The closed guard is a very important position in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. By controlling your opponent’s body with your legs, you exert a tremendous amount of control over their actions. Unfortunately, it’s common for fundamentals students to use the closed guard inefficiently, making both offense and defense more difficult than it should be.
What is our goal when we have someone in our guard? We want to prevent them from escaping, and we want to break them down where they are easier to attack. One of the biggest mistakes I see is to leave your butt on the ground and to rely on keeping your ankles locked to prevent escape. While this will slow down your opponent, it doesn’t give you a good connection, and it is not efficient when you do want to break them down.
To connect to your opponent, you need to get your hips closer to their belly. There are several interconnected elements of this basic concept.
- Hip Elevation: to get your hips closer, you must raise them up off of the ground. This is beneficial when you want to break your opponent down because you get a gravity assist at the beginning, and you can generate more force against your opponent.
- Controlling opponent’s hips: squeeze your knees together, and try to ride your thighs on the crest of their hips. If they try to stand, they will have to work harder against your weight. From a physics perspective, you are getting your center of gravity closer to your opponent, which force them to bear more of your weight. Imagine if you had your feet on their hips. Even if you were suspending your body above the ground by staying on your shoulders, your opponent can easily lift your legs, and by extension your entire body. They have more leverage. If you get closer to their belly, and engage your legs on their hips, they now have less leverage, and therefore more work to move your body.
- Feet down: This primarily assists in getting your legs engaged on your opponent’s hips. If your feet hit the floor, extend them until they don’t hit the floor. You want your opponent to carry as much of your weight as possible. When working against smaller opponents who are able to sit their butt on the floor inside their feet instead of on their heels, the foot extension will be necessary to keep your feet from carrying some of your weight.
From this basic position, you can generate a tremendous amount of force with your legs and core. With the addition of your hands clearing your opponent from posting on your body as well as pulling on their head or lapel, you have excellent leverage to strike the moment they get out of a purely defensive posture.
The reality of defense in closed guard is that your opponent is holding most of the cards. I’ve heard it said that Rickson Gracie doesn’t think he could get out of his own closed guard. You must take being inside the closed guard very seriously. With every move you make, your opponent can suddenly break your posture and redirect your efforts towards regaining safety with proper posture. This section deals with some of the elements of body structure that will maximize your chances of keeping good posture until you can open your opponent’s guard.
The most basic advice for the fundamentals student is to keep your butt down and head up. This is yelled at competitors over and over during a competition match. While this helps prevent quite a few bad things from happening, it only goes part of the way towards an efficient body structure that makes you much harder to control and manipulate.
There are a surprising number of elements that go into good posture in the guard. Some of them are minor, easily forgotten, and have only a supporting role, while others can make the difference between someone thinking you are a black belt instead of a white belt.
In this class, we focus on two of the most important elements. Hip orientation and head orientation. One change to your typical hip orientation makes a dramatic difference to your ability to resist being broken down.
This is a little hard to describe, but easy to see. Your goal is to rotate your hips backwards without as little change to the rest of your body as possible. One common mistake is to rotate y our hips, but then to hunch your entire back, which makes your head more susceptible to being pulled down.
For me, this posture modification makes the difference between assuming the person inside my guard is a hard target that knows what they are doing, and assuming that I can break them down at will.
This posture change has two benefits. First, it redirects force against your lower back into your legs. With typical posture, your body acts like a hinge that bends at the waist. With your hips rotated, the hinge is no longer there, and your back is more engaged with your legs. As your opponent applies force to your back, you are redirecting that force towards your legs and the mat.
The second benefit is that this slightly lowers your center of gravity, which makes you harder to move. In other words, it gives you better base than you would have otherwise. One way to visualize this is if you have a weight on the top of a pole, it is very easy to tip it over and move it towards you. If the weight is on the floor, it is much harder to move it. Every time we lower our base and center of gravity, we make ourselves more difficult to manipulate.
The effect of this hip change is the difference between easily breaking you down, and forcing the person to pull their own weight up, even if they have a hold of your lapels. One student tried to break me down in this video and instead popped open her own guard accidentally. The other student in the video was pulling so hard that he pulled himself towards me instead of pulling me towards him.
One way to make a person easier to move around is to get their head out of alignment with their spine. The more you can misalign their head, the easier it is to make the rest of their body follow.
As you can see, the head is closer to the opponent’s control, and if you put yourself in this position, you’ll easily see that even with proper hip structure, one grip on the back of the head will collapse you.
The next stage is to get your head level with the horizon. It’s as if you are looking at the gold medal on the table that you are about to win.
Now your head is farther out of range, and it’s more difficult to bend your head forward. This is not the end of your head adjustments. The next step is to engage your neck muscles, and get your head even further away from your opponent while making your neck even stronger:
With this adjustment, your head and neck are in the strongest position possible.
When you have someone in your guard, remember to get your hips close to their belly, and keep your hips and feet off of the floor. Force them to carry your weight if they do anything, and destroy their posture as soon as they start to get out of a purely defensive mode.
Your defense depends not only on good basics of butt down and head up, but also on the exact structure of your body. The more you can build good structure, the better your defense is going to be. The changes to your structure that you’ve learned here are a subset of the ideal list of posture changes, but they are the most important and easiest to remember to implement.