I once drilled technique with a big, strong rock climber who had a grip from hell and tenacious isometric strength. I noticed how much he liked controlling my gi, breaking my posture and attacking with collar chokes.
Since I knew we were going to spar soon I formulated a simple sparring strategy: I told myself that as soon as I ended up in his guard I would stand up and not go back down onto my knees until I was past his guard.
Why did I do this?
Simple: I did NOT want him to latch onto my lapel and choke me silly, so I decided to take the risks of standing up instead!
Lets first look at your options…
A coarse classification divides guard passes into either standing or kneeling guard passes.
If you wanted to break it down a bit further you could say that there are standing and kneeling methods of opening a closed guard, and standing and kneeling methods of actually passing an opened guard. Both standing and kneeling methods have their strengths and weaknesses – I use them both, but I try to choose the appropriate approach for the situation.
Kneeling in your opponent’s guard makes you a little harder to sweep because your center of gravity is closer to the ground. If you are kneeling in an opponent’s guard your arms and neck are more easily available for him to attack, but it is quite difficult for him to leglock you.
If you choose to stand in order to pass the guard you make yourself a little more vulnerable to sweeps and leglocks. The advantage of standing passes is that you are more mobile and that it is harder for your opponent to attack you with chokes and armlocks.
How can you use this information?
If you have both standing and kneeling guard passes in your repertoire you can tailor your game to avoid your opponent’s strengths.
If your opponent specializes in chokes and/or armlocks then get to your feet whenever you end up in his guard and try to work your standing guard passes. If your opponent is a leg locking machine then consider engaging him on your knees.
Additionally, guard passing methods vary greatly from club to club. In some clubs kneeling guard passes predominate, whereas other schools tend to mix standing and kneeling guard passes. Schools that do a lot of MMA or no-gi grappling tend to use more standing passes, although few schools use standing methods exclusively.
If you know that your opponent is from a school that uses only kneeling guard passes then you could try only using standing passes against him: he is unlikely to be as skilled at defending against a standing opponent and you could soon find yourself past the guard.
Obviously passing the guard is a HUGE topic, so let’s just look at one aspect, namely breaking the closed guard either standing or on the knees…
Passing Closed Guard
Before you can pass the closed guard you first have to open the closed guard. But opening the closed guard can be very difficult if you’re up against a strong, skilled and determined opponent.
As we talked about above, when it comes to opening the closed guard you have to make a choice; are you going to
- Get your grips and force the closed guard open while staying on your knees? Or,
- Get your grips, stand up, and force the closed guard open from your feet?
Both are valid approaches, and each has its own strengths and vulnerabilities…
I have used both kneeling and standing guard breaks in my grappling career. Let me share my one of my favourites from each approach
Opening Closed Guard with Kneeling Breaks
There are many ways to establish posture and crack open the closed guard when you’re on your knees.
Many beginners will grind away at the thighs with their elbows, attempting to generate enough pain to get the guard to open. I am NOT a fan of this approach because elbow grinding is relatively easy to counter and stops working beyond the beginner level.
Instead one of my favourite methods is an unorthodox double straight-arm technique…
First you fight until you get both your hands firmly anchored on his belt. Then you get your head down, legs back, and extend both of your arms straight so that you push his belt up to the level of his solar plexus.
If this doesn’t break the guard you keep on moving your knees backwards until the growing pressure on his ankles cracks his guard open.
It’s REALLY important that the instant his legs open that you posture up and get one of your knees posted in between his legs – this prevents the double armbar submission which is surely one of the most embarrassing, throw-away-your-belt-and-burn-your-gi, submissions to be caught in!
The grips, guard break, double armbar submission, the counter to that submission and some options to pass the guard after you break it open are covered in the video below…
That is, of course, not the the only way to do things! For example, here’s my friend Ostap Manastyrski showing a similar-but-different approach to the same situation.
He starts on his knees, stiff-arms with both hands (albeit in the armpits, not on the belt) and then pops his knee in to force the guard apart.
Check it out below:
So that’s what a couple of different kneeling closed guard breaks might look like.
Now let’s move on and get up off our knees!
Opening Closed Guard with Standing Breaks
Standing is another really powerful option to pass the guard. On your feet you have gravity pulling him down off your body and tiring out his legs.
That being said, it’s really important to break or nullify his grips before you get up to your feet though, or he can make life hell for you.
I use a standing closed guard break method method that I learned by watching Marcelo Garcia do it over and over against top tier opponents.
Here’s one way to break the closed guard by standing up:
Of course there is no technique that is 100% safe – sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.
But when I made the video above then a whole bunch of internet pundits (who probably don’t ever train) sprang into action, talking about how vulnerable this method of standing is.
But this method of standing in the closed guard is a technique I have personally used successfully hundreds of times!
So then I then made a second video talking about the fine points of the standing guard break, including how to stay safe (or at least safer), which you can check out below…
If you’re interested in developing your standing guard passes then check out these two articles…
The Actual Guard Pass Itself
Some people get the idea that if they break the closed guard on the knees that they have to then complete the pass on their knees. Or that if they stand they have to stay standing.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Kneeling guard breaks can lead into either kneeling or standing passes.
Standing guard breaks can lead into either kneeling or standing passes.
Regardless of how you open up the closed guard you can then deploy the guard pass of your choice!
Here are some examples of guard passes you could deploy after you break the closed guard…
First, a super-low pass that really keeps the pressure on your opponent:
Then a pass that starts standing and then transitions into a choke from the low squat or a one-knee down position:
And here’s a fancy, high-flying guard pass you can totally do after you’ve cracked open the closed guard and broken the grips:
Of course these 3 examples aren’t even close to being an exhaustive list of guard passes.
The point is that you can basically use any guard pass you like, and that you can use standing guard breaks to set up kneeling passes and vice versa.
Ultimately the right pass depends on what techniques you’re comfortable with and what kind of energy you’re getting from your opponent!
There, now you have some of my top ‘tricks’ for opening up a really stubborn closed guard.
Now you should have some high-percentage ways of solving this problem, both on your knees and on your feet.
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