I’ve been thinking about the open guard a lot lately. Probably because I think mine isn’t as good as it used to be or perhaps because I’m finding some pretty stiff competition when I’m trying to pass one. Whatever is causing these thoughts to swirl around my mind most likely isn’t as important as what I need to find out about the open guard itself.
I think that opening kind of leads me to the question I have for this post. And that question is, what is the open guard?
I bet if you walked into any academy in the country and asked a whole bunch of students that very question, you’d find some interesting answers. And if you’re into BJJ like I am, try answering that question yourself, before reading any further. Pretend that I’m standing in your living room, or where ever you read this blog, asking you this. What would you say?
I think I’d hear things like, “well, open guard is one where the legs are open” and “it’s when your partner is standing.” Very basic ideas. It’s common and I think that might be a problem when it comes to Jiu-Jitsu as a whole. And for your reference, I think a pretty good definition of the open guard comes from Stephan Kesting and can be found here. Read it. It’s fairly comprehensive. But even Stephan admits that the open guard can be nebulous.
Okay, let me start this blog post over with a confession. I’d like to confess that I sometimes have trouble remembering all the techniques that I’m taught in my various Jiu-Jitsu classes. Let’s face it – there are a lot of them. And I have even had more trouble remembering and using techniques that I’ve learned in seminars. I actually stopped attending seminars about a year ago because I couldn’t, for the life of me, find the return on investment. What good is dropping $75 on something I would totally forget the next day? And with the popularity of seminars going through the roof, I’d find myself broke with a game that’s not much better than when I began. And furthermore, I know for a fact that there are some students out there who choose to attend seminars with notebooks, writing down points here and there, as if they were ever going to return to that notebook for reference. It simply doesn’t happen. But I could be wrong.
I don’t know. I think I may have become jaded through the years about technique driven Jiu-Jitsu. I’m not sure if I should blame myself because I’m not the brightest light bulb in the closet or if I should point the finger at someone else, but what I do know is that I need to find another way to solve the problem of my forgetfulness. There is so much good stuff out there that I want to be able to take advantage of it all. I don’t want to simply learn a new technique, get all excited about it because it’s the best thing since sliced bread, try it, fail and then forget what I was supposed to be practicing in the first place. And I could probably guess that I’m not the only one with this problem. If you’ve felt frustrated because you don’t feel like you’re getting any better at Jiu-Jitsu, you may be suffering from the same thing I am.
Let’s just call it a Jiu-Jitsu mid-life crisis.
And with any mid-life crisis, you need to stop, analyze where you are, determine what you need to fix and then fix it. But you need to fix it so it’s better than the way it was before. Simply stopping and analyzing to determine what you need to fix isn’t enough. Changing what you’re doing is the key. When I change things on a grand scale, I like to call it flipping it up side down. So if that’s what I need to do and if that’s what I call it, I think I might just flip a few things up side down here.
The open guard may just be a microcosm of my larger problem, but that’s fine, so let’s use it. It’s a simple enough area of Jiu-Jitsu to play with and to figure out, so it might just work here. And almost everyone will know what I’m referring to when I talk about it.
I’m not bad at open guard. As a matter of fact, I think it may be one of my strongest attributes when it comes to this game. If I’m rolling with a beginner, I can almost put my hands behind my head and just exercise my legs. I usually find a way to make things work. The problems arise (and this is obviously to be expected) when I’m up against someone who’s been at it for a few years. I find myself getting gripped, my legs stuffed, my knees pushed to the side – I sometimes lay there wondering what my goal is in the first place. And that’s when things go down the tubes.
Here’s the thing – if I get myself into a jam while sparring or drilling in Jiu-Jitsu and find myself wondering where I am or what to do next, there’s a problem. When in a jam, I know I should be relying on some sort of a foundation. The issue is, I’m not sure I can recall the foundation of, let’s say here, the open guard. With that in mind, I think it might be appropriate to get to the point of this whole thing and ask a few questions. Questions that if answered correctly and thoroughly, may actually become the foundation of what I’m looking for.
