The Jiu Jitsu Guard is the most defining characteristic of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ is a multifaceted gem with many sides to it that anyone can adapt to their personal preference be it based on personality, body type, and even mood. You’ve literally got hundreds of ways you can develop your game. You could be the judo trip guy, the wrestler, the pressure passer and that’s just before you’re taken down onto the ground. That’s where it gets seriously interesting. Of course, you could also just pull guard and be done with it as well. 

The Unique Aspect Of Fighting Off Your Back

In the past, when Jiu Jitsu was still in its infancy stage, there were only simple classifications of the Jiu Jitsu guard. It was either open or closed guard. Different academies would focus on different aspects of them, or in some cases, both of them. Guards have evolved greatly since then, although we’ve kept the aforementioned categories when trying to organize everything in systems. Apart from the closed and open guards we also have the half guard as a separate category. However, within each of these categories, there are numerous different and unique versions of the Jiu Jitsu guard that have pretty much become a spiderweb.

The Jiu Jitsu guard is a unique grappling tool in that it provides people an option to effectively fight off of their backs. Before Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, this was simply not an option in any martial art, including grappling martial arts and sports. BJJ introduced a position that offered not just options to defend yourself with your back on the ground, but also turned the tables and launches attacks of your own. Starting off from the closed guard, when people started standing up, the open guard appeared, ushering a new area in the realm of Jiu Jitsu guard play. 

The half guard, as a guard of its own, which can both be close and open, appeared as the result of a knee injury to a grappler named Roberto “Gordo” Correa. Not able to play closed guard, he hid one leg in between the legs of his training partners, and the rest is history. The open and closed guards had similar evolutions, with people experimenting in order to make them fit their needs. This is especially evident in the open guard category, where we now have too many different guard options to count. 

Exploring the Modern Jiu Jitsu Guard 

What exactly is the modern Jiu Jitsu guard? Well, the definition of a guard still stands, but trying to define the modern Jiu Jitsu guard is like attempting to define what a social media profile is. While they are all fundamentally the same, each has something unique that others don’t. It is the same with BJJ guards. The general definition of a guard would be a person being on their back and having their legs in between them and another person standing or kneeling across them. 

People develop their own versions of guards and some of them end up changing the entire world of Jiu Jitsu, like the 50/50, De la Riva, and X-guard, for example. Since then, people have also “spiced up” these guards, adding to the evolution of the sport, and the ground game in general. 

The one key “worry” about the Jiu Jitsu guard is its incredibly seductive nature. People do tend to fall in love with playing guard so much so, that they sacrifice their progress sin Jiu Jitsu purely for enjoying guard experiments. that is fine since there’s no hurry, but every guard player needs to remember that actually earning points in BJJ happens only from top positions. The only time you can earn points from a guard is when you sweep, i.e. when you use it to get on top. Apart from getting a submission from the guard, enjoy the guard, but understand that it only servers to get you on top.

The Closed Jiu Jitsu Guard

The closed guard is perhaps the most worked upon Jiu Jitsu guard in the sport, given that it was the very first of its kind. it is probably one of the first, if not the very first thing you’ve covered in your first BJJ class. The closed guard demonstrates perfectly where the power of guards in Jiu Jitsu lies: distance management. A long as you are the one dictating the range at which a grappling exchange happens, you’ll be in control of it.

In those terms, having a connection to, or better yet, control of the hips of an opponent is the crucial aspect of playing any Jiu Jitsu guard, closed or open. In the closed guard, this is highly pronounced by the placement of the legs. 

  • Legs: In the closed guard, your legs go around the waist of an opponent, ending up interlocked at ankle level behind their back. the key point here is to look to place your knees on each side of the rib cage and latch on with them, rather than trying to hold with the muscles of your feet. This is what gives you hip control, and with it, distance control from the closed guard, even if an opponent decides to stand up. 
  • Grips: The grip placement from a closed guard is as versatile as the entire art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. However, if there’s one common denominator for gripping from the closed Jiu Jitsu guard for sports BJJ, MMA, and self-defense it is double wrist/sleeve grips. As long as you can control the arms, along with the hips, you’ll be able to do pretty much anything to your opponent. If you have no idea of your grip tactics from the closed guard, you can’t go wrong with these. 
  • Goals: As with all guards, first, do not get your guard passed. Only then can you think of attacking which requires you to break the posture. You won’t achieve too much against someone who is sitting upright in your guard. It jsu so happens that double writs grips and controlling someone with your knees will make this job really easy for you. Once posture is broken, you can let loose on your opponent: sweeps, submissions, or back takes, everything is right there for the taking. 
Jiu Jitsu Guard - Closed guard

