Opening up a closed guard is one of the most crucial and fundamental skills that all Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners must master, whether they are training gi or no-gi. Being able to quickly and efficiently open up an opponent’s closed guard is absolutely vital for initiating takedowns, guard passes, dominant positions, and submissions. However, cracking open the closed guard can often be one of the biggest challenges, especially when grappling without the grips, control, and friction provided by the gi. This extensive article will comprehensively break down the key principles, mindsets, intricacies, and step-by-step techniques for successfully opening closed guard in a no-gi grappling context. Mastering these core concepts and skills will set any grappler up for success in training rolls, competitions, MMA fights, and self-defence situations.
The Inherent Risks of Closed Guard
First and foremost, it is crucial to fully understand the inherent disadvantages and dangers of remaining stuck inside an opponent’s closed guard. This position absolutely should not be treated lightly or casually. As long as your adversary has their ankles crossed and locked together behind your back, they have tremendous control over your posture, upper body, and overall positioning. It is relatively easy for them to break you down, strip your grips, climb up your torso, isolate limbs, and begin attacking with an array of explosive sweeps or sneaky submissions.
On the other hand, your own offensive options are extremely limited from inside a closed guard, since you lack the space needed to pass guard or hit takedowns. Wasting time hand fighting and grip battling inside closed guard also plays right into your opponent’s optimal gameplan of stifling, controlling, and neutralizing you from their strongest position. Therefore, the number one overarching priority is always to urgently open up the legs so that you can pass guard into a more dominant position as quickly as humanly possible. Do not get complacent or stuck playing endless grip fighting battles from your knees while locked up in closed guard.
Negating Grips and Controlling Posture
When working inside a closed guard, whether in training or competition, the very first order of business is always negating your opponent’s grips before they have a chance to set up submissions or use your own strength against you to break your posture down. Here are some of the key strategies and techniques for regaining control of your opponent’s upper body:
Proactively Break Grips
Be assertive and proactive about hand fighting to aggressively strip away any threatening grips your opponent secures, such as collar ties, overhooks, underhooks, wrist controls, guillotines, front headlocks, and more. Look to actively circle your wrists and forcefully pummel your arms out from disadvantageous positions. The faster and more urgently you can break grips, the less time your opponent has to set up intricate attacks. Do not let them get comfortable.
Avoid Cross-Body isolations
In particular, diligently watch out for cross-body arm drags, back takes, and isolates that overexpose your back and make it easy for your opponent to take top position. Your elbows should stay tucked in tight to your torso at all times. Never allow one arm to get extended forward across your body while the other is dragged back and behind you. Shut down back exposure threats immediately.
Posture Up When Possible
As soon as a grip breaks and a bit of space opens up, look to explosively posture up out of your opponent’s guard by forcefully driving your head upwards and aggressively arching your back. Posturing up into a more upright stance will keep their hips and feet flattened on the ground, which drastically limits their control and offensive options.
React Quickly to Angles
Stay vigilant and be very aware of your opponent trying to angle off, isolate limbs, and establish dominant angles for armbars, triangles, omoplatas, and other submissions. The very moment you feel your partner establishing an advantageous angle, immediately square your hips back up into their centerline. If needed, you can also pop up your knee in the middle or backstep to disrupt their angle and control.
Flatten Their Hips
Conversely, if your opponent begins climbing their guard up higher and higher towards your upper back, ribcage or shoulders, quickly smash your weight down by bringing your head forward and hugging them tight to flatten their hips back out. Work diligently to keep their feet and hips pressed down across your lower abdomen and hips. Never allow them to invert or get their legs above your shoulder line.
Securing Reliable Inside Control
Once the immediate danger has been negated and your opponent’s offensive grips have been cleared, the next vital step is proactively securing a strong inside control position that will facilitate opening the closed guard. Two of the highest percentage options are:
Double Underhook Grips
Your primary goal is to dig both arms decisively deep into your opponent’s crotch area to attain double underhook grips on the inside of their upper inner thighs, controlling both biceps or triceps. This can be done either palm facing up or palm facing down based on personal preference and the given situation. The double underhook provides tremendous control and stability.
Stand Up Into Vertical Base
As soon as you have the double underhook bicep grip locked in as your “inside control” of choice, your next urgent priority is to begin standing upright to get your knees off the mat, lift your hips up, and straighten your posture into a vertical base. Proactively elevate your hips and start standing up even if grips have not yet been fully cleared or broken. This stops the endless grip exchange.
Clearing Grips and Posturing Up
Once upright and vertical inside your opponent’s closed guard, any remaining grips become infinitely easier to clear. Here are some key strategies for using the position to your advantage:
Strip Away Lingering Grips
From an upright standing position, vigorously strip away and peel off any lingering overhooks, underhooks, collar ties, head ties, or other grips your opponent may still have attached. Without the stability and base of their hips down on the ground, your opponent cannot generate nearly as much holding and gripping power. Their strength is neutralized.
Attain Vertical Base
If needed, use an urgent hand walking motion up your opponent’s thighs to help attain and cement your vertical posture. Powerfully walk your palms up their legs in a high stepping motion as you actively straighten your stance into a tall upright base. This posture simultaneously returns their guard back down across your lower hips.
Control Their Hips
Stand as vertically upright as possible with your shoulders stacked directly above your hips in a very strong athletic stance. Make sure to keep your knees slightly bent for shock absorption and your feet positioned roughly shoulder width apart for a stable base. Avoid extending your legs straight or having a wide frog-like stance, as these are weak positions vulnerable to being knocked and pulled off balance.
Safely Opening the Legs In Closed Guard
Once upright posture and dominant inside grips have been solidly achieved, you can finally begin safely opening up your opponent’s closed guard legs. Here are several reliable methods to get the job done:
Ankle Peel to Unhook Feet
From your vertical posture, reach one hand decisively back past your opponent’s ankle and aggressively lift upwards to forcefully unhook and peel their feet apart. Make sure to deeply bend your arm at least 90 degrees to get sufficient penetration. Take a big step back with the opposite leg to create space.
Double Post on Shin or Knee
Another very effective option is to post both hands forcefully down on your opponent’s shin or knee at a 45 degree angle and violently push to pop open their guard. This method works especially well against opponents with short, compact legs. Remember to cut and clear one leg back immediately after breaking the feet apart.
Tailbone Knee Post and Lever
You can also drop and pin one knee directly behind your opponent’s tailbone, wedging it right against their spine’s bottom. Use your knee as a fixed lever point to open their guard as you drive your weight back onto your posting heel and straighten your stance. Be sure to precisely pinpoint the tailbone for maximum leverage.
Quick Hip Escape Foot Pull
When you have one underhook, use it to control your opponent’s hips and quickly hip escape your leg out to off-balance them. Simultaneously reach for the ankle still hooked on your hip and rip it upward with urgency to open the guard.
Defending Ankle Grips and Sweeps
An inherent consequence of standing tall and vertical inside an opponent’s guard is that your feet will be directly exposed for them to grab onto. Here are some key strategies to deal with ankle grips:
Put Weight Over One Leg
The moment you feel grips attach to your ankles, put all your weight and pressure over just one leg. This allows your other foot to freely kick and scrape out without being stuck flat on the mat if your opponent attempts to bump or sweep you.
Turn Knee Inward When Scooped
If your opponent isolates and underhooks or scoop grips one ankle, immediately turn your knee inward in the direction of their same side hip as you feel yourself begin getting swept or lifted. Keep your knee actively oriented in the exact opposite direction of their sweep vector to stay upright.
Pinch Knees If Taken Down
In the event you do get taken down backwards to your butt or shoulder blades, immediately pinch both knees tightly together to prevent your opponent from wiggling up to climb on top or advance position. Pinching your knees denies them the space needed to wedge their own knee or leg in to pass guard.
Frame If Flattened Out
Should you get flattened out on your back, quickly shoot both arms out to frame against your opponent’s shoulder and/or hip in order to create space and prevent getting smothered. Build an urgent base up onto your hand or elbow. Keep your head and shoulders off the floor at all costs.
Battle Back to Your Feet
From your frame, engage your core and explosively heist your hips upwards while bridging and shrimping. Use all your might to stand and elevate back up into an open guard pass position. Do not stay pinned under side control or mount. Get up or pull guard as needed.
Additional Strategies and Variations
Here are some additional strategies, variations, and insights to help take your closed guard opening skills to an even higher level:
Knee Slice Entry on Stand Up
When standing up, you can step one leg back into a knee slice entry rather than just vertical posture. Drop levels and use your knee to split the middle as you reach for the far ankle.
Toe Holds If Gripped In Transit
Bait your opponent to grab ankles as you stand, then quickly snatch toe holds while their feet are occupied. This takes advantage of their grip attempts.
X-Guard Options If Legs Crossed
If they cross ankles while standing, consider dropping into X-guard variations. Use their re-gripping against them with sweeps and leg locks.
Modify Grips Based On Build
You may need to modify your gripping strategy based on body type. For example, wrist controls can work better than underhooks on very stocky opponents.
Preventive Gripping In Open Guard
Once passed, consider keeping a grip on the ankle to discourage your opponent from re-closing guard when you advance position.
No Time Limit In Training
Practice patience by taking your time opening guard in training even with no time limits. Remain composed under pressure by acting like you have all day.
Stay Calm If Stuck
Even high level competitors sometimes get stuck for a while before opening guard. Don’t panic or force it. Stay calm and methodical in your approach.
Master Opening Closed Guard At Apex MMA
In closing, efficiently opening the closed guard is an absolutely mandatory skill that any grappler must develop and master, especially when training and competing without the assistance of gi grips. While it can be incredibly challenging, diligently applying these principles for posture control, achieving inside position, clearing grips, and urgently opening legs will pay tremendous dividends across all grappling contexts and rulesets. The closed guard truly puts you in many inherent dangers, so make sure you dedicate ample time to drilling these techniques and strategies. Whenever you inevitably get stuck in closed guard again, remain composed, avoid rushing, and remember these reliable methods for cracking open those legs. Be sure to apply these methods in your next training session at Apex MMA during one of our beginner classes or 7-day free trials.