In a world full of butterfly guards, lapel guards, and upside-down-reverse-de-la-Riva guards it’s sometimes easy to forget about the oldest guard of all: closed guard.
But if someone who is good at closed guard clamps their legs around you and gets his hand in your collar than MAN, are you in trouble!!
With that deep grip he’s going to destroy your posture, make it impossible for you to pass, and sweep or choke you silly.
So you absolutely need to know how to defend the grips, maintain your posture, and crack open the legs when you’re in the closed guard.
Table of Contents
Video: How to Break Grips and Uncross Ankles vs Closed Guard with Thomas Lisboa
Here’s a video I shot with Thomas Lisboa, BJJ black belt under Fabio Gurgel, with some great tips on defeating a strong closed guard…
Breaking Closed Guard Grips
The cross lapel grip (i.e. when your opponent has his left hand in your left collar or his right hand in your right collar) is one of the worst grips you can face.
With a high cross lapel your opponent can always pull your head forward, making it hard to establish posture and always pulling your neck into range of collar chokes.
So you have to have ways to break this grip!
In the video above Thomas outlined three ways to break the cross lapel grip when you’re in closed guard. Let’s review them now using pictures, text and gifs…
Closed Guard Cross Lapel Grip Break 1, Using the Sleeve and Wrist Grip
Let’s start in a scenario where your opponent’s cross lapel grip isn’t too deep.
In cases like this you can often use both of your hands on your opponent’s arm to break his lapel grip.
IMPORTANT GRIPPING DETAIL: Many people execute this technique by grabbing either side of the wrist, either on the material or on the wrist itself. In this situation your hands would be on opposite sides of his wrist.
While this opposing-hands grip can work there is always the danger that your hands will slip down his arm a little bit. This slack means that you might not be able to rip his hands off of your lapel.
Thomas teaches a slightly staggered grip that feels much tighter – study the video or these pictures and then try it out for yourself…
First secure the sleeve by gripping the material at the back of his forearm or wrist
Then control the wrist with your other hand, gripping slightly higher than with your other hand.
This creates a staggered grip and allows you to control his arm much more securely.
Then use a violent forward punching movement with both hands and combine that with a backwards snapping motion of your body.
The opposite forces from this movement (hands forward, body backwards) is often enough to remove his grip.
Unless he has hands of steel his grip should come off. Don’t let him get it again!!
Closed Guard Cross Lapel Grip Break 2, Duck Your Head Under the Arm
If your opponent gets his hand super high in your collar it becomes much harder to break the grip. And you’re also in much more danger from his cross collar choke attacks.
One great option at this point is to duck under his cross lapel grip, which completely nullifies its effectiveness.
Use your outside arm to prop up his elbow, then bob and weave your head like a boxer to the inside.
Once your head is on the inside not only is it much harder for him to choke you and break your posture, but it’s also much easier for you to strip that grip from your lapel.
Closed Guard Cross Lapel Grip Break 3, Over the Top and Two-Handed Pop
Before we cover another cross lapel grip break option we have to cover an important concept.
In a grip and framing battle in closed guard the person with the arm on top has a huge advantage.
In the picture below I have my left arm coming under Thomas’s right arm. He’s in no real danger and has a very strong position.
But once I bring my arm over Thomas’s arm he’s in a world of trouble. For example I can use downward pressure with my left elbow to bend his arm and destroy the framing function of his right arm.
So from a guard passing perspective you continuously want to be fighting to have your arm on top. If he brings his arm over then stop, let go, circle your arm over top, and reset.
Do this as often as you have to, because if you’re flattened out then ain’t no guard pass going to work.
Once you get a strong position on top you can use both of your arms on his chest like you’re doing CPR and pop his hand off your collar.
Regardless of whether you use the first, second or third grip break, when his fingers come off of your lapel you’re not done yet!
Instead immediately move to the guard pass.
Opening the Legs in Closed Guard
OK, you’ve broken his grips and now you want to pass his guard.
The next step is to pop his legs open – once his ankles are uncrossed you’ll be in a much better position to start the guard pass of your choice.
Let’s look at two ways to stand up…
Standing Up with Grips
In the first method you’ve established your grips.
You’ve used grip breaking and grip fighting to make a strong frame with your right hand in the middle of his chest, and are controlling his right sleeve with your left hand.
In this scenario you probably want to step up with your left leg first – this is because you’re controlling the arm on your left side and that means he can’t underhook your leg as you step up.
Here’s what that might look like…
Once you’re on your feet stand up tall to prevent him from pulling you back down. Also keeping your legs relatively straight means that his hamstrings won’t have a shelf to sit on, meaning that he’ll have to fight gravity the whole time to stop his legs from slipping down to the ground.
Assist that gravity by pushing down on his knee with your free hand and his guard should pop open.
Immediately start your guard pass, capitalising on your sleeve grip if you can.
Standing Up without Grips
Sometimes you’ll be free of his grips but won’t have the time to establish your own.
That’s OK, you can still stand up, you just need to be a little faster about it.
Pop up to your feet either one foot at a time or jumping up with both legs simultaneously.
Keep your body tall and push down on one of his knees to uncross his ankles. In this situation you can even use both of your hands on one of his knees for double guard breaking power.
Passing the Guard
Only once you’ve neutralised or stripped his grips and broken open his legs can you actually pass his guard.
Now when it comes to guard passing you’ve got a plethora of techniques…
As a general rule though you can either pass with speed-based passing using techniques like the leg drag, the torreando, and rapid switching from side to side, or pressure-based techniques like the over-under, the leg weave, or the stack pass.
Regardless of which actual technique you use, the key thing is to move directly from your guard break into your guard pass. Don’t just hang out after you’ve done all that work to crack his legs open because then he’ll have the time to reset his grips and start wrapping you up in his open guard.
In a nutshell, dealing with a tough closed guard is a 3 part process:
- Strip the grips,
- Break the legs open (often by standing up), and
- Immediately work into a guard pass.
This determination to be aggressive and take the fight to your opponent is important. It’s so important in fact that I’ll leave you with one of my very favorite quotes from World War 1…
More Guard Passing Resources
If you’d like more help dealing with tough closed guards then check out these articles and videos…
How to Deal with the Cross Collar Grip WITHOUT Standing Up
In this article BJJ World Champion Brandon ‘Wolverine’ Mullins shows one of his favorite ways to counter the cross collar grip.
One takeaway from Brandon is this, “If there’s a gi-specific problem, you shouldn’t be afraid of picking a gi-specific answer.”
My Favorite Way to Open a Tough Closed Guard
This video covers one of my favorite ways to stand up in the closed guard.
Why Standing Up to Pass Closed Guard is Actually Relatively Safe
And since so any internet experts are sure that standing up in the closed guard is absolute suicide I actually had to make a video debunking this myth.
Yes, standing up in the closed guard really does work!!
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And finally, as always, good luck with your training