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The Butterfly Guard with Jonathan Satava
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The Butterfly Guard with Jonathan Satava

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The butterfly guard is as interesting and fun to use as it is versatile and effective.

There are hundreds of ways to implement the position and apply it to different settings depending on the actions of the passer. One of the butterfly guard’s most important attributes is its ability to create elevation. The idea of being able to get underneath your partner will serve you in many ways. This is an incredibly important concept of the butterfly guard to keep in mind. Whether you’re hunting for a reversal, or a leg locker, and everywhere in between, elevation is key. We also have to make plans for what to do when the ability to elevate is not present. If we can’t get underneath, we have to have contingencies in place so that we can continue using the guard. 

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I remember my first experiences with the position being really difficult. Since you are playing more of an open game, you may get your guard passed quite a bit while trying to learn the ins and outs of the position. But stay the course. As you begin to understand the position more, you begin to get your guard passed less and less, and your goals from the butterfly guard become clearer.

Let’s look at some butterfly guard concepts and techniques from one of the very best butterfly guard players in the game, Jonathan Satava. Here he gives us an introduction to understanding the butterfly guard and how it operates. The concepts and principles at work here are highly applicable and easy to understand. This is the perfect place to start! Have a look!

Straight away, Satava begins with elevation. As Satava demonstrates, the butterfly guard is almost useless if we can’t control our partners weight in some fashion. Its important to note here that the closer our hips are to the passer, the better position we’ll be in to elevate. Satava gives us a few examples, where he first controls the wrists, then the elbows, and finally to the under hooks, which work best for getting close and elevating. 

So, with that in mind, Satava moves on to discuss how the reactions of his partner affect his plans. For instance, in the first example, his partner is keeping his limbs close to his body. This make his partner more vulnerable to the sweep, as his base is compromised. Here, Satava acquires a collar tie and a grip on the outside of the arm, pinches the two together and executes a standard butterfly sweep. 

If the passer is more concerned about his base, he may begin to play more of an open game with his limbs. This kind of reaction gives Satava the chance to enter for various attacks, taking advantage of the open spaces the passer is providing him with. 

As Satava explains, there will also be times where his partner leads more with the head, and keeps his hips back in another attempt to stop elevation. It’s here that Satava can now begin to attack the neck and use off balancing techniques to try and get to a choke of some sort.

If left and right options to reverse are not available and the passer is keeping a very vertical spine, Satava then may actually look to come forward, taking an opportunity to work a takedown. In an example, Satava is working a two on one style grip, and his partner is defending by pushing him away. Here, he opts to come up and execute a double leg, again showing the versatility of the position. 

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Next Satava gets in to what he likes to do when his partner stands. This is incredibly important as we certainly run in to this type of passer. As his partner rises to his feet, Satava changes his seated posture from a squarer position to an offset position with a hand on the floor. From here Satava explains a factor that will remain true in every setting. His partner will be faster than him. Changing his posture allows Satava to retreat if need be, and even stand up, keeping his partner from running around him. Another utility of this posture change is that Satava now has the use of a hand to control the position of his partners head. In an example, his partner begins to implement a toreando style pass. For the pass to be successful, the passers head must reach the opposite side of Satava’s body. With his free hand Satava guides the head to the same side, throwing his partner of course and preventing the pass. With the pass thwarted and his partner now on the ground, Satava can start over from the ground and begin to play the game.

We see the arm drag in combination with the butterfly guard quite often. But when is the best time to use it? Satava explains that he likes to work the arm drag when the passer begins to try and control his feet. As Satava lifts a foot to place it on his partners hip, the arm becomes exposed and the drag is there for the taking. A good arm drag can land us squarely on the back, which is always favorable. But even if his partner defends the back take by pulling the arm away, this allows Satava to scoot in, and once again begin the important process of getting his hips close to his partner and starting from the beginning stages of elevation, bringing things full circle. 

I learned a million things just watching this particular segment of instruction on the butterfly guard. What I love the most about Satava’s instruction is that he bases everything he does on the reactions of the passer. Nothing is forced here. The way he uses every posture and reaction to his advantage is simply amazing, and creates a highly effective platform from which to launch several options of attack, reversal, and transition. 

The butterfly guard has a lot to offer, but we have to know how to use it. I hope you learned as much as I did! 


Butterfly Guard has been long thought of as a "Basic" game that only works in the Gi. WRONG. Butterfly Guard has been Rediscovered! Adam Wardzinski has been leading the expedition in both Gi and No-Gi. The No-Gi Butterfly Guard Rediscovered By Adam Wardzinski has the blueprint you need to keep your guard UP-TO-DATE!

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