From time to time it is good to do a technique throwback – looking at an old school technique that on the surface seems to go against how we currently play BJJ. The octopus guard is precisely that – an unorthodox way of playing closed guard that breaks the rules you’ve learned about the guard. And yet, it works.
If you are interested in exactly how the Octopus Guard works and how you can integrate it into your game, keep reading.
The Pillars of Closed Guard
For most people, the notion of different variations of the closed guard is a strange one. And yet, there actually are many variations available including: high guard, rat guard, Williams guard, and inverted closed guard.
The common factor all of these closed guard variations have is that they place you in front of the opponent at all times, with your legs closed around them. Given that turning exposes your back, and opening your legs makes it easier for the top person to try and pass, your body position in closed guard makes sense.
In fact, the “traditional” way of playing closed guard is one of the most effective and safest ways of approaching guards that Jiu Jitsu has to offer. It is the one position you will see work repeatedly at every belt level, and I can all but guarantee that if you compete in a tournament you will either play closed guard or have to deal with it at least once.
The fact that the closed guard has been a staple of BJJ for a century now is a testament to how effective it is. It works in gi, in no-gi, in MMA, and in self-defense.
But just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it’s the only, or the best, solution.
The Octopus Guard – Rolling Against the Grain
What is the Octopus Guard? Imagine that you are about to do an arm drag from closed guard. Both of your opponent’s arms go to one side of your torso. However, unlike an arm drag, you do not aim to stay connected to one of their arms, nor do you open the guard. Instead, your aim is to get up in a sit-up position, putting your armpit over the opponent’s back and latching on to their lat on the far side.
The guard looks like the top person is halfway through a pass, but it is actually deceptively difficult to pass. It goes against most of the established principles for playing closed guard, but in doing so it opens up a different perspective on playing closed guard.
Back control is obviously not far away, but it is far from the only option. The octopus guard is a very strong attacking position, mainly because of the angle it places you at in relation to your opponent. When you are by their side, still with your legs closed and controlling their posture via your arm going across their back, you can basically just chill. Any, and I mean any motion that they do from there is going to open something up for you to attack.
The one thing to keep in mind with the octopus guard is that setting it up can be slightly tricky because people tend to avoid putting both arms to one side of your body. There are reliable and effective ways to set it all up, but you will need to understand the full mechanics of the guard first.
World Champion Eduardo Telles, a Romero Calvacanti black belt, is the man to credit for the octopus guard. During his active competition years, in the late 90s and the early 2000s, people dubbed Telles’ style “Esquijitsu”, meaning “weird Jiu Jitsu”. Having to train on a daily basis with the likes of Fernando Terere and Demian Maia, it is no wonder that Telles turned to innovative techniques like the octopus guard and the turtle guard.
Octopus Guard Mechanics
The Octopus guard is a closed guard variation and works best when your legs are clamped together. It does have certain limited uses in open guards, but it is not as effective. That said, full guard is not the only closed guard option out there, which means that you can set up an octopus guard from both the full guard and the half guard.
Octopus closed guard
The easiest definition of control for the purposes of Brazilian Jiu JItsu is to position yourself in a way that prevents the other person from moving in a way that benefits them while making sure you can force them to move in a way that benefits you.
That means in regards to control, preventing passes is the first order of business from any guard. When you are in closed guard in front of the opponent, your closed legs are the main reason why the opponent can’t just glide past your legs.
In the octopus guard, the angle you are at relative to your opponent means that you do not need to struggle in order to prevent them from passing. If they try to move forward, you’ll just end up on their back. If they try to break your guard open, you’ll just end up on their back.
In the sense of being able to move your opponent against their will, a lot is going to depend on where you grip with your arm that goes across their back. Grabbing the lat works great in both gi and no-gi, but grabbing the belt (only in the gi, obviously) is also a great option.
The belt grip provides an anchor that can easily pull your opponent into sweeps, like a sit-up sweep for example, which you’re already halfway through just by being in the octopus guard position.
Entries to the Octopus Guard
Getting to the octopus guard is predicated upon getting both of your opponent’s arms to one side of your body. Apart from arm dragging somebody into the position, there are a few other interesting octopus guard entries that are worth your consideration.
