Ultimate Guard Guide in BJJ: Overview of the Different Types of Guards

by Team Digitsu
Updated: April 16, 2024
Dominyka Obelenyte with Closed Guard
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art that focuses heavily on grappling and ground fighting, with the guard being one of its most crucial components. When you're on the bottom in a grappling exchange, the guard is your primary line of defense against an opponent. It serves not only as a shield but also as a launchpad for various offensive maneuvers, such as sweeps and submissions. The guard allows you to manage the distance, control the pace, and stay safe even when you're in a seemingly vulnerable position on your back.
In BJJ, mastering the guard is a fundamental aspect of becoming a well-rounded grappler. There are various forms of guard, each with its own set of techniques and strategies. Understanding the intricacies of different guards, such as the closed guard and the more complex X-guard, allows you to create a dynamic defense system. The versatility of the guard positions also means you have an arsenal of options to attack and counter your opponent's moves. Having a good guard can make the difference between being on the offensive or being dominated on the mats.
Your journey in the art of BJJ guards begins by recognizing their importance in both defensive and offensive scenarios. As you train, you will discover that learning different guard styles, like the collar and sleeve guard and the open guard, equips you with the tools to adapt to various opponents and situations. Each guard has its own philosophy and applications, which will enrich your grappling game significantly. As you become more adept at using the guard, you'll find that it's not just a safety net but a complex web of tactical options at your disposal.

What is the Guard?

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), the guard is a foundational position that offers both offensive and defensive strategies while you're on your back. Understanding how to effectively use the guard can be pivotal in your BJJ journey.

Uniqueness of the Guard in BJJ

Unlike other grappling martial arts, BJJ places a significant emphasis on the guard. It enables you to defend yourself from your back without being considered in a losing position, focusing on submissions and sweeps rather than avoiding pins as in wrestling or judo.

Fighting From Bottom Using the Guard

When you're in the guard position, your legs act as your first layer of defense and an essential tool for offense. You can control your opponent, attempt submissions, and execute sweeps to reverse positions or earn points in competition.

What is Open Guard?

Open Guard refers to any guard where your legs are not locked around your opponent's body. The open guard allows for greater movement and flexibility, offering a variety of offensive techniques. However, it requires maintaining a delicate balance, as it can leave you open to guard passes if not managed properly.

What is Closed Guard?

In a Closed Guard, your legs are wrapped around your opponent's torso and locked at the ankles, creating a confined space. This position limits the opponent’s mobility and provides you with the opportunity to execute various submissions and sweeps. Although it offers substantial control, the closed guard can be restrictive to your own movement as well.

Supine vs Seated Guard

Jon Calestine with a Supine Guard (from his back)
The guard can be played in two main orientations: supine and seated. When you're in a supine guard, you are lying on your back using your legs to manage distance and control the opponent. Your seated guard involves sitting up with your opponent in front of you, offering quick transitions to different guards and openings for attacks.

Jon Calestine sets up a two-on-grip from seated guard.

Both variations have their own strategic purposes, and understanding when to use each can give you a significant advantage on the mats.

Guard Retention Concepts

Achieving a high level of proficiency in guard retention is essential in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ); it often determines your ability to control the bout and defend effectively against your opponent. This section delves into why guard retention is crucial, the fundamental concepts that underpin it, and the best practices for drills to improve your skills.

Why Guard Retention is Crucial

The guard position is your first line of defense in BJJ. Retaining your guard prevents opponents from advancing to more dominant positions and sets up offensive opportunities. When you maintain a strong guard, it means you're in a position to launch attacks and control the pace of the match.

Fundamental Concepts of Guard Retention

Jon Calestine using frames and bringing his knee in to retain guard
Guard retention is not about holding on for dear life; it's a dynamic action that requires framing, creating space, and continuous movement. The following are key elements:
  1. Framing: Use your arms and legs to create a strong frame, preventing the opponent from closing the distance. This allows you to manage the space effectively.
  2. Hip Movement: Constantly adjust your hips to face your opponent. Mobility is vital for maintaining and recovering your guard.
  3. Connection: Keep a tight connection with your opponent using your legs and grips, making it harder for them to pass.
  4. Prevention over Recovery: It's easier to maintain your guard than to recover it after it's been passed. Anticipate your opponent's moves and adjust.

