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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

04 February 2019

04/02/2019 - Teaching | Open Guard | Maintenance

Teaching #834
Artemis BJJ (MYGYM Bristol), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 04/02/2019

Short Version:
  • Use your legs ('spears') as your first line of defence, pressing into hips, chest, knees etc
  • Next line of defence are your shins and knees, your 'shield'
  • Then you can draw out your 'sword', blocking with your arm
  • Avoid them getting to the space from your chest to your knees
  • An option to block that is putting your knee and elbow close together

Full Version: 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).

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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.

It is also worth keeping in a point from Christian Graugart (which I first saw him teach at the 2016 BJJ Globetrotter Camp in Leuven, but he often mentions it). 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.

Graugart isn't the only person to teach this approach to open guard. Quite a few instructors have a version of that guard, such as Ryan Hall's 'shell guard', Tom Barlow's 'egg guard' and most in depth of all, Priit Mihkelson's 'grilled chicken guard'. My Texan friend John Palmer has something similar too, back when he talked about 'ball theory', IIRC, several years ago. The basic idea is keeping your knees wide and close to your chest, your arms on the outside. This forms a solid barrier to protect that knee to chest area, as long as you can keep that 'shell' or 'egg' intact.

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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: I've almost got this to the place I want now. Start off by talking about a medieval battlefield, dealing with a cavalry charge by using pikes. They dismount, unsheath their swords. Block that with your shield (shins/knees), can also draw your own sword. BJJ armourers are forgetful, so they didn't provide any armour from the armpits down to the thighs: you need to defend that. Don't let them in, or you're vulnerable.

The non-metaphorical way of describing it is defensive framing, with long range (legs), medium range (shins, knees, arms) and short range (elbows, when they've pretty much passed) defences.

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