The three keys to dealing with closed guard

We have all faced that opponent in a tournament who is up on points and just wants to hold down guard. They latch on a squeeze for dear life and watch the clock run down.


Then there is the pro-guard player will work incessantly to break your posture down, keep you there and then begin to attack. From a broken down position, they throw endless combinations of sweeps and submission attempts until one finally lands.

Weather your opponent is stalling for a victory or working for a sub, you need to be able to position yourself in the most advantageous position possible before you have any hope of breaking it open and working a pass.

Free your head

Often you will find your self-broken down in an opponent’s guard and feel stuck. Their legs are high on your back and they are controlling your head.

First you need to ensure that your base is stable so that you won’t get swept, and from there you can work on removing their hands from your head. Two hands beat one so focus on removing one hand first, then whilst controlling that hand move, to free your neck from the other. Once free, you will need to fight for a stronger posture.

Maintain a strong posture

Specific positions will vary depending on your body type, your opponents as well the particulars of your game. However, maintaining a strong posture will make breaking you down a lot harder.

While in guard sit upright with a straight back, ensuring not to round your spine (this can be used later to ‘pop’ open the ankles during a banana split or other openings).

Have your knees in and slightly underneath them. This will restrict the mobility of their hips, which will force them to open their guard if they want to attack or sweep.

Use dominate grips

Use one hand to hold both lapels in their centre line around the sternum level, this grip will help to hold the person down flat on their back. With the other take holds of the belt or pant material near the upper thigh and apply some pressure on their knee with your elbow.

Ensure that both elbows are in. This will help to maintain posture mitigate risk of submission attempts.

A general rule is that you want to have the ‘top’ grip. For example, if you are in guard and you grab their lapel with your right hand you want to keep it on top. If they reach over your right arm with their left, to grab your lapel, they are now on top and your grip is now significantly less effective.

You should work to replace your right grip on their lapel, over their arm and work to pin it in between your arm and their body.

If you find your self-trapped in guard remember: free your head, establish then maintain good posture and fight for dominate grips.

From there you can work your guard openings with increased probability of success.

See you on the mats,

Zachary Phillips