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The Forgotten Guard
There is an old story about one of Johnny Cash's guitar players where an interviewer asked him what his thoughts were on the rising crop of up and coming guitar players who were playing songs that may have been more technically flashy and perhaps faster. It is said that he paused and simply said that some people are looking for something, while some have already found it. This musician was content knowing he was good at what he did and was not interested in necessary chasing something that was faster or more technically proficient.
The art of music and the art of jiu jitsu can be seen to have some parallels. There are some basic fundamental principles that never really change and there are always new ideas being added to the respective arts which help to keep them organically growing.
In BJJ, one of the first positions we learn about is the closed guard. It is so important to the roots of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that Helio Gracie is said to have said that the only reason one should have an open guard is that they've forgotten to close it. But as we progress and we begin to be exposed to more and more techniques, its easy sometimes to move away from those early positions and keep a check list in our minds. It's easy to think that because you've drilled a position and perhaps used it a few times, to think that you've mastered said position. The reality is that it can be argued that perhaps we can never fully master a particular technique or position.
That's why it's important to take a second (or third, or more) look at a particular position to better understand all of the elements of that position and how it can be effectively incorporated into your game plan. One of those positions is definitely the closed guard which again is probably something that you learn about it in your first week of BJJ classes at any academy, regardless of the style or approach of the instructor. From a self defense perspective it is the king of positions when an altercation or fight goes to the ground. Looking at the closed guard from a competitive perspective, the more you can attack and prevent your opponent from passing, the more likely you will catch them in a submission or prevent them from scoring which makes it more likely you will reach the top of the podium.
On paper, the closed guard seems deceptively simple, your legs are wrapped around your opponent keep their hips at a distance and helping to immobilize them. Your arms may be gripping the lapel, or hooking whether under or over one of the opponent's arms and shoulders to break their posture. Or you may even be controling the neck and back of the opponent's head, whether to protect yourself from strikes or keep them low to begin attacks like chokes.
For more on the importance of the closed guard and why this important fundamental position deserves or maybe even requires a second look, check out this article by BJJ Fanatics here.
In the video below, world champion Bernardo Faria serves as the uke for black belt Billy Shannon who demonstrates a series of sweeps utilizing a lapel grip on the opponent.
One of the most important points that one should pull from this video which will open your eyes to why it is important to work to explore the fundamental positions like closed guard in more detail is what Bernardo says about having a "sequence" of techniques. Many times your opponent will attempt to resist, to counter, or even your technique will be flawed and will not do what you intend. For these reasons, it's good to have a second and even a third option depending upon the circumstances you find yourself in.
As newer practitioners, we want to amass so many individual techniques that we rush to add the list to our repertoire, but in reality and in practice, we never fully explore the contingencies. I may understand the idea of a 101 triangle choke against a non-resisting training partner, but when I get to my first competition and realize that they are now resisting and they are presenting scenarios or defenses I have not explored, I will be lost and my technique will fail and I'll be frustrated and most likely say, "triangles don't work for me."
So don't let the closed guard remain the forgotten guard. Go back and spend some time learning the many sweeps and submissions that can be set up from the closed guard. Who knows, maybe your opponents will have forgotten or never developed any contingencies and your life will be easy. In any case, you will now have a more complete guard game that will be impossible to pass and feel like quicksand to your teammates or opponents.
Are you ready to destroy your training partners or opponents with a position that they have long forgotten or disregarded as "too basic"? Then take advantage of this special offer to get world champion Bernardo Faria's instructional series that will open or should we say reopen your eyes to the effectiveness of this forgotten guard, the closed guard.