When it comes to playing guard in BJJ, you’ll play the BJJ butterfly guard at one point or another. The guard is just as common as the closed and half guard, making it a must-know for anyone involved in Jiu Jitsu. The butterfly guard is a very powerful open guard option which is as useful with the Gi as it is in no-gi. Today’s focus is going to be on the Gi applications of the butterfly guard.
The Butterfly Guard in Jiu Jitsu
The butterfly guard in BJJ is one of the simplest guards you’ll play. Its simplicity is the reason it is so effective at every belt level. As long as you understand exactly how the guard works, you’ll be able to use it against pretty much everyone.
The butterfly guard is a guard you need to play very actively. It is one of the guards in BJJ that has you changing seated and supine positions while maintaining the guard structure. Namely, if you want to sweep or submit people from the butterfly guard, you will need to go supine. If you’re looking to retain the guard, staying seated gives you the best chance to do so.
The name of the guard comes from the position of the legs, which are bent at the knees and with the feet close to each other (the butterfly position). The feet should be flexed, forming so-called butterfly hooks, which go behind the opponent’s legs, usually at thigh or knee level. These hooks provide the security of the guard and allow for the leverage to sweep people or look for a submission or transition.
The one most important thing you need to know about the butterfly guard is that you cannot play it seating on both butt cheeks or lying with both shoulder blades on the ground, The guard becomes completely ineffective if you are not on your side, whether you are seating to retain it, or going supine in order to attack.
The hook placement and body positioning are the same in both gi and no-gi. It is the grip placement is where things get specific to gi or no-gi, and where different attacking options present themselves.
Setting Up the Butterfly Guard WIth The Gi
Depending on whether you are seated or supine, you can use different grip combinations when you’re playing butterfly guard in the gi. A sleeve grip is always a good idea, usually on the same side rather than a cross grip.
When supine, gripping the cross side collar with the other arm is what will provide you with the best control until you launch your sweep/submission attacks. When seated, I tend to look for a belt grip, placing my arm over the opponent’s shoulder. Whether it is the near side or far side shoulder is not as important as establishing a strong belt grip is.
Either of these combinations (sleeve and collar or sleeve and belt grip) will work for you, but if you’re just starting out with the butterfly guard, I’d recommend choosing one and sticking with it until you become good with it.
The butterfly guard’s sweeping power comes from two main sources – the butterfly hooks, and the fact that your body is crunched as a ball at all times. Extending your body and/or your legs from the butterfly guard all but guarantees that you’ll give up a pass.
From a supine butterfly guard position, with a collar and sleeve grip, apart from lying on your side and not your back, it is very important to keep your knees as far from one another as possible. A great rule of thumb is to keep one knee on the mats, and the other to the side of the opponent, pressing against their rib cage.
The off-balancing that will allow you to sweep the top person comes from the grips. Using both arms to pull as you draw your knees to your chest will load the opponent on top of you. For the sweep itself, it is important to remember that you shouldn’t extend the top leg, but rather extend the bottom one. The goal is to create a tripod base between your forehead, bottom shoulder, and bottom foot, in order to tilt the opponent over and end up on top of them.
If you have a belt grip instead of the collar grip, you could do the same sweep as well. However, a belt grip also ensures you can use a reverse hook sweep, which comes in really handy even if the top person tries to smash you. The goal is to scoot your butt underneath the opponent, still keeping your knees toward your chest and elbows close to your torso. You can finish the sweep overhead or take the opponent to the side.
Submitting people from the butterfly guard with the gi is quite versatile, as the grip placement gives you access to a bunch of different submissions, in some cases without having to change anything.
The loop choke is a great example of a butterfly guard gi submission. From the cross collar and sleeve grip combination, you’re pretty much set to finish a loop choke. Whenever an opponent is trying to pass and preventing you from taking their balance away, you can bait them forward and put a harness over their head with the collar gripping arm.
Then, let go of the sleeve grip, placing your now free arm behind their neck for one of the tightest bait choke finishes in BJJ.
You can also take the opponent to the other side by focusing your attack on the arm you are controlling via the sleeve grip. Using your legs, switch the base to the other side, maintaining the space in between your knees. This will isolate their arm, and you can lift your hips to place the top leg’s shin behind the opponent’s neck. You can finish with a belly-down armbar or go for a rolling armbar instead.
Passing the Butterfly Guard in Gi Jiu Jitsu
Due to the nature of the butterfly guard, dealing with it is a real challenge against experienced butterfly players. The fact that the legs can lift your hips up and the grips can take you in different directions makes staying low a priority. It also means that smash passing is your best option to deal with this tricky guard, especially in the gi.
Passing the butterfly guard requires patience. Your first order of business is to block the hips so that the bottom person can’t easily take you to either side. Holding the gi pants or belt is a great way to ensure you kill the mobility in their hips. As you get the grips, make sure you are as low to the opponent as possible with both your hips and shoulders.
Your next task is to isolate one leg, by tilting the opponent to one side and taking one leg over their bottom leg, thus effectively ending up in half guard. Establish an underhook on the side where you have the half guard, and proceed to place a butterfly hook of your own on the leg you already beat. This will allow you to beat their other leg as well, proceeding directly to a tight mount position.
The butterfly guard is a very versatile and easy-to-understand position in Jiu Jitsu. It offers lots of attacking options while being quite a challenge to pass. As long as you remember to stay on your side, keep your knees apart and use the optimal grips when you’re supine or seated, you will quickly develop a lethal butterfly guard game. Stay tuned for the next part in this series, which will address the no-gi butterfly game.
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.