Understanding the Open Guard

Understanding the Open Guard

“I’m gonna go out on a limb and say for your long-term development in the sport of Jiu-Jitsu, the #1 positional skill is the Open Guard.” - John Danaher


The Open Guard is critical to understand if you want to reach a high level in Jiu-Jitsu and in today's post, I'm going to walk you through the Open Guard from the Hidden Jiu-Jitsu perspective. 

We'll cover what makes this approach different than most of what you'll see online and more importantly, why I approach the Open Guard this way. 


How to use the open guard


The first thing you have to understand is once your closed guard has been broken, a lot of things start to change because your opponent now has the ability to pass your guard. Once your opponent has the ability to pass your guard, there are three major concepts you need to be aware of:

  1. Your job now is to prevent your opponent from passing. This means you need to understand what your opponent is thinking as they try to pass, what their goals are, and how to prevent their attempts to pass. Preventing the pass usually means one of three things:

    I. Breaking their connection to you in the form of grips on your ankles and knees. In order to pass your guard, your opponent needs to control your legs and move past them. In order to control your legs, your opponent will need some sort of grip on your legs which usually means gripping the ankles or the knees.

    II. Creating distance at the proper angles to keep you safe while you prevent them from passing. Depending on the context of the fight, whether it’s competition Jiu-Jitsu, MMA, or self-defense, you may have different priorities for your movements. For example, many of the modern open guard styles used in sport competitions are very effective when strikes aren’t allowed by the rules, but would be easily devastated by even a novice striker in a self-defense situation.

    And the open guard is so dynamic, it would be impractical to try to train to a high level of skill with different styles depending on different contexts of fighting. That’s why the method I teach for the open guard handles all of these problems simultaneously, so I don’t have to change my strategy for different types of fights.

    The way I create distance for Open Guard in a Vale Tudo context, using shoulder and hip movements and staying on my side, is the exact same way I create space in the gi for competition Jiu-Jitsu. It’s effective in every context because, as far as I’m aware, it’s the most simple and direct answer to the question “How do I create space to prevent the guard from passing in such a way that my opponent cannot touch my face, but I can touch his?”

    This means I cannot only prevent the pass, but I can strike at will with my hands, elbows, and legs while I am completely safe from any strikes from my opponent because they need their legs to stand and move and their hands can’t reach me.

    Besides that, I can trap their arms if they strike and lock in submissions.

    III. Using weight distribution to shut down any sort of double underhook pass. If your opponent is not using a grip of your knee or ankle, the only other option to control you in the open guard is a double-underhook sort of pass where they are looking to control your hips.

    There is a very simple and effective counter to this sort of movement, but in order to perform the counter effectively, you need to understand how to connect to your opponent and use your weight to shut them down.

  2. Another major element to playing open guard is developing awareness of the opportunities to set up sweeps.

    In order to pass, there will be times your opponent is committing their weight forward which gives you the opportunity to sweep them, so long as you can control their base and take away whatever posts they might use.

  3. The last thing you need to be aware of to really master the mechanics of the open guard is to develop your awareness of the submissions available as your opponent attempts to pass.

    The last piece of the puzzle is to understand where the opportunities are for submissions as your opponent attempts to pass because just like above when we talked about sweeps, one of the risks your opponent is taking when they commit to getting closer to you is to open themselves up to submissions.

    By posting their arm a certain way, or committing their weight forward where their neck is exposed, there are a lot of opportunities for submissions. If you know how to see them and attack them, you can end the fight fast. 

Why you must know how to use the open guard

If you don’t know how to use the open guard effectively, every piece of your Jiu-Jitsu game will suffer because you won’t have an answer for where you’re going to spend a vast majority of your time in this martial art. The reason why you're going to be spending a lot of time in the Open Guard is that it takes time to develop a closed guard that cannot be easily broken. It also takes time to develop the offensive control you need to prevent being put on the defensive. 

Thus the value of the Open Guard, like all of Jiu-Jitsu, will be felt when it's missing. You will start to notice those moments you're not as confident as you know you should be; you're not comfortable going for submissions from the closed guard because you're afraid they'll escape. 

Or you'll notice that when you're playing offense and have the dominant position, you're afraid of losing the position and being put on your back. 

These are all signs you need to spend more time developing your Open Guard so that you're not afraid to take risks, because you know if you end up in the Open Guard, you are in control. If you'd like that sort of confidence, then click here for the official Hidden Jiu-Jitsu Open Guard defense course, where I'll show you everything you ever need to know.  


When you will most likely use the open guard

As we talked about before, when your closed guard is broken you will be forced to play open guard, but the other common times you’ll find yourself playing open guard are:  

  • When you pull guard from the stand-up.

  • When you are attempting to recover the guard from the bottom of the cross-side or half guard.

  • When you attack or defend leg locks. 


Final thoughts

Two last things you need to have in place to have a successful strategy for the Open Guard are:

1. To know how to defend and escape leg locks.

2. To know strategically when to stand up and get to your feet.

Considering leg attacks, whether we're talking about heel hooks, foot locks, toe holds, or what have you, they are all devastating attacks that you’re vulnerable to if you’re playing open guard. However, like all submissions, there are setups and steps your opponent will need to accomplish before the submission is complete. When you develop a detailed understanding of each stage of these attacks, you will have the confidence you need to play open guard effectively.

As for when to stand up and how this works strategically, the basic idea is this: if your opponent is not actively holding you down, then simply standing up is the best way to take the dominant position. 

When you do this, one of two things is going to happen. Either they let you stand and risk giving you the offensive advantage for the takedown or strikes, or they will have to make the effort to hold you down in order to keep you from standing. However, in order to hold you down, they are going to have to give you something you need to sweep or submit and you either end the fight or take the top position anyway. 

Thus if your opponent is not pressuring you, it's always a good idea to get up and take the top position. Many times Jiu-Jitsu practitioners are content just staying on their back even though the person passing is not holding them down or creating pressure to keep them down, not realizing these are always excellent opportunities to just get up and get on top to where you have a more dominant position for fighting. 

I hope by now you have a better understanding of the Hidden Jiu-Jitsu approach to the Open Guard, and this is all a little more clear for you. 

If you want to see the details, then click here for the Hidden Jiu-Jitsu Open Guard Defense course, where you will get access to all 49 videos that cover every aspect I've talked about in this blog, plus much, much more. 

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