I’ve been doing jiu jitsu for about fifteen years now. