A Glossary of Guard Positions, or Lumping vs. Splitting


When it comes variations of the guard position grapplers tend to fall into one of two categories: ‘lumpers’ and ‘splitters’.

Lumpers want to minimize the number of guard positions, and often just rely on the terms “Closed Guard”, “Open Guard”, and “Half Guard” to describe the incredible variety of positions that a grappler can find himself in while fighting from his guard. My BJJ coach, Marcus Soares, is definitely in this first category, and he often teases me by claiming that I am only interested in insect positions (e.g. Spider Guard, Butterfly Guard, Grasshopper Guard, etc.).

Splitters, on the other hand, try to name and identify the variations of guard. Some of these names are indeed based on insects, others are named after people who specialize in that position, while other names attempt to describe some aspect of the guard itself.

I see several reasons to separate and name the major variations of the guard position. First of all, it’s faster to say “de la Riva Guard” than it is to try and describe the position in words (e.g. “the open guard position where you wrap your outside leg around the back of your opponent’s lead leg, inserting your foot through his legs near his hip”).

Secondly, if a position is solid and reliable enough to be named then that name helps you quickly recognize the position and identify the most likely attacks available to you from there. This is useful both if you are the person using the guard position, or if you are the person in the guard. Your thought process might go something like this: “Oh, my opponent is trying to get the High Guard: time to drive my weight forward and free my shoulder”.

Thirdly, giving positions and techniques names often helps people remember them better. This is especially useful in BJJ, a sport which came to North America rich in technique but impoverished and inconsistent in nomenclature.

With all this in mind I invite you to look at and study the newest articles up on Grapplearts: a three part Glossary of Guard Positions. These articles were co-written by Elliott Bayev and myself, and abbreviated versions of them first appeared in Ultimate Grappling Magazine.

Check out

Article 1 – The Closed Guard

Article 2 – The Open Guard

Article 3 – The Half Guard

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