Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
Opening the Guard
Getting the guard open has to be one of the toughest things in all of jiu-jitsu to accomplish. Think about all of the tools your opponent has at their disposal: posture-compromising attacks, chokes, armlocks, and even the constant threat of transitioning to an equally dangerous open guard.
Here, you'll find some simple adjustments you can make to get your partner's guard open much more easily, and then how to start passing right away. If you're a BJJ purple belt or higher, you might consider supplementing these lessons with a more advanced Tozi/Wilson tutorial. Meantime, let's really dig into what "posture" actually means.
"Beauty School Posture"
Let's start with a misconception a lot of jiu-jitsu practitioners have about what "good posture" in the guard actually means.
- Start with a partner and try having your back completely straight, or possibly even arched just a little bit. Take special care to keep your shoulders back and stomach forward, as though you are walking with a book on your head, trying to balance it there, and someone is watching you.
- Now try to stop your partner from pulling you down, compromising your posture. This is the way most people think of proper posture in BJJ.
Note: you won't use any hands for this drill, and neither will your partner.
Old Man Herbert
Now, try it a different way. Repeat the same drill, with you and your partner not allowed to use your hands, and have your partner try to break down your posture inside their closed guard.
This time, hollow out your hips, creating a hunchback of sorts. Push your hips forward (envision Old Man Herbert from "Family Guy" here), and use the tension from the backs of your knees against your partner's thighs to facilitate the resistance. Imagine trying to make your belly button disappear into your stomach the entire time you're doing this drill.
Which method works better for you? For me, it's night and day, as the second method is the only one that actually works.
Base, Posture, and Hands
Start with great base in the closed guard, opening your knees up so that they are wide enough, but close enough in so that you aren't easy to break down forward and backward (don't just consider lateral stability here).
Now, the job of your hands is not to keep your partner from breaking you down, contrary to popular belief. Your hands are really there to prevent your partner from sitting up into you! Use them appropriately, while meanwhile using your "Old Man Herbert" posture to keep your partner from pulling you down.
Realistically, you'll end up using your hands for more than just keeping your partner from sitting up, and might even use them to keep yourself from falling, but don't try to rely on this so that your hands are free to get the guard open.
Putting It Together, and Passing
Even with the above tips, you're likely to be broken down anyway by a good guard player. Not to worry: make sure your hands always find your partner's biceps for control, then work your way back up gradually to good posture.
- Once you have some stability in the position, try rolling up your partner's belt inside their gi. This is like grabbing the belt to open the guard, but more effective, since the belt can slide around while you're trying to crack the guard open. Don't be afraid to let go of the belt if you must, but if you can get away with only letting go of the belt/lapel burrito with one hand, do so.
- While here, your elbows should be locked out, and your wrists should be nearly touching one another (this will maximize your length). Now make an L with your legs, then stretch your hips back.
- As your partner's guard pops open, lift that lead leg up and follow them forward. In the video, I enter into a double under stack pass position, but you could go any direction from there, largely depending on how your partner responds.
Note that the ostensible topic of this tutorial, how to open the closed guard, involves about 90% base and posture before even considering opening the guard up. This is no accident, as that is where the struggle lies.
If you can't survive in the closed guard, you're certainly going to have a tough time opening and then passing their guard, to say the least.
I take a similar approach to the philosophy of playing open guard, emphasizing Preventing the Guard Pass and basic maintenance before practicing fancy moves within the guard.
As always, let me know if this information helps! I'm always glad to hear from you.
© 2017 Andrew Smith
Fullblast on April 23, 2017: