The guards are the biggest contribution of jiu-jitsu to the world of grappling. They are essentially a way to fight off your back effectively, and the closed guard has been a staple of the art of jiu-jitsu in all areas—self-defense, grappling competition, and MMA.
A closed or full guard is a position where the bottom player has their legs around the top player’s torso with their feet crossed. This eliminates the use of the legs by the top player, gives the guard player a higher hip position, and allows them to control the distance between the two effectively.
The closed guard is one of the first positions everyone learns in jiu-jitsu, and it remains crucial throughout their entire journey. Although the development of many open guards has shifted the higher-level game away from the closed guard, it remains the most critical position for beginners.
Closed or full guard is a fundamental position in jiu-jitsu where you are on the bottom of the opponent and have your legs wrapped around them and your feet crossed.
The guard positions, in general, are what characterize BJJ the most. In other grappling styles, being on your back means you are losing the fight, but jiu-jitsu lets you fight off your back effectively precisely because of the guards.
Like most other techniques, guards existed in grappling for centuries before making their way to Brazil, but their use was more limited.
Helio and Carlos Gracie introduced a more offensive use of the guard, and it became a part of their tactics rather than just a position you are put into involuntarily.
For a long time, the closed guard was barely used, and people preferred the open guard, which was thought necessary to do an armbar. It was in the 1980s when the closed guard became more popular, and people started seeing its full potential.
While the different guards were developed mainly through BJJ competition, the closed guard is essential when striking is involved, like in Vale Tudo, self-defense, and later in MMA, all of which have been very important in BJJ’s development.
The unique thing about the closed guard, as opposed to all open guards, is that the person on the bottom has all the distance control. This is important in all situations but becomes critical when the person on top can punch, kick, or elbow.
By taking advantage of the position, which puts their hips above those of the one on top, and using the legs, the person on bottom can manipulate the posture and the distance between the two grapplers. When strikes are possible, the closed guard allows you to pull the opponent close and eliminate their ability to create enough leverage to land strong blows.
The full guard is a reversed mount and is considered a neutral position, but in pure jiu-jitsu, where there are no strikes, one can argue the bottom player has more offensive options than the one on top.
So, let’s get to the practical side of things and show you how to have a strong closed guard, what the goals from the bottom should be, and how to turn it into an offensive position.
In this article, we look at the closed guard from the perspective of the bottom player, but to know what to do, it’s also crucial to understand the goals of the person on top. In competition, the closed guard is considered a neutral position, and neither player gets any points.
The person on top has almost no submission options, and the few possible ones are not techniques you can even do against an equally trained opponent.
The purpose of the one on top of the closed guard in pure grappling is to open the guard, separating the legs and passing the now open guard. This can lead them into a dominant and scoring position like knee on belly, side control or full mount.
As the one in bottom closed guard, your task is to turn this defensive position into an offensive one and sweep the opponent. This will take you to a dominant top position, earn you points in competition, or directly submit them. The road to both goes through the most important step: breaking the opponent’s posture.
Break The Posture
The most important thing you must do while in closed guard is to break the opponent’s posture. The top person can open your guard by standing up in a vertical posture, and you must prevent them from doing so.
The opponent has a compromised posture as long as their head is over your body and not directly over their hips.
The hip position of both players takes the top person’s legs out of the equation, while you can and must use both your arms and legs to break posture.
Using your hips and legs to pull the opponent towards you is crucial in closed guard and should be one of your main weapons. This remains the same in gi and no-gi.
You can also take advantage or force the opponent to go too far backward and reverse the position in this direction.
The other battle is for grips. This is where things between gi and no gi change quite a bit. In the gi, you have many more options to control and pull the opponent through their collar, lapels, and sleeves. In no gi, you must rely on wrist grips, neck pulls, arm drags, and other similar techniques.
The goal is to break the opponent’s posture, which can easily be determined if they have at least one of their hands on the mat.
This is when you can start attacking by turning into an angle and moving to a high closed guard, securing double underhooks, or going outside of one of their elbows.
Sweeps from closed guard are the most powerful because they take you directly into mount position, while sweeps from other guards (half, butterfly, etc.) usually result in you being in the opponent’s guard. The only way to earn points in competition from closed guard is by doing a sweep.
There are dozens of options to sweep. The basics of any sweep are to control the posting limbs on one side and find enough leverage to topple the opponent to the same side. Two of the most popular sweeps are the scissor and pendulum sweeps, both requiring a solid sleeve or wrist grip.
If you get a double underhook and trap the opponent’s arms above their head, the sweep to mount is a breeze, while you also have the option to start attacking the back.
The best position to transition into back control is if you manage to get outside of the opponent’s elbows and get their arm stretched across your body. This is again easier done in the gi, but completely possible without the help of sleeves.
As I said, there are many, many options to sweep, and some of them can be seen in the overview video from John Danaher shared in the previous paragraph, while a few more sweeps are detailed in this video from Giancarlo Bodoni:
Some popular closed guard sweeps beautifully transition into submissions like the hip bum sweep/kimura and pendulum sweep/armbar combos, so it’s time to look at how to tap people from the full guard.
I already mentioned the hip bump and kimura lock combo. This is a very powerful combination when the opponent stays back, and you can’t break their posture forward. Instead of wasting much energy to get them chest to chest, take what’s available and go for the hip bump sweep. If they post with the hand, directly transition to the kimura lock.
Another fundamental combo often referred to as the Holy Trinity includes the armbar, triangle, and Omoplata submissions. Each is a fundamental submission of jiu-jitsu accessible from the full guard.
What makes them an effective combo or chain of attacks is that the defensive answers from the opponent to one of the submissions directly open up one of the other two. If you attempt an armbar, but the opponent pulls their arm, you can go for an omoplata or a triangle.
During the triangle, you always have the option to revert to an armbar or attack an Omoplata, depending on how they are defending.
Combining these three, especially the armbar and triangle from closed guard, has been a massive part of BJJ’s early success in mixed martial arts.
There are more submissions from the full guard. You can go for collar chokes and guillotines, among other options.
Consider the closed guard as an attacking position. While it’s generally neutral, breaking the opponent’s posture and making some adjustments opens up many possibilities to sweep or directly submit the opponent.
The closed guard is not a position to rest in, even in pure BJJ, where you are not in danger of being punched, and you should constantly battle for grips and posture. There is a good reason the guard pull has been so widely used. The closed guard is one of BJJ’s most powerful weapons and trademark techniques.