A very cool entry is through a failed Kimura. Sometimes, people are simply too strong, or you mistimed your Kimura and they extend their arm, preventing you from attacking the shoulder. In a situation like that simply pass their extended arm over and behind your head by using the wrist grip you have. Sneak your other arm through and do a sit-up to enter the octopus guard.
Another easy way into the guard is to pull your opponent forward with your knees, diving under their armpit as you do, and ending up in the octopus guard before their hands hit the mats.
Attacks from the Octopus Guard
The octopus closed guard offers a very easy back take, that much is fairly obvious. The position is also exceedingly easy to sweep from, particularly in the hip bump sweep which is almost impossible for the top person to defend. It will require that you open your legs though, so you can base on the mats.
Anytime your opponent tries to get their arm in between you and them, you can re-visit the Kimura, or hit a Tarikoplata.
There is also a very sneaky neck crank when you simply throw the nearside arm across your opponent’s and connect your arms. It is basically a twister done from a different position.
Octopus Half Guard
The Octopus half guard is even more fun and versatile to play than the original Eduardo Telles full guard version.
For the octopus half guard, you need to go under the far side arm when looking to get to the octopus position. The controlling position is similar to the full guard with the huge distinction that you’re closing your legs only around one of your opponent’s legs. That means your body positioning is going to be slightly different as well.
While you still want to be sitting up, trying to get as close to the opponent’s hips as possible, you’ll also need to use your outside arm for base. Basing with a straight arm will get you crossfaced, so it is smarter to put your elbow on the ground and look at the mats, while holding your opponent across their back with the other arm, just like in the full guard version.
Acquiring the octopus half guard is easier than getting to the closed guard. The reason for this is that most attempts at half guard passes are actually going to land the opponent into your octopus guard, as long as you have it ready and waiting.
One extremely easy entry is to wait for them to switch their hips. All you need to do is push the arm that’s across your chest towards your belt/waist and establish the grip. You now have octopus half guard.
Another cool trap entry is against a Darce attempt by the top person. The moment they start looking for Darces, you can sneak your arm around their torso, getting it into the octopus half guard position. From there, it is going to be easy to start attacking.
Finally, you can enter into it directly by using far arm biceps control to open up space and swim your near side arm through under the opponent’s armpit. It is all fun and games from there.
Attacking from the octopus half guard is also more versatile than closed octopus, because of your body positioning and the fact that you have direct control over one of their legs.
Back takes are again pretty straightforward, all it takes is a hip switch and you’ll break the opponent’s hips down and expose their back.
A really, really cool sweep option is to just do a back roll. Try to keep your knees as close to your chest as possible and roll over backward, for an easy and flashy-looking sweep. Just be careful to immediately switch positions, otherwise, you’ll end up in the bottom person’s octopus guard and might end up in a loop.
In terms of submissions, apart from the neck cranks (same as from the full guard version of the octopus) there is a quite readily available toe hold, given the proximity of one of the opponent’s legs. All you have to do is pull their foot towards your chest and secure a Kimura grip.
Transitions In and Out of the Octopus Guard
A great thing about the octopus guard is that you can sneak into it even when you’re losing a top position or you’re about to end up on your back during a scramble. Getting to either the full or half octopus guard is going to put you in a position to reverse the tables immediately, by way of either sweep, submission, or transition.
When it comes to going to the octopus guard, one great way of using it when you’re in a jam is to get straight into it when losing mount. The fact that people bridge and roll to topple you over means they often expose an armpit, and when you can’t hold on to the mount, it is way better to head over straight into the octopus guard, rather than go to your back.
Another cool use of the octopus is when you are getting taken down. When people take you down, particularly with a single leg, you’ll have the option of playing half guard. The fact of the matter is that the top person will want to “climb the ladder” meaning you’ll once again get access to their armpit, which means you can shove the arms to the side and get into the octopus guard.
Speaking of 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu options, the octopus half guard is actually an awesome position to set up the electric chair and then go into the 10th Planet system of attacks.
The octopus guard, both its full and half guard versions, is a very versatile, fun, and effective position to play. It does not require any particular athletic abilities, it does not require any advanced knowledge or understanding of grappling, nor does it matter if you are wearing a gi.
This weird looking guard is sure to confound your opponents which will work in your favor as an octopus guard player.
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.