them up by wrapping their gi under their arm. Looked useful, so I'll have to try that next time I'm on top in side control. ;)