Ahh, the X guard. A guard that is known to everyone in Jiu Jitsu, yet very few seem to really grasp how powerful and beautifully simple this guard is. Allow me to show you why you need to learn the X guard and how to control, attack, and build an entire game based on a few fundamental open guard principles.
Warning – you might never look at other open guards the same after learning how powerful the X guard truly is!
What is the X Guard in BJJ?
The exact origins of this highly versatile guard are unknown, but the two people who famously worked on its development are Demian Maia and Marcelo Garcia. The latter is often credited as the inventor of the X guard, as it was Marcelo that popularized the guard, mainly through his legendary ADCC performances. I doubt he was the first person to come up with it, though.
As an open guard, the X guard is bound by the same fundamental principles than every other open guard.
Namely, every open guard has one leg that plays a passive role, aiming to keep you connected to the opponent and interfering with their base and balance. The other leg has a more active role, off-balancing your opponent and opening up attack options like sweeps and submissions.
The configuration of the X guard is how the guard got its name. You are positioned in between the legs of a standing opponent, in a supine position, with your head pointing towards one of their feet, and your legs towards the other.
You want to have the inside of their ankle resting on your shoulder, using the arm on the same side to wrap around the leg, your palm grabbing the shin. The top of the foot of your inside leg (the one closer to your opponent’s butt) goes to the front of their far side hip, attaching like a hook. Your other leg attaches in the same manner, but the location is behind their knee.
This puts your shins one over the other in an X-like formation (at least when viewed from above), earning the position its name.
You notice that one of your arms remains free, allowing it to grip in various places, depending on what you’re trying to achieve from the X guard.
How to Control From The X Guard
Controlling the X guard is actually really easy as long as you are aware of a few key principles. One of them is the power of your position; the X guard puts you directly underneath your opponent, meaning you’re in a prime position to manipulate their center of gravity without having to exert too much effort.
The second aspect of the X guard, and in fact, all open guards, is understanding that your power comes from your legs. Your legs are not just the most powerful part of your body, but in open guard they are responsible for creating Kuzushi, or off-balancing your opponent.
Here’s a great little trick to keep in mind – most people focus on controlling open guards and trying to off-balance opponents by engaging their feet. The real power of your legs lies in the knees, in terms of the direction they are facing and the motion you create with them.
What do the Legs do?
The positioning of the feet in the X guard, as explained above, is fairly simple. The leg that hooks on the hip is the passive leg that keeps you attached to your opponent. The one hooking behind the knee is the active one, as it can move anywhere along the length of that far leg.
The key point though is your knees. For a successful and unbreakable X guard, you want to keep your knees engaged. This means that you shouldn’t keep your knees as wide as possible, as this makes your position vulnerable. Instead, look to keep both knees closer to your opponent, i.e. closer to each other.
Also, remember that during any attacks you do from the X guard, you should avoid completely extending the knees, but rather look to use the least amount of extension or flexion necessary to take your opponent’s balance away.
Where do the Grips go?
One of your grips in the X guard is bound to the leg that is over your shoulder. There are different schools of thought on where that grip should be, my personal preference being a grip right over the kneecap.
The goal is to place a grip on top of and around the kneecap, pulling the elbow back as you do. This rotates your opponent’s leg further, taking away their mobility with only minimal effort from you. Whether you grip the gi or go for a no-gi grip is up to you.
A useful hint is to use the back of your head to trap their foot to the ground for even more control.
Your other arm is free to move through different positions during different attacks. You might hold a sleeve grip on either arm, a collar grip on either collar or place it on the mats for extra power and stability.
All About the Hips
One crucial aspect of X guard that is often overlooked in Jiu Jitsu is hip positioning. When in an X guard, your butt has to be slightly off the ground so that your legs are both mobile and heavy.
Once again, it is your knees that will create motion, not the weak muscles of your feet. In order to allow the knees to move, your hips need to be able to follow the movement of the knees without delay.
BJJ X Guard Attacks
Most guards in Jiu Jitsu offer two attacking avenues – sweeps and submissions. The X guard is even simpler, as it is one of those guards that only offers one attack: sweeps.
In order to get submissions from the X guard, you have to transition into other positions. While this may seem like a potential weakness, this guard is perfectly suited for transitioning into other guards from which you can launch submissions.
X Guard Sweeps
The position of the X guard in relation to the top person, as well as the configuration of the legs and the grips, makes the guard a go-to position for executing sweeps. The grip of the free arm and the location of the active leg hook create plenty of opportunities for sweeping in four different directions, while not requiring a lot of movement and virtually no risk-taking.
X Guard Transitions
The reason you can’t get any direct submissions from the X guard is that none are available without you deconstructing the guard and exposing yourself to passes. However, if you decide to transition from the X guard into strong submission positions, like Ashi Garami, you will gain access to numerous submission options.
In essence, before attempting to transition out of the X guard, you should aim to attack your opponent’s balance, so that you can do the transition while they are too busy trying not to fall. Transitioning to Ashi Garami is generally your best submission opportunity, as you have easy and immediate access to both of your opponent’s legs.
Entries into the X Guard
The X guard is like the safety net when you’re playing other open guard variations, as it is readily available when opponents try to balance or counter your sweeps from other guards.
One easy example is the most basic open guard, when you’re supine in front of an opponent, controlling both sleeves, with both of your feet placed on their hips. Choose one leg to take off the hip, and shoot it in between their legs, creating momentum so that your arm on the same side can wrap around the leg for an X guard.
When you are reacting to people countering your sweeps, from positions like the butterfly guard and the shin-to-shin guard, all it takes is for you to be aware that when your initial attack doesn’t work and one or both of the opponent’s feet are on the ground while they are above you, you have easy access to the X guard.
Check out a couple of examples:
What About No-Gi X Guard?
The good news is that the X guard is just as effective in no-gi as it is with the gi. In fact, it was Marcelo Garcia’s no-gi performances that initially brought a lot of attention to this guard.
In modern Jiu Jitsu, there is hardly a better guard than the X guard in no-gi. It offers an extreme amount of control given the lack of gripping surface, and along with the 50/50 and the deep half guard is one of the best ways to slow down the fast-moving passing games that are characteristic of no-gi exchanges.
The X guard is a guard that you can play at all levels of BJJ, in both gi and no-gi. All you need to master this guard is to remember to control people with your knees rather than your hooks, use your grips to maximum advantage, and don’t be lazy with your hips.
It is easy to get to X guard from other guards and then use it to sweep and get top position, or arrive in powerful submission positions like Ashi Garami.
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.