In the era of the inverted inside-out de la worm guard it’s sometimes easy to forget how brutally effective the closed guard is.
Until someone puts you in it, shuts down your guard passes, chokes you silly and armlocks you until you want to rip your belt off and throw it across the mat.
The closed guard is old school but it still works. And for self defense and MMA it’s still an incredibly important position to master because of the level of protection it provides against strikes.
So how do you pass the closed guard?
As with any task in jiu-jitsu there are many different ways to skin the cat. But here is one of my very favourite ways to pass closed guard using an old school pressure-based pass.
It consists of 4 stages…
- Denying, preventing and removing his grips
- Standing up to break open his closed guard
- Stopping him from establishing a strong open guard, and
- Smashing him with an old-school guard pass
Let’s look at each of those four stages in turn. Conveniently I also have videos relating to each of those stages that may be useful to you…
Stage 1: Denying, preventing and removing his closed guard grips
If a skilled opponent gets a deep cross grip on your lapel from his closed guard then you’re really in trouble.
Of course the best cure is prevention: grip fight like crazy to stop him from sneaking that hand up your collar.
But if he does sink his grip then he can use it to break your posture, prevent your guard passes, attack you with chokes, move you around to set up sweeps, and much more.
At this point it’s a “Do not pass go, do not collect $200” situation. Stop what you’re doing and before you even think about passing his closed guard free yourself from his lapel grip.
The video above covers 4 ways to break or nullify that cross collar grip.
Once you’re grip free then it’s time to move on to the next stage: opening his closed guard that’s currently clamped onto your waist or torso!
Stage 2: Standing up to break open his closed guard
There are many different ways to open someone’s closed guard (for example, standing vs kneeling), but against a skilled opponent I almost always stand up.
Kneeling in your opponent’s guard makes you a little harder to sweep because your center of gravity is closer to the ground but at the same time your arms and neck are more easily available for him to attack.
Standing makes you more mobile and harder for your opponent to attack you with chokes and armlocks. Also you can use the weight of your opponent’s body against him, because hanging off someone’s body with your crossed ankles can be very tiring for your legs. At the same time when you stand up you do make yourself a little more vulnerable to sweeps and leglocks.
I don’t want to lie to you: against a skilled opponent there is no one perfect way to break the closed guard. Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.
I use the method shown in the video above a lot, but it generated some controversy when I released it on Youtube. Internet pundits immediately told me that I was too vulnerable to getting swept if I didn’t control the arms or the lapels when standing.
I respectfully disagree and so does Marcelo Garcia, the multiple time world champion from whom I learned this move. But it’s probably my fault for not explaining what was going on clearly enough so I filmed a second video explaining exactly how to shut down the lumberjack sweep from this guard break…
There are several factors preventing you from getting swept: having your hips jutting strongly forward, lifting his leg up, and developing the ability to kick your foot free from his grip all work together to destroy his leverage and shut down his most common guard sweeps when you stand up.
So please do some experimentation before you pass judgement on this method of opening the legs. If you do those two things and it still doesn’t work for you then no problem – find another way to crack open the legs!
Stage 3: Stopping him from establishing a strong open guard
Of course in an ideal world you move directly from opening the closed guard into your guard pass (which would bypass the need for this step altogether) but things don’t always go 100% according to plan.
And you don’t want to go through all the trouble of breaking grips, getting to your feet, opening up a stubborn closed guard, only to end up completely tangled and out of balance in some new-fangled type of open guard…
Which is why it’s important to learn how to avoid giving your opponent too many openings to exploit.
In the video above I share my checklist to prevent (or at least make more difficult) your opponent from establishing a good open guard when you’re standing on your feet.
This isn’t the sexiest of topics but it’s extremely important if you want to move onto the fun stage, which is smashing your opponent like a bug when you actually pass his guard.
Stage 4: Smashing him with an old-school guard pass
In old school BJJ there’s a guard pass known as the ‘Smash Pass’.
In this move you get one of your opponent’s legs up onto your shoulder, drive forward, and smash him until he lets you pass his guard.
The trouble with this guard pass, at least as I initially learned it, is that it leaves you very vulnerable to the triangle choke unless you have both absolutely perfect technique and an 18 inch neck.
One of my main jiu-jitsu coaches, Marcus Soares, set me straight about this. He taught the smash pass as a standing guard pass which both reduced the danger of the triangle choke and also set up a vicious choke at the end of the technique.
In the video above I show you the steps of this guard pass. This is one of my bread and butter passes that I have used against many skilled opponents, so I can totally vouch for it and I hope it works for you too.
Note that in the actual pressure pass you have two main gripping options: 1) gripping at the neck, and 2) gripping at the waist.
The grip at the neck sets up a really great paper cutter choke that you can apply even before you’ve fully passed the guard (it’s maddening to be caught in and very powerful).
But extending the arm that far towards the neck does give a savvy opponent a lever to work with and a little more mobility in the hips.
So if you’re passing the guard of a really squirmy guy who is skilled at guard pass prevention (especially the frame and hip escape style guard retention movements) then you may opt to drop your arm across his waist and control his far hip instead of going for the neck.
To sum it up, here’s something I posted on my Instagram feed (follow me there if you haven’t already – I put out a lot of good stuff on Instagram!).
For the smash pass you have some important decisions to make. How are you going to open the legs? Are you going to stand or kneel? How are you going to prevent his attempts to put you in the open guard? And are you going to grip for easy choking or for maximum hip control? All of these options are explored in the latest article called “Old School Closed Guard Pressure Pass” at grapple arts.com/articles #guardpass #smashpass #guardpassing #passingtheguard #chokes #bjj #brazilianjiujitsu #jiujitsu #judo #newaza #grapplearts #bjjtechnique #zoozhitsu
So ultimately the final guard-passing grip is entirely your choice, and with experience you’ll be able to quickly judge which grip is most appropriate for a given situation.
There, I hope that helped! If it did then please make sure to share this article with your training partners, and also maybe to sign up for my 100% free BJJ tips email newsletter so you don’t miss out on future important articles.
Good luck with your training!