First contact - hands or feet?

First contact - hands or feet? Grappling is all about connection. No connection to an opponent means no grappling. At some you have to come to grips to make the action start. When you first come to make grips from open guard you have a choice between feet and hands. In truth, much of that choice will be determined by your opponent. If he positions himself in certain ways - hands will make more sense - in others - feet will make more sense. When ever he denies you one, the other will be available. Generally in no gi you will initially use your feet to establish contact at the ankles and knees. Hands at the wrists, elbows and collar. Here, Nicky Ryan uses feet first due to distance and stance - use that first contact to read the opponent and move into establish more contact for greater control. Just as you test water with a single hand or foot before jumping in, so too, test an opponent with a single hand or foot before jumping in to full connection.

Open guard is a four limbed beast - get your hands and feet working in unison

Open guard is a four limbed beast - get your hands and feet working in unison: when working from open guard it is not your hands alone that will make you successful, nor will it be your feet working alone; rather, it will be the INTERACTION of your hands and feet working TOGETHER that will make you a devastating open guard player. Remember always that as your opponent passes your FEET and LEGS, you will stop and briefly hold him with your HANDS, but your HANDS are not strong enough to hold hime for LONG, so must recover your FEET AND LEGS back into position and start anew. Thus it is the constant cycling and interaction of FEET and hands, ARMS and LEGS that will make you the master of open guard that you must become in order to master the sport itself. Don’t emphasize upper Body and don’t emphasize lower body - emphasize WHOLE body and get feet and hands working TOGETHER and your open guard will one day become Unpassable and your attacks from there unstoppable

When working from open guard - constantly seek to off balance your opponent forwards so that his hands go to the mat

When working from open guard - constantly seek to off balance your opponent forwards so that his hands go to the mat: A man taken out of balance is an easy target. A huge part of your ability to develop a strong attacking game from open guard comes down to your ability to off balance your opponent and one of the clearest signs that you have been successful in doing this is your opponents hands being snapped down to the mat. Remember - if his hands are on the mat - they aren’t on you - and if they aren’t on you - he can’t pass your guard or stymie your attacks. Here, Gordon Ryan, a master of off balancing from open guard, gets his opponents hands to the mat as a way to prevent him interfering with the ashi garami he has locked up.

Supine and seated guards

Supine and seated guards: The foundation of the bottom game in Jiu jitsu is the guard position. Most Jiu jitsu students are taught very early to distinguish between CLOSED and OPEN guard. This is good, because they are very different games and understanding the difference is important for progress. There is another equally important distinction however, that gets much less attention, which is unfortunate because it too, is extremely important for your progress and understanding. This is the distinction between SEATED and SUPINE (lying on your back) guards. Seated guards create great opportunities to use your mobility and hand fighting skills. In addition they allow you to use falling body weight to generate impressive momentum and thus greatly increase your sweeping power. This does come at the price of increased back and neck exposure however. Supine guards on the other hand, practically eliminate back and neck exposure, but at the price of greater leg exposure to a skilled leg locker. Supine guards make your legs weightless and this allow for excellent leg dexterity for guard retention. They also place your legs very close to your opponents head and arms and therefore are ideal for upper body submissions when opponents are on their knees. Just as every Jiu jitsu student has an obligation to learn both open and closed guard to maximize the effectiveness of their bottom game, so to they have an obligation to learn to weave together seated and supine guards so that they can employ the strong points of both against tough opponents. Here, Gordon Ryan, a true master of both supine and seated guards and who specializes in integrating the two together to create a devastating bottom game, employs good foot/leg positioning to use a “forward shift” the most important transitional movement between supine and seated guards to move easily from one to another as he spars brother Nicky Ryan.

Your guard is four limbed, not two

Your guard is four limbed, not two: The centerpiece of guard position is your legs. Your legs are radically stronger than your upper body and so guard position is the best way for smaller people to take on and defeat bigger opponents from underneath. Nonetheless, we must always understand that it is THE SYNERGY BETWEEN ARMS AND LEGS THAT WILL MAKE YOUR GUARD EFFECTIVE BOTH IN DEFENSE AND OFFENSE. In the case of guard retention, when your opponent beats your LEGS, it will be your ARMS that hold him off long enough for the legs to reclaim their position. In the vase of offense, it will be your arms that hold the opponent for your legs to make their way into the various ashi garami, triangle and arm bar position that will bring you victory. Always it will be that critical INTERACTION of arms and legs that will make your guard a stalwart of defense and a powerhouse of offense. Look how Nicky Ryan’s arms form temporary barriers and frames against a strong passing rush and how this creates the time and space to bring the legs back into play and defend the position. Make your guard an interactive four limbed monster of attack and defense and your bottom game will be much closer to where you want it!

Distance control

Distance control: When you first go to engage an opponent from seated guard there are a lot of variables that will influence how you will engage. Some of these variables are within your control and some are not. One that often is within your control and which has great importance, is DISTANCE. Depending upon what kind of attack you want to employ, you will want to be at an appropriate distance for that attack. Learning to move in such a way that you control the distance between you and your opponent so that you can choose the weapon of your attack is a big part of your development. You should be able to move efficiently from the seated position - scooting - so that you can close distance, maintain distance or increase distance, depending upon what you want to do. Here, Gordon Ryan and the great Xande Ribeiro square off and try to gain advantage through distance before they even engage in grips. Both athletes know what they want, both have a good idea what the other fellow wants - now it will come down to movement skills to see who can actually GET want they want. Often there is considerable jousting for distance and angle at this part of the game - this is normal and to be expected. These skills may not be the exciting to learn, but they have a big impact on the outcome, so make sure you devote time to them.

From open guard on a standing opponent

From open guard on a standing opponent: Dominate the head and dominate the space between his elbows - and victory will be yours. Whenever you have a standing opponent in your opponent guard, your first goals is always to BREAK HIS POSTURE/BALANCE. One of the best ways to do this is through the use of the cross lapel grip and the use of a foot on the bicep that dominates the inside position between his elbows. If you can keep his head lower than his waist and his elbow behind his shoulder - he won’t be able to threaten you with passing but you will be able to threaten him with any sweep or submission of your choice. So when you go to tie up from open guard - dominate the head and dominate the inside position at the elbow - your success rate will immediately rise

Some areas of Jiu Jitsu are an endless ocean of moves - some have only a few

Some areas of Jiu Jitsu are an endless ocean of moves - some have only a few: Of all the skill sets in Jiu Jitsu, the one that has the fewest options is probably OPENING A CLOSED GUARD. There are relatively few methods of doing this that work reliably in a competitive match. The same methods you learn in a beginner class will be the same methods you learn in a black belt class - just performed better. The basic demand to attain a strong working posture and get up to your feet admits only a few variations. This is a skill that you really need since there you cannot even begin to PASS a guard until you can OPEN a guard. There are not many moves to learn that are actually effective - but the skill is a difficult one as your opponent can set many traps as you try to posture and rise and so ironically the skill of opening a classed guard is among the first skills you will learn - but one of the last you will master. There may not be many moves to learn, but they are not easy to perform on a skilled opponent.

Open guard - off balancing forward and backwards

Open guard - off balancing forward and backwards: A distinguishing characteristic of great guard players is their constant use of KUZUSHI or off balancing skills as a precursor to their big attacks. The main directions of kuzushi from guard are forwards and backwards (there are some good off balancing moves side to side especially when wearing a gi, but most or forwards and backwards). When you go to off balance someone FORWARDS from open guard, the best methods usually involve a PULL WITH YOUR UPPER BODY AND A PUSH WITH YOUR LOWER BODY; whilst off balances in BACKWARD directions usually (though not always) involve a PUSH WITH UPPER BODY AND A PULL WITH LOWER BODY. The idea is to create a simultaneous application of two forces at two locations in opposite directions - THAT’S what knocks an opponent off balance and creates the kuzushi you will need to break through a tough opponents stance and posture and get your moves to work!

What scenarios must you be effective from in open guard?

What scenarios must you be effective from in open guard? The vast majority of guard play in Jiu Jitsu is from open guard. There are many variations of open guard and the sheer amount of material you need to learn can seem overwhelming at times. Rest assured however that when you look at open guard in terms of the NUMBER OF POSSIBLE SCENARIOS FROM WHICH YOU MUST BE EFFECTIVE (a rather small number) rather than the NUMBER OF POSSIBLE MOVES (an extremely large number) then things seem much more manageable. Your opponent has three options - kneeling, one knee on floor and standing (within the standing category there is a particularly important option - the split squat, often referred to as “headquarters” position (I’m not sure why). You have two options, you can be seated or you can be supine. So the number of possible general scenarios is not so big. You will need at least a couple of trusted and effective moves in each of those scenario combinations. Seen in this light you can see it’s a very manageable project. My favorite move when I’m seated and my opponent is on his knees has always been the hook sweep (essentially a ground version of the sumi gaeshi standing sacrifice throw). It works equally well gi and no gi and combines extremely well with many other moves - particularly leg locks. Make sure your training program covers all the scenarios of open guard and soon you will be able to attack regardless of which scenario you may find yourself in