The closed guard is a foundational position of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The simple act of being on your back and putting your opponent between your legs with your ankles crossed gives you a huge number of options for controlling them while their options are severely limited. It is a position you can use to slow down and control an aggressive opponent. You can use it as a launchpad for submissions or sweeps (reversing the position and being on top). When you are in an inferior position, regaining the closed guard is often your goal since it uniquely neutralizes your opponents attacks.
Even if you move on to other more advanced forms of guard (open, butterfly, X, DLR, etc) as your primary guard, it is critical that you understand and can utilize the closed guard. This post will cover what I refer to as the static position of closed guard. I call it static because there isn’t any change in the fundamental position. Until you achieve your goals as an attacker or defender, you can’t safely move on to the dynamic portion of closed guard.
When the person on offense (the one on their back) is able to achieve their control goals, they can start their attack or work to sweep their opponent. The person on defense (the one inside the legs) has only one objective: escape. Before they can escape closed guard, they must find a way to neutralize their attacker’s control, and this requires a solid understanding of how to remain safe and prevent the attackers from gaining control.
To understand how to control your opponent, you have to understand the importance of your hips. Your hips should be fully engaged on your opponent’s stomach, and you must have free movement at the hips when you choose. A good way to get close to your opponents stomach is to drop your crossed ankles towards the ground. This will help elevate your hips and back so that your weight will be on your shoulders and your opponent’s hips. If they attempt to step a leg up or to stand, they will have to work against your weight.
This positioning allows you hinder many types of guard pass. Even if your opponent tries to bully their way through your closed guard control, you can always drive your legs towards your head to force your opponent forward into a very dangerous broken down position. If your hips start on the ground, you won’t be able to generate as much power for the posture break, and you’ll have a harder time with the hip mobility you need for many sweeps, so keep them up until you are ready to move on to the dynamic portion of closed guard.
Your opponent wants to keep their head away from your hands, and they want to control your hips. Fight for grips, and fight to get them broken down where you have access to control of their head and arms.
Short version: do the opposite of the control goals. Your first goal is to have good posture. “Head up, butt down” and variations can be heard on open mats and competition mats all over the globe. If you lean forward, you give your opponent easy access to your neck/head/lapel/things-you’d-really-rather-they-not-control. Once you have good posture, keep it by stripping all grips that can be used to break you down.
Once you are reasonably safe from being broken down, try to control the hips by cupping your hand on top of the hip bones. This will restrict side to side motion of the hips that is used for sweeps, and it will prevent your opponent from weighing down your hips with as much of their body weight. If your opponent sits up into you, retain control of the hips with one hand and push them back down. You can’t let them get access to your head.
If you have control of the hips, are unencumbered by offense grips, and your opponent isn’t breaking your posture, you have very temporarily won the exchange and are ready to escape from the closed guard. You have an extremely small window to work in, so be ready with your closed guard escapes as soon as you feel like you have achieved a successful defensive position.
If you do get broken down, your goal is to posture up and get your head out of range. If your opponent is holding you down, control the biceps until you have an opportunity to slip your head out, then immediately pop back up to vertical. There are only two positions inside someone’s guard: either postured fully up and out of range, or collapsed flat and fighting to get control of their arms until you can get back to vertical.
The static position of closed guard is a battle between two opposing goals. The person in the guard is entirely on defense, and trying to avoid having their defense broken while they try to pass the guard. The person on offense is constantly looking for angles for submissions and sweeps. Many sweep and submission opportunities depend on how the defender is trying to escape, so the battle of the guard is to first win your appropriate goals, then to advance your goals without your opponent throwing a wrench into your plans.
Because of the raw utility of the closed guard, it is a very important aspect of BJJ fundamentals. Knowing how to control and defend, and when to move on to the dynamic goals (sweep/submit/escape) are the first step towards an appreciation for the importance of this incredibly important position.