When the Closed Guard Fails…


A reader writes:

Q: Hi Stephan,

I recently received and read your email with the video link about the closed guard in the Beginning BJJ newsletter.

However my instructor is quite thick and muscular, so I find that getting a solid closed guard is tricky, because my feet can barely cross over for a decent hold.

So what can I do in these cases?  I imagine this is a frequent problem especially among smaller opponents trying to work with bigger guys… So what are some workarounds?



A: Hi K.

You’re absolutely onto something.

If you’re grappling with someone who big, muscular and/or thick around the middle then it really can be difficult to cross your ankles and properly set the closed guard position.

Consider Royce Gracie.  He virtually introduced the closed guard position to North America with his heroic performances in the early UFC.  But when Royce fought Akebono MMA-style on New Year’s Eve, 2004, he didn’t even try to close his guard.  Akebono is one of the biggest and heaviest sumo champions of all time, and the closed guard was simply not an option.

Instead Royce kept his guard open and eventually finished the fight with an omoplata!

Click here for a breakdown of the omoplata submission

Crossing your ankles in the closed guard is made even more difficult if you’ve got short, stocky legs.  If you’ve got *ahem* ‘hobbit legs’ AND your opponent is bigger than you, then forget about using the closed guard on him.

So cut your losses and move on!

Even if your teacher is huge, I’m pretty sure that you can still wrap your legs around one of his thighs.  And trapping a single leg is known as the ‘half guard.’  There are many half guard variations and I’m sure one of them will work for your body type…

Click here to get descriptions of the most common and effective half guard positions

From the half guard there are a ton of different sweeps and attacks. So where do you start?

If you’re new to the position, and if your sparring partner is heavier than you, start by trying to take his back from the half guard.  When you try to take his back (which is generally the best position you can be in against a bigger stronger guy anyway) the attack will either succeed OR you’ll get a reaction.  And those reactions give you the energy for many other highly effective sweeps and attacks.

Here’s a blog post with a concrete example of this two-pronged half guard strategy:

Or here’s an entirely different strategy… Instead of the half guard, abandon the idea of locking your legs closed and start working on your open guard.

Click here for an overview of the different open guard positions.

In your particular case, I’d suggest that you start with the butterfly guard (because the butterfly guard works for people with long legs AND short legs).

I’ll even go a step further and make a suggestion about a couple of specific techniques you MUST include in your butterfly guard arsenal… Two of the ‘heaviest hitters’ from the butterfly guard are the armdrag and the basic butterfly guard sweep.  Think of them as your *jab* and your *cross.*

  1. Click here for an example of the armdrag from butterfly guard
  2. Click here for a detailed breakdown of the ‘basic’ butterfly guard sweep.

Master these two techniques and you’ll have a lot of fun on the mats, even with your short legs!

Good luck with this

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