1. What is the open guard?
2. When is it beneficial to use the open guard?
3. What are the goals of the open guard?
4. Are there variables that are constant across all variations of the open guard?
5. Where can I expect to find myself after I’ve completed the open guard?
That last one is a trick question because I’m not sure one can complete the open guard. The position is one of stasis, meaning it’s a state of stability, in which all forces are equal and opposing, therefore they cancel out each other. You can either sweep, submit, be passed or submitted from the open guard. You can’t just stay there.
I know that an open guard is a closed guard without the legs crossed. I know that sounds stupid, but that’s what it is. The bottom player is either on his back, on his butt or on his shoulders. The thing is here, by simply being in the position of the open guard isn’t all that helpful while rolling, so there’s got to be more. I would venture to say that an effective open guard (and effective is what we’re after) is one from the positions I just laid out, but also with some sort of a grip or a hook – or both – by the guy on bottom. And to even up it once more, you can throw in some sort of a pressure force for some push/pull, but that’s not necessary for our open guard definition.
There. I’ve answered the first question, but the problem here is that I can find myself only answering one other, and that’s question number three. I think question three can be answered with something like, the goals of the open guard are to either sweep, submit or to tire an opponent out. I already said that above, but I think we can also add that it’s to set up something else. Perhaps it’s just a wheel in the machine towards another end. All we can concretely achieve here is to determine that the open guard is, just as Stephan alluded to, nebulous. Or in his exact words, “It is difficult to exactly define the Standard Open Guard, because it is such a dynamic and variable position…”
But what about questions two, four and five?
When is it beneficial to use the open guard? I’m not sure about this one anymore because as it seems, I lately find myself saying, “whoops,” every time I release my closed guard. Or, “oh man,” every time my opponent holds both my legs together, effectively neutralizing my entire game. If my opponent grips both my knees and pushes them to the ground for a pass, was it beneficial for me to use my open guard? I’m not sure. And if I’m not sure about that, I’m not sure about anything.
Maybe it’s when my partner decides to stand. That’s when I can get my grips and go for my ever effective open guard. But wait – why not just grab behind his ankles, trip him and avoid the whole thing? Or why not just stand myself? He stood. Shouldn’t I?
I don’t know. I think what I’m looking for here is for someone to say, “Jay, this is when this sucker works.” Because I know it works. I’ve had it work on me, but perhaps I just need more direction. I’ll find it because as I’m sure I’ve told you before, I study Jiu-Jitsu regularly.
Are there variables that are constant across all variations of the open guard? I think so. I know you need a grip or a hook. Without them, you’re just laying on your back. But what about anything else. Is there something a coach could shout out at a student during a competition that’s fool proof, fail safe, a sure fire way to help him out? Do you always need a foot on the hip during an open guard? Do you always need to have a grip on a collar during each and every open guard situation? Is there something that a student could possibly forget that he needs to remember for every attempt to be successful? If so, I’d sure like to know what it is because if I did, I could rely on that piece of knowledge during one of my losing matches.
Where can I expect to find myself after I’ve completed the open guard? What am I after? Is it better to submit from the open guard or to sweep? What are the percentages? What’s the open guard’s strength and what should I avoid while using it? If I play on it’s strengths, would it be better to use leverage, balance, muscle? What about heavy, strong players? I never seem to have luck against them while using leverage and my open guard. Should I avoid certain situations?
Man, I wish I knew the principles of this position so I can begin applying concepts. I could lay out sort of a game plan, knowing where I’m strong, what I should avoid, who to use it on and where I’m headed. I guess this is what makes this game so fun. I get these ideas in my head and then spend a lifetime looking for the answers. And this is only one tiny area of what we’re doing here. Can you imagine asking these questions for each and every position and technique?
This is exactly why almost all black belts I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting have said something along the lines of, “Once you become a black belt, you truly realize how much you don’t know about this game.” And I agree, just a bit early. I think I just need to admit to myself what I don’t know, so I can get up and begin finding the answers.