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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

05 June 2017

05/06/2017 - Teaching | Open Guard | Maintaining

Teaching #670
Artemis BJJ (MYGYM Bristol), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 05/06/2017

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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.

For teaching, I decided to use an extended metaphor, as if jiu jitsu was an ancient battlefield where you are facing a cavalry charge. The best way to defeat a cavalry charge is with polearms, like a spear. Stab that at their hips, knees, shoulders, stomach, arms, whatever makes for a good point of purchase. Or perhaps you have a different polearm, like a billhook, so you can also pull your attacker off their horse (i.e., pull against the back of their knees to affect their balance).

If they get fed up of trying to pass your spears, they might dismount and engage lower down. Now is the time to bring your shield to bear, which in this context is your knee and shin. Push that against their stomach, shoulders, arms etc to prevent them driving forward. That should give you enough space to draw your sword. You might have a straight stabbing sword, stiff-arming into their hips, shoulders and collar. Perhaps you also have a curved sword, slicing and swinging (in our BJJ context, that's grabbing the collar and pulling). But that curved sword/bent arm is no good for stabbing: if you're going to use a straight sword/stiff arm, if needs to stay straight to be effective.

Also keep in mind that they have swords too. Therefore use your swords and spears to parry, preventing their attack. Put your shield in place, which is your knee and shin pressed against their shoulder and/or chest, then use a stiff arm into their shoulder and or wrist: that takes their arm out of commission. You can also parry their sword with your spears, pushing your foot into their bicep. Remember, you can always keep resetting to the previous level. Having held them off with your sword and shield, bring your spear back in (so, blocking them with your stiff arms and knees may give you the scope to put a foot on their knee or hip, push back and return to a long range guard).

Finally, to keep the metaphor going, you have a 'command camp' that needs to be defended. Your general is stationed there, by your head and chest. You therefore need to keep this camp safe. The entrance is by your armpits, so keep the gates locked (i.e., elbows tight to your sides). That there is a major weak spot in your armour: the section from above your knees to your chest. You therefore need to defend this area, keeping it safe from attack. Conversely. if you are attacking, that's the place to aim for and control.

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Or to put it another way without metaphors, 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.

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.

While your legs are key and your first line of defence, the arms can act as a handy second or even third line of defence should they beat your legs. 'Stiff arming' into their legs, shoulders, arms etc can give you the space you need to recover back to an earlier line of defence. An alternative is to sit up into what is, appropriately, known as 'sitting guard', stiff arming from there. That can open up several sweeps and attacks.

I also added in a point from Christian Graugart at the 2016 BJJ Globetrotter Camp in Leuven. His opening lesson was titled 'jiu jitsu explained in 30 seconds', on which he delivered. In short, his argument was that jiu jitsu is all controlling the area from the knees up to the chest. On top, you're trying to get something into that space - your arm, your leg, your torso - while on the bottom, you're attempting to defend that space, keeping your knees to your chest.

I finished with those sparring drills again, learned from Kev: they're 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 (or behind your back if you don't have a 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. There's a bit of video up on the Artemis BJJ Instagram page.

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Teaching Notes: Like last time, I still feel as though I'm rushing the instruction portion of this. Though also as before, the focus is the drilling. I added in a bit to my metaphor, which was intended to incorporate Graugart's open guard stuff into it. The way I described was that the head and chest are your 'command camp' where the general was stationed, so you must defend it. I meant to make that even more convoluted, by saying that the entrance to the camp is via your armpits so you have to keep the 'gates' (your elbows) locked in tight, but didn't get round to that part. Next time, I'd like to see if it works. Also, Graugart describes it as the section from your knees to your chest, that needs to be emphasised too.

I also need to be careful of basic stuff like can everyone hear me. Classes have been getting really big in the lead up to the grading, with 20+ people regularly on the mats. So, I should explain the drilling BEFORE I split them into the two lines in two groups. I was starting to lose my voice a bit from shouting, as I've never been too good on loud volume. :)

I haven't been doing that Kev drilling sequence recently either, that's something else I'll add back in next time.

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