Drills for Improving Guard Retention

To reinforce these concepts, incorporate specific drills into your training:
  • Hip Escapes: Practice shrimping to create distance and realign your guard.
  • Spinning Under: Work on spinning underneath your opponent when they try to pass, using the momentum to retain your guard.
  • Inversion Drills: Inversions can be an effective way to prevent guard passes and recover from compromising positions.
Strength and flexibility training can also support your guard retention effectiveness. Remember, repetition is the key to making these movements instinctual.

Closed Guard

The closed guard is a foundational position in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), serving as a critical component of ground fighting where you maintain control while positioned on your back.

Fundamentals of the Closed Guard

In the closed guard, your legs are wrapped around your opponent’s torso with ankles crossed, effectively controlling their body movements. This position allows you to limit their offensive options while creating numerous opportunities for your own attacks. Mastering the basic closed guard is essential, as it is both a defensive platform and an attacking springboard.

Importance of Controlling Posture

Controlling an opponent's posture in closed guard is vital. By breaking down their posture, you prevent them from establishing a base for strikes or passes. Use grips on their collar, sleeves, or head to maintain control, keeping them off-balance and vulnerable to attacks, sweeps, and submissions.

Attacks, Sweeps, and Submissions from the Closed Guard

From a well-maintained closed guard, you can execute a variety of closed guard attacks. Techniques such as the armbar, triangle choke, and kimura lock are potent closed guard submissions. Furthermore, closed guard sweeps like the scissor or flower sweep can reverse the positions, granting you a significant tactical edge.

Variations: Rubber Guard and Clamp Guard

Advanced practitioners often utilize variations like the rubber guard and clamp guard to further control and submit their opponents. The rubber guard, popularized by Eddie Bravo, involves the use of your leg to trap the opponent's upper body, allowing for increased control and submission options. The clamp guard is another variation that provides control over one arm and the shoulder, setting up a series of chokes and joint locks.

Collar Sleeve Guard

Danny Stolfi with Collar Sleeve Guard
The Collar Sleeve Guard in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a powerful tool for controlling an opponent and setting the stage for various sweeps and attacks. Your understanding of this guard can dramatically enhance your defensive and offensive game.

Understanding the Collar Sleeve Guard

The Collar Sleeve Guard involves a strategic grip combination where you use one hand to grab your opponent's collar and the other to control their sleeve. This guard is especially effective because it allows for consistent control of distance and leverages the power of your legs to manipulate your opponent's posture and balance.

Collar Sleeve Connection to Other Guards

Your grasp on the Collar Sleeve Guard offers a foundational position from which you can easily move to other guards, such as the Lasso, Spider, or De La Riva guards. By first establishing a strong collar sleeve guard, you prime yourself for a seamless transition back to a Closed Guard, enabling a fluid and dynamic guard game.

Sweeps from the Collar Sleeve Guard

From the Collar Sleeve Guard, various sweeps are at your disposal. A basic yet effective one is the Scissor Sweep, where your foot on the opponent's hip and the controlled sleeve work in tandem to upset their balance and execute the sweep. Successful sweeps from this guard rely on precise timing and the manipulation of your opponent's limbs and center of gravity.

Attacks from the Collar Sleeve Guard

When it comes to attacks from the Collar Sleeve Guard, you have a plethora of submission options. Take, for example, the transition to an Omoplata. By maintaining collar and sleeve grips, you can create openings to isolate an arm and lock it in between your legs, leading to a potential submission. The efficacy of your attacks is directly correlated with your grip strength and your ability to anticipate your opponent's reactions.

Spider Guard

Danny Stolfi with Spider Guard
The Spider Guard is a highly effective position in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) that utilizes strong grips and leverage with the legs to control an opponent. It's a powerful tool in your BJJ arsenal, offering both defensive stability and offensive openings.

