The quintessential jiu-jitsu element, without a doubt, is the guard. The ability to be offensive while your back is on the ground is unique among grappling martial arts and is what makes BJJ so efficient. Every guard employs the legs as a shield and means to control the person on top, and the two main types of guard are closed guard and open guard.
The open guard is a position where your legs are not crossed around the opponent’s body. An effective open guard requires contact points and control over the opponent using your legs and arms in different configurations. Depending on the positions and configuration, there are many versions of open guards, like the butterfly, de la Riva, and spider guards.
While usually, the grappler on top is the one who does his best to open the guard and pass, open guards offer a lot of offensive options, and many BJJ players have made them a core part of their game. This article can bring you a tiny step closer to them.
First of all, a guard position in BJJ is any position in which you are lying on your back and can use your legs to control the opponent, and an open guard is a position where your ankles are not crossed around the opponent’s back. But for a position to be considered an open guard, you also need to have contact with the opponent’s hips, arms, legs, or lapel.
The more contact and control points you have, the better, with four being the optimal number. A simple example of contact points is having your feet on the opponent’s hips and a grip on at least one of his sleeves.
Conversely, you should always try to prevent the opponent from controlling both your legs, which makes his task of passing the guard much easier.
The open guard offers much less control than the closed guard, where your legs are crossed behind the opponent, and you can control his hips. The transition from closed to open guard can happen voluntarily or be forced by the person on top, which is usually his main objective while he is stuck in top closed guard.
While you have much better control in closed guard, the open guard gives you different options for sweeps, setting up leg enchantments, going for submissions, and opening up a world of possibilities for both the bottom and top person.
The open guard is a dynamic and fluid position that constantly flows into other types of sub-types of open guards, like the De La Riva or spider guard, among a dozen others, which can sometimes confuse people about the names.
Regardless of whether you perfectly identify each position with its name or not, it’s imperative to learn to be fluid in the transitions between the different open guards because they will often change in an instant during a roll.
The basic open guard position is considered the one where you have your feet on the hips of the opponent while on your back. The type of open guard depends on the body parts you control and have contact with and your position in relation to them.
Different Types Of Open Guards
We’ve already quickly discussed the basic open guard, where you have two contact points with your feet on the opponent’s hips. When more contact points enter the equation, the type of open guard changes. Here are the most popular open guard variations.
The butterfly guard is often also called the seated open guard. While the two have some technical differences, they can be grouped together.
The butterfly guard is a position in which you are sitting on your butt (unlike other open guards, which are in a supine position) with your feet inside the opponent’s thighs.
This makes the positions very dynamic, and while there are many possible submissions, the sweep options are the high point due to the position of your legs.
The shin and feet position are the keys to the butterfly guard, and they are called butterfly hooks and are used for lifting and manipulating the opponent’s weight. A crucial detail is curling the toes upwards and sticking the feet to the thighs for optimal control.
In no-gi, some people use the butterfly guard masterfully to set up leg entanglements and leg submissions, perhaps none better than Gordon Ryan. But the most famous butterfly guard player has to be Marcelo Garcia.
The spider guard is predominantly a gi position because it relies heavily on sleeve grips. The spider guard is characterized by gripping both sleeves of the opponent and placing at least one foot on his biceps, with the other encircling the arm, on the other biceps, or hooked behind the knee.
This configuration gives you powerful control and freedom in the hips, which can lead to sweeps even against much heavier opponents.
Initially, the spider guard was used mainly as a stalling and defensive tactic from smaller grapplers against larger people. The spider guard transitions easily into De La Riva and X-guard.
Some high-level BJJ players like Leandro Lo, Rubens Charles ‘Cobrinha,’ and JT Torres have made the spider guard into a great offensive tool used to sweep and even attack with submissions.
De La Riva Guard
This open guard variation is named after BJJ legend Ricardo de la Riva. The De La Riva guard (DLR for short) is also primarily a gi position, but unlike the lasso and worm guards, it’s not exclusive and can also be used in no-gi.
The position is characterized by wrapping around your outside leg on the outside of the opponent’s lead leg. Because of this, the De La Riva is what some call a long-range guard and can be applied only against a standing opponent. Typically you hand control both his sleeves or a sleeve and the heel or pants of his lead leg, which you already control with your foot.
The controlling foot can be inserted deep or shallow on his kip or knee, which makes the positions quite nuanced. The De La Riva is a great position to set up sweeps and take the back of the opponent.
Reverse De La Riva
As the name would suggest, the reverse De La Riva Guard is assumed when you use your leg to wrap around the inside of the lead leg of the opponent standing in front of you. Like the regular De La Riva, the leg limits the opponent’s movement and his ability to push his weight forward for a guard pass.
The reverse De La Riva is often a counter to cross-slide passes but is also a long-range extension of the half-guard, so guys who like half-guard also gravitate towards the reverse De La Riva.
Like many other positions, the reverser De La Riva has been known in grappling for a long time, but it has found wide use only recently.
The main culprits behind the popularity of the position are Caio Terra and Rafa Mendes, who developed and implemented it in the modern BJJ game in the mid-2000s.
Unlike a few other guards on the list, the X-guard is equally good for both gi and no-gi. After all, it was popularized by Marcelo Garcia during legendary ADCC runs.
The name of the X guard comes from the configuration, which positions you between the legs of a standing opponent in a supine position, with your head pointing at one of his legs and your leg entangled around the thigh of the other.
The feet are hooked to the opponent- one foot is behind his knee, and the other is on the front of his hip, forming an X with your shins. On the other side, his ankle should be on your shoulder from where you can control the leg with both hands and manipulate their stance.
Like with other open guards, once in X guard, you can go for a sweep. No direct submissions are available from it, but the great thing about it is that it is so powerful in unbalancing the opponent with virtually no risk that you can enter into an Ashi Garami instead of sweeping. At the same time, the opponent is too busy to make sure he doesn’t fall flat on the mat.
The list of possible open guards can go on if we include gi-specific guards like the Lasso guard, worm guard, grasshopper guard, octopus guard, etc. Technically wise, the giant strides BJJ has made in the last two decades are nothing short of amazing, and even hardcore fans and practitioners can sometimes miss some clever invention or guard variation.
But the common thing between all open guards is that the legs are not locked around the opponent on top but still have contact with him.
Open guards are very dynamic and flowing, and they are one of the more intricate parts of jiu-jitsu that the layman may not grasp at all. But for everyone, even those partially interested in grappling, the open guard is a fundamental position and core part of the game.