How to Pass Butterfly Guard in BJJ

Updated on April 9, 2020
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Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.

Passing the butterfly guard.
Passing the butterfly guard.

Butterfly Guard

Butterfly guard is one of the first types of open guard I learned in the late 90s, and it rose quickly to prominence in both sport BJJ and MMA relatively quickly. As a close-range guard, butterfly guard is extremely effective against a smashing type of pass and includes not only sweeps, but also the constant threat of submission. There are multiple ways to deal with this dangerous position, as we'll see, depending on how far into the position you are (or, put another way, how low to the ground you are).

Option 1: Old-School Pass

This first guard pass begins with inside control, or pummeling to control inside of your partner's arms and hips from the front. This will also include your head; notice in the video that my head is below Keith's head, and my hands are inside of his hips, but not on the ground (not initially, anyway). Make sure your elbows are also inside of your partner's thighs, using your forearms as shields as you approach this dangerous position.

Drive your partner forward, making sure their back is completely flat on the mat. Once you get there, be sure to pinch everything in tight, preventing your partner from "hip escaping" from side to side. Pinch with your elbows as well as your knees. Now sprawl your right hip to the ground and then work your way around their right leg so that their right foot is trapped across to your right hip.

Next, the name of the game is to pass around one leg, keeping their foot trapped by your hips. To do this, push their right knee down with your left forearm (not with your hand, unless you're okay with being attacked with the Kimura from the bottom!) to the ground, and then carefully step over their knee with your knee (don't lift your hips up any more than you need to here!). Finally, finish the guard pass by establishing side control. Do this by hugging your partner's head, then backstepping around what remains of their guard.

Option 2: Medium Height

This second option is much more dynamic, and you can pass a butterfly guard under the right circumstances in about a half second (although, in fairness, you generally have to control any position for three seconds to score points).

As your partner sits up and establishes an underhook with their right arm, hug your left arm over their back and grab their far armpit (fabric of the gi is ideal, but this will work in no-gi as well by just hugging their lat muscle). Next up, your right leg needs to lift up as you establish a "Captain Morgan" posture, rotating your hips outward and around your partner's legs. The key detail here is that your hips need to end up behind your partner's knee, turning their hips away from where you're headed. Grab your partner's right ankle or pants leg with your right hand in order to lift their hips off of the ground, and then step back so that you can easily establish side control.

Option 2A: the Leg Weave

Sometimes as you're coming around your partner's guard with the "express pass" shown above, your partner will manage to hook your knee with their left foot. While this can be an effective way to get their guard back and possibly sweep you, you can shut it down relatively easily by driving your right knee to the ground through your partner's legs, effectively smashing their hips to the side and killing their guard before it gets started.

The next trick is really neat, and you can watch BJ Penn doing it in many of his MMA fights; drive the leg that is underneath (your partner's right leg) back, ruining their chance to recover guard. Think of this as a backwards Leg Drag guard pass of sorts (the hip smash principle is the same). Finally, step over to mount to complete the pass.

Staying Heavy

Here's a bonus drill on staying heavy in butterfly guard. The main idea here is arching your back so that your hips drop to the ground, and then widening your stance so that your knees can "walk out" to prevent the sweep. Notice that your head positioning is similar to the first guard pass here, in that you're always going to want to place it on the opposite side of where your partner is trying to sweep you.

Butterfly or Half

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A Consistent Guard

Many types of guard have sprung up over the last 20 years, but butterfly guard has been around since before I was doing jiu-jitsu. It is easily one of my personal favorite types of open guard, whether gi or no-gi, and when I start rolling, I'll almost always start by sitting up on my butt, which means that a considerable amount of the time, I get to practice my butterfly guard sweeps almost immediately. Enjoy the techniques, and as always, let me know if these work for you!

© 2016 Andrew Smith


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