Fundamentals of the Spider Guard

In the Spider Guard, your primary focus is to establish spider guard grips. You must grip the sleeves of your opponent while placing your feet on their biceps, creating a robust frame and a distance to manage their movements. Properly executed, these grips take advantage of your legs’ strength against the comparatively weaker arms of your opponent.

Sweeps from the Spider Guard

Executing sweeps from the Spider Guard revolves around unbalancing your opponent. A success lies in your ability to use both pushing and pulling motions with your legs. For instance, a basic sweep involves pushing one arm away while pulling on the other, compromising their base and tipping them over to a side.

Submissions from the Spider Guard

Submissions from the Spider Guard are diverse, including but not limited to, triangles, armbars, and omoplatas. The key to transitioning to a submission lies in the misdirection of your opponent's focus. As they defend against potential sweeps, create openings to attack with a variety of submissions by adjusting your grips and creating angles.
Remember to maintain a constant control and to be vigilant for opportunities to transition into attacks while using the Spider Guard.

Lasso Guard

Danny Stolfi with Lasso Guard
The Lasso Guard in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a dynamic, control-based position. It employs intricate sleeve and leg work to manage the pace and options of your opponent.

Understanding the Lasso Guard

When you utilize the Lasso Guard, your leg threads through the inside of your opponent's arm, coiling around it with your foot anchored behind their shoulder. This serves as the foundational position from which lasso guard grips are established, using your hands to grasp the sleeves of your opponent, hence curtailing their movement and posturing possibilities.

Using Lasso to Slow Things Down

By effectively deploying the Lasso Guard, you have the ability to significantly reduce your opponent's momentum. The grip and leg configuration make it challenging for them to advance or escape, providing you with the time to contemplate your next move. The control gained from the Lasso Guard can stifle aggressive passers and set the tempo at which the match proceeds.

Sweeps from the Lasso Guard

Sweeps are pivotal techniques emanating from the Lasso Guard. Lasso guard sweeps like the classic pendulum or scissor sweep can be executed by manipulating the opponent's balance. Shifting their weight and combining your grips and legs effectively can lead to a successful sweep and subsequent position advancement.
  • Pendulum Sweep: Offset balance and follow through with a leg swing to sweep.
  • Scissor Sweep: Compromise posture and employ a chopping motion with your legs.

Attacks from the Lasso Guard

Leveraging the Lasso Guard for lasso guard attacks involves a blend of creativity and opportunity. From this position, it's possible to launch a variety of submissions such as armbars, chokes, or shoulder locks based on the reactions and openings provided by your opponent. These attacks often involve transitioning to complementary positions while maintaining control with your lassoed leg and grips.
  • Armbar: Capitalizing on extended arms for a quick submission.
  • Chokes: Utilizing the gi and positional advantage to execute various chokes.

De La Riva Guard

Danny Stolfi with De La Riva
The De La Riva Guard, commonly referred to as DLR, is a dynamic and control-focused open guard that excels in off-balancing opponents for sweeps and transitions to other positions.

Fundamentals of the De La Riva Guard

When you're adopting the De La Riva Guard, it's essential that you understand the core components that make it effective. Primarily, it involves wrapping one of your legs around the outside of your opponent's lead leg, with your foot hooking behind their thigh, which is known as the De La Riva hook. Your other leg normally pushes against your opponent's other leg or hip to maintain distance and control. You should always strive to control at least one of your opponent's arms to prevent them from countering your guard.

Sweeps from the De La Riva Guard

DLR guard sweeps are a fundamental aspect of this position. They often stem from successfully unbalancing your opponent using the De La Riva hook.
  • Classic Sweep: This involves pulling on the opponent's sleeve and ankle while using the De La Riva hook to tip them over.
  • Berimbolo: A more advanced option from DLR, the Berimbolo allows you to invert underneath your opponent, targeting their back.
Mastering these sweeps provides you with various ways to transition to a more dominant position, such as side control or even taking your opponent's back.

