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FightNoob Vol. 6 – A Guarded Success

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FightNoob is a recurring series on Single Blog Takedown where we help new fans and neophytes understand the sport of mixed martial arts. This is the sixth edition. Previous editions can be found right here.

Volume 6: A Guarded Success

So I’m calling an audible.

Initially, I had intended to write a column about the various positions of MMA. But once I started devoting space to the guard position, it jumped out as one of the things that every beginning MMA fan should understand since it makes up such a huge part of the jiujitsu arsenal. An experienced practitioner of jiujitsu has such an advantage in guard that often those fighters will attempt to induce the position by “pulling guard” through either takedowns/sweeps into guard or by enticing an opponent to come to them on the ground and trapping the legs. (There’s even Shinya Aoki’s “flying guard pull”, or as the snarksmen at CagePotato have dubbed it, the “Japanese backpack”.)

If either fighter has a ground game, you can expect a good portion of that fight to take place in a fighter’s guard. I’ll get to that column on positions in general at a later date, but today let’s focus on the guard: what to do in it, and where to go from it.

If I had a bunch of large letters in Impact font, this is where I would write “GUARD FAIL”. Sadly, they just weren’t in the budget this year. Damn this recession.

The reason the guard is such a strong defensive position is body control. The aim of ground fighting is to reduce the amount of options your opponent has, and a good guard allows you to keep the other fighter’s body close enough to restrict freedom of movement and angles of attack, but also far enough that striking becomes a difficult task.

Closed guard is the guard most of us think of and the most common form of guard in MMA: a fighter on his back with the legs wrapped around the opponent. A fighter with a good closed guard stops the opponent from striking or passing by keeping the attacker’s torso close using the guarding fighter’s legs and hips. From the bottom, arms will generally be used to try and underhook the opponent and wrap around the head, pulling it close to the body. When you’re watching a fight, generally the closer the bottom fighter has the top fighter to them, the better a position the bottom fighter is in.

You’ll hear the term “posture up” used frequently on MMA broadcasts, and that’s something the fighter on top in guard is always looking to do. Posturing up means pulling the body away from the grounded fighter. That does a couple of huge things for the attacking fighter. First, it opens the fighter on bottom up to strikes. Instead of controlling with their arms, the guarding fighter is now looking to block shots, and that’s much more difficult and tiring. In addition, a postured fighter can break the grip of the guarding fighter’s legs. That frees the fighter on top to attempt to “pass guard” or move to a more advantageous position.

For contrast, here’s a picture of a tight closed guard. Compare it to a picture of the top fighter posturing up and you can see the huge difference in striking potential for the top fighter.

Most people think of open guard as a failure of closed guard, but it can also be used as an offensive technique. The major tradeoff of open guard is sacrificing defensive security for the options that distance provides. In open guard, a fighter can frequently get body control through the arms or by positioning a foot on the opponent’s hips to control the distance of engagement. Open guard provides many more options for sweeps; it also exposes the aggressor’s limbs for a variety of submissions and jointlocks. Here’s a good image of open guard: note the spread legs. An open guard using the foot to control the aggressor’s hips looks more like this.

Half guard is when the defender has one of the aggressor’s legs in guard and one out. It tends to be a much more dangerous position for the man on the ground. With one leg passed, the aggressor has a much easier time completing a full pass, either to side control or a full mount. In half guard, you’re also much more open to both leglocks and other submissions (the D’Arce choke tends to be a favorite for aggressors in half guard). However, half guard doesn’t leave you defenseless; you can still have body control by locking one of the legs. Another defensive advantage for half guard is that it tends to spread out the base of the aggressor and leave them unstable. If they’re unstable and you have a leg, it becomes much easier to sweep the opponent and switch positions.

There are a number of more specific guard positions, usually used by fighters tailored to their game and picked to set up a specific submission hold. Of these, the most popular is the rubber guard, or high guard, which is a closed guard where a flexible fighter on bottom attempts to get their legs way up near their opponent’s head. The advantage of a rubber guard is that it really leverages your legs for body control, enabling the fighter on bottom to maintain control with a free arm for strikes or submissions. From rubber guard, the most common option is to lock in a triangle choke although armbars, reversals and sweeps are also very possible. Other popular open guards include the X and butterfly guards, although we will not discuss them here.

For further study, I highly recommend checking out the vast webspace at GrappleArts. In particular, their glossary of guards are a great look as some of the more unique guard positions out there.

Photos and links from LearnBJJ, Bodybuilding.com, Grapplearts.com, About.com, Sherdog.com, JudoInfo.com

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About Matt DeTura