After exploring the Gi butterfly guard game, let’s now turn towards its use in No-Gi. While the BJJ butterfly guard is effective in both, it is No-Gi where it truly gets to shine. The main principles of the guard remain the same, but there are crucial, however slight, changes in connecting to your opponent and manipulating their balance to open up space for your attacks.
The No-Gi BJJ Butterfly Guard
From the standpoint of BJJ butterfly guard principles, you want to ensure that you have the proper knee width, angle, and grips regardless of the attire your opponent is wearing.
In terms of the knees, remember to keep them as wide as possible any time you are utilizing a butterfly guard. Whether seated or supine, the moment your knees and ankles align, the power of the butterfly hooks is gone, and you’ll get your guard passed.
In terms of angling, try to avoid playing the butterfly guard while parallel to your opponent without any grips. You are after a sideways angle relative to your opponent, with one of your knees touching the ground and the other acting as a shield while you’re maintaining the guard’s structure.
This brings us to how you engage with an opponent from the butterfly guard in a way that will, first and foremost, prevent them from passing your legs and, second, allow you to attack with a sweep or submission (or better yet, both).
Grips and Hooks
Without the gi, there are several well-established ways of gripping from the BJJ butterfly guard. The principles are “borrowed” from wrestling, given that it is the authority on grappling without a Gi.
The areas you would like to control on an opponent in wrestling are behind the knees, underneath the armpits, and behind the head. Conversely, when you’re playing a No-Gi guard, you’d like to go for those same areas of control.
The grips to swear by regarding the No-Gi BJJ butterfly guard are overhooks, underhooks, and the collar tie. Being in control of the inside space is huge, and any and all combinations of these three grips will offer as much control as you can hope for.
The overhook on one side and underhook on the other is among the most powerful, whereas an overhook and a collar tie combination is the easiest to acquire.
In any case, once you limit the range of motion of the opponent’s extremities and you force their head to come closer to you, they won’t be able to pass until they deal with these grips.
This is when you turn to your hooks, which are the control points that go behind the opponent’s knees or inside the hips. Like in Gi Jiu Jitsu, you want to lead with your knees and only use the feet to hook behind an opponent’s leg at knee or hip level so that you manipulate the lever, which in this case is their leg.
No-Gi Butterfly Guard Attacks
Just like with any other guard, the first premise is to stay in the guard without the threat of it getting broken down and passed. Attack-wise, you have two main avenues – sweeping and/or submitting.
Before I go into the technical details of butterfly sweeps, I’ll just quickly glance over the main thing you’re looking for when sweeping from butterfly guard (or any guard for that matter) – make sure the opponent can’t post in the direction you’re trying to sweep them to.
Collar Elbow Sweep
A great sweep to start with is the collar and elbow grip sweep. The starting position is, as always, seated with you at an angle in relation to your opponent (one of your knees on the mats).
The collar tie goes on the side where your leg is hooked inside the opponent’s hip (on the knee shield side). From there, you can control the posture and play grip fighting games until you get the second grip.
Usually, people try to go for a collar tie themselves or reach to peel the grip you have. In both cases, they’ll expose their elbow, which you can grab, just above the elbow joint, at the lowest point of the triceps muscle, and push towards their chest.
This is now the arm that you have blocked as a post. Using your butterfly hook and the collar tie, you lift and pull as you let your body go to the ground sideways, leading with your shoulder. It is one of the easiest sweeps you’ll get from the BJJ butterfly guard!
Shoulder Crunch Sweep
The butterfly sweep setup that marked Marcelo Garcia’s rule over no-gi divisions a couple of decades ago, and is now doing the same for the “King” Gordon Ryan.
The idea is that you bait the opponent to post an arm over your head by “loading” them on top of you. You can use the collar-elbow setup, 2-on-1 grip, arm drag, or anything else that might work for you.
Remember, whenever you’re going to the ground, you’re never putting your shoulder blades simultaneously on the mats.
While on your side, when your opponent posts over your head, you can reach around their shoulder, establish a palm-to-palm grip behind it, and “crunch” their shoulder tightly to your chest. This will lock them in place, with a broken posture and isolated arm.
As long as you keep the elbow of the outside arm high and their head as close to the mats as possible, you can sweep them in either direction.
Front Headlock Sweep(s)
Getting a solid front headlock from the BJJ butterfly guard is not just great for guillotines – you can also use it to sweep. In fact, from a front headlock, you can sweep in any direction you choose.
The key detail is to hold the arm either with an arm-in guillotine grip or over the triceps like for a standard front headlock. Trying to sweep someone with a direct guillotine grip leaves too many posting options for the top person.
Plenty of submission holds are available from the No-Gi BJJ butterfly guard, but we’ll focus on several attacks that have proven to be the most effective.
The opening submission salvo is, of course, going to be leg locks.
The principle here is simple – the butterfly guard configuration places your feet in between your opponents (inside position). From there, as long as you can get the opponent’s arms over your shoulder (double underhooks, for example), you can lift them up to head into Ashu Garami on either leg.
Once in your preferred Ashi, the finishing choice is all yours.
High Elbow Guillotine
The high elbow guillotine (Marcellotine) is one of the nastiest chokes in BJJ. It hits the carotid arteries and the trachea, making it almost impossible to escape.
A collar tie from the BJJ butterfly guard is all you need to snap the head down underneath your armpit. As you pull their head forward and down, you’ll use your free arm as a block, placing the forearm across their neck. Once you have the chin strap, you’re free to head into a guillotine of your choice.
For the high elbow guillotine, thread the choking arm deeper, grab a ball-in-socket grip and look to place the elbow of the support arm high over the opponent’s shoulder, preventing them from rushing in and flattening you.
One of my all-time favorite moves is the quick straight armlock from the butterfly guard, also known as an inverted armbar.
It is a great follow-up move to a failed shoulder crunch sweep or a direct option if you do not grab the shoulder but establish a grip right above the elbow instead. All you need to do is keep the palm-to-palm grip, turn to the side so the opponent’s arm is on top of you, and pull your top leg upwards over their shoulder. A simple squeeze from there gets you a lighting quick tap.
Passing the No-Gi BJJ Butterfly Guard
While I do not consider the body lock to be a pass, it is a hub that will control the hips, and, subsequently, the legs of a person playing guard until you can use another passing sequence.
That said, it is the go-to passing position lately, mainly because of Gordon Ryan. It is, of course, very efficient, particularly when used (correctly) against the butterfly guard.
The body lock works against the BJJ butterfly guard because it completely kills the butterfly hooks while denying grips inside the armpits and behind the head.
To begin with, you want your hips back. One leg posts on the mats with the knee, while the other will be outstretched to the side, posting with the foot. The shoulders go on the opponent’s hips, and the head should be on the side of your outstretched leg. This is the side you’ll pass towards. Remember to keep the head high, preventing any guillotine entry opportunities to the bottom person.
Your hands should go around the opponent’s waistline, ending in a palm-to-palm grip to the side where your head is.
For the pass, first, you’ll sprawl, preventing the legs from lifting you or recovering towards the opponent’s shoulders. Then you’re simply going to do an alligator crawl movement to get you forward and past the legs. You are now in half guard and can pass in a myriad of different ways.
All in All
The BJJ butterfly guard is one of the staple No-Gi guards, along with the X guard variations and the Reverse De La Riva. It is not difficult to retain, you can recover to it quite quickly, and you have immediate attacking options (submissions and sweeps) off of the same grips that give you control. You see why people really seem to love this guard, right?
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.