Attacks from the De La Riva Guard

While the DLR guard is primarily a sweeping guard, it does offer avenues for attacks.
  • Submission opportunities might not be as numerous as other guards, such as the Collar Sleeve guard, but they still exist, particularly in the form of leglocks or ankle locks.
  • Transitional Attacks: Rather than direct submissions, you often use DLR to transition into other attacking positions where submissions are more easily applied.
Your focus should be on maintaining control and positioning to create openings for these techniques.

Butterfly Guard

Marcus Johnson in ther Butterfly Guard of Chazz
The Butterfly Guard is a distinct position in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) known for its versatility and dynamic capabilities. It offers ways to control an opponent, sweep them, and transition to other guards or submission attempts.

Understanding the Butterfly Guard

In the Butterfly Guard, you position your feet inside the space between your opponent's legs. This not only minimizes the risk of leg locks against you but also enables you to manipulate their balance. Your "butterfly hooks"—the insteps of your feet—are a pivotal element, as they are used to lift and elevate your opponent during transitions and sweeps.

Feet Inside vs Outside

While many guards in BJJ position the feet outside the opponent's legs, the Butterfly Guard is characterized by your feet being tucked inside. This crucial positioning of the feet:
  • Protects: Your legs are better shielded against leg lock attacks.
  • Enables Attacks: You can launch leg attacks and smoothly transition into positions like Single Leg X (SLX) or Ashi Garami, exploiting the openings you create.

Main Sweeps from the Butterfly Guard

The effectiveness of the Butterfly Guard is hinged on your ability to perform sweeps. Key sweeps include:
  1. Elevator Sweep: Utilize your butterfly hooks to lift your opponent and upset their balance.
  2. Butterfly Hook Sweep: Angle off to one side to sweep your opponent over your hooked leg.
  3. Butterfly Spin Sweep: Spin under your opponent when they put pressure forward, using both of your hooks to facilitate the movement.

Butterfly Guard Variations: Underhook and Overhook Grips

The Butterfly Guard can be effectively employed with different grips, namely:
  • Underhook Butterfly Guard: You secure an underhook to control your opponent's posture and create leverage for sweeps.
  • Overhook Butterfly Guard: You use an overhook to create a measure of control and prepare for potential submissions or transitions.
By exploiting these variations, you can maintain a dynamic guard that constantly challenges your opponent and opens up opportunities for advancement on the ground.

Single Leg X Guard and X Guard

Adam Benayoun with SLX Guard
Exploring the dynamics of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, your understanding of the Single Leg X Guard and X Guard can enhance your grappling skills significantly. These positions are crucial for an effective guard game, allowing for a variety of transitions and attacks.

Fundamentals of the Single Leg X Guard and X Guard

The Single Leg X Guard, often referred to as Ashi Garami, is a strong control position where you immobilize your opponent by entangling one of their legs with yours. It's a variant of the X Guard but focuses on one leg, using your legs in an 'X' configuration to create leverage. The X Guard, on the other hand, is a more dynamic position where both of your opponent's legs are controlled, providing a stable platform for sweeps and submissions.

Entering the Single Leg X Guard and X Guard

To enter the Single Leg X Guard, you typically initiate an SLX guard entry by off-balancing your opponent and inserting your leg across their body to hook their far leg. For the X Guard, transition from positions like Butterfly or Full Guard, using a combination of elevation and underhooks to navigate underneath your opponent to secure the position.

Sweeps and Attacks from the Single Leg X Guard and X Guard

Jon Calestine with X Guard
From the Single Leg X Guard, you can execute various SLX guard sweeps. A common technique involves off-balancing your opponent forward by extending your legs, then swiftly transitioning to come up on top. In an X Guard, X guard attacks may include lifting your opponent with your shins and initiating technical stands or sweeps to gain a more dominant position.

Single Leg X Connection to Leg Attack Game

The Single Leg X Guard seamlessly transitions into the leg attack game. By controlling one of your opponent's legs and keeping them off-balance, you're in a prime position to attack with leg locks, heel hooks, and other submissions targeting the lower limbs. It's a staple for those looking to diversify their submission game and apply constant offensive pressure.

Half Guard

Mason Fowler with his "Paper Clip" Knee Shield (Half Guard Variation)
In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the half guard is a versatile and crucial position that bridges the gap between full guard and side control. It serves as a foundation for both defensive maneuvers and offensive strategies.

Understanding the Half Guard

The half guard is characterized by you controlling one of your opponent's legs between your own legs, limiting their movement and creating various opportunities. It's essential to maintain close contact and use your legs actively to prevent the top player from passing to a more dominant position.

Half Guard Variations: Reverse De La Riva, Butterfly Half, Lockdown, Z Guard, Knee Shield, Deep Half Guard

  • Reverse De La Riva Guard: A dynamic version where you hook the inside of your opponent's lead leg with your outside leg, useful for creating space and setting up sweeps.
  • Butterfly Half Guard: Combines elements of the butterfly and half guards, allowing you to lift and off-balance your opponent.
  • Lockdown: This variation involves entwining your legs tightly around your opponent's leg to immobilize them and set up sweeps or transitions.
  • Z Guard: Also known as the knee shield, where you create a barrier with a shin across your opponent's body, coupled with framing to maintain distance.
  • Knee Shield: A defensive buffer that uses your shin across the opponent's torso, granting leverage for attacks or recomposing full guard.
  • Deep Half Guard: You slide under your opponent, controlling their far leg to disrupt balance, which can lead to back takes or sweeps.

Sweeps and Attacks from the Half Guard

Implementing sweeps from the half guard relies on timing, leverage, and the element of surprise. Common techniques include the Old School sweep, where you use the opponent's foot as a lever, and the John Wayne sweep, where you manipulate the trapped leg to unbalance your opponent. Attacks often stem from creating openings; the Kimura lock and Guillotine choke are two prevalent options when your opponent's posture is compromised.

Other Advanced Guards

Discover advanced guard positions that can elevate your BJJ game to new heights. These positions offer unique strategies and techniques essential for high-level grappling.

K Guard

Jon Calestine Entering into K Guard
The K Guard is a dynamic position that allows you to attack your opponent's base and balance effectively. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it offers both sweeping opportunities and submissions, making it a versatile tool at your disposal.

Lapel and Worm Guards

Chazz Sets up a Lapel Guard Variation on Marcus Johnson
Lapel guards, such as the worm guard, use the gi's lapel to control an opponent. This type of guard intertwines the lapel around the opponent's limb, creating off-balancing angles and immobilization. The worm guard is highly effective in creating leverage, which can be used to execute sweeps.

50/50 Guard

The 50/50 guard is a neutral position where both you and your opponent have symmetrical leg entanglements. Although considered a stalemate by some, it opens up various ankle locks and strategic sweeps when used with precision and advanced guard techniques.

Developing Your Guard Game

To become adept in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, refining your guard game is crucial. This involves targeted guard development, implementing strategic training routines, and continual improvement through practical drills.

Creating a Guard Development Plan

Begin by evaluating your current guard proficiency and identifying areas for improvement. A systematic approach could involve setting specific, measurable goals for aspects like open guard retention or transitioning to a half-guard under pressure. Establishing clear milestones for these goals, such as "Achieve successful guard retention in 8 out of 10 sparring sessions" can guide your guard training.

Drills and Exercises for Improving Your Guard

Guard drills play a pivotal role in muscle memory and technique refinement. For instance, daily hip escape drills can enhance mobility for guard maintenance, while grip-breaking exercises are imperative for controlling your opponent. Incorporating drills that involve guard recovery from compromised positions is invaluable, and can be paired with situational sparring focused specifically on guard retention and attack initiation.

Incorporating Guard Strategy into Your BJJ Game

Your guard strategy should adapt to different scenarios. For example, cultivating a strong closed guard might be your starting point, but as you progress, layering in open guard variations can expand your repertoire. Studying and practicing high-percentage sweeps or submissions from each guard type can lead to a more unpredictable and formidable guard game.
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