The BJJ Half-Guard

The half guard is one of the crowd favorites in BJJ. Almost every white belt that comes to the gym asks me about half guard sooner rather than later. And, it is just as attractive to higher belts as well, if not more. The half guard is extremely effective because it actually merges the best of both the closed and open guards’ worlds. You get the mobility of an open guard with the security of having a closed system with your legs that only the closed guard can provide.

In modern days, there are a bunch of half guard variations that people use: the Z-guard, the deep half guard, the butterfly half guard, the lockdown, and many others. It all comes down to goals and personal preference once again, but still, there are a few principles that help define the half guard and help you achieve your goals from there. The half guard can be a really powerful position on its own, but using it to connect the open and closed guards can actually turn you into a world-class grappler. 

  • Legs: Plenty of configurations mean plenty of options for the legs in this Jiu Jitsu guard. The one common thing is that one leg is in between the legs of your opponent. That leg should always aim to hook the near side leg in one way or another. This provides the connection to your opponent. the other leg can be in a bunch of different positions, but always with the same goal – distance management by directing, pressuring, or preventing the hips from moving. 
  • Grips: Similarly to the legs, grips come in all shapes and sizes from the half guard.  One thing that is universal, is keeping the bottom arm framed against the far arm of an opponent, to prevent them from crossfacing you. As long as you have one shoulder blade off the ground, you’ll be able to play half guard offensively, and this frame is key in achieving it.  The other arm might work as an underhook or an overhook, depending on your goals. Apart from those, a chin strap grip is always a great option from the half guard as well. 
  • Goals: Don’t allow people to pass your guard. Since one of their legs is already free to move, keeping the other one under control is your primary concern. Apart from that, you want to shorten the distance so that you can off-balance an opponent for attacks. Grips will help you achieve it, and the half guard will allow you to maneuver an opponent towards both sides. Sweeping first will open up better submission options, so keep that in mind when you attack from this Jiu Jitsu guard. 

The Realm Of The Open Jiu Jitsu Guard

In reality, you’ll spend most of your time in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu either trying to pass someone’s guard or trying to stop someone from passing yours. In the modern BJJ game, that guard is going to be an open guard variation more often than not. This is also an aspect of BJJ where most of the innovation has happened over the past two decades. Form “basic” open guards like the De la Riva and X-guard, to the Reverse de La Riva and 50/50, an all the way to the Worm guard and different inverted guards, the world of the open Jiu Jitsu guard does not lack variety, that is for certain. 

Legs: The legs in the open guard have every specific goal, and you’ll find that in every configuration it remains unchanged. Namely, there is always one leg that is going to act as “hook” leg , attaching you to your opponent. The other one is an “active” leg, one that makes things happen in terms of guard retention, sweeps, and/or submissions. How you place each, depends on the open guard variation you’re playing. 

Grips: Once again, variety makes it impossible to pinpoint the best position of grips in an open Jiu Jitsu guard. However, the underlying principle is that of diagonal control. It is preferable to have a grip on a leg and a grip on the opposite side arm, regardless of the guard variation you’re using. However, even if the grips are on the same side, as long as you have one leg and one arm under your control, you can work with that.

Goals: Retain your Jiu Jitsu guard first, attack second. Same as before. The sheer variety of open guards though, mean you can get away with a lot more. Basically for a sweep, you’ll want to figure out whether you’ll pressure the knees, hips, or shoulders and move that part while keeping the other two static. For submission, it will depend a lot whether it is chokes, armlocks, or leglocks you’re hunting for. 

Jiu Jitsu Guard - Open Guard

Summary

The Jiu Jitsu guard, whether it is open or closed, half guard or inverted, with or without the help of the Gi, is an extremely powerful position,. It is a signature position of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and the one largely responsible for the early fame of the sport, and eventually, its spread. Study the Jiu Jitsu guard, but be careful not to get engulfed by it – being on top is always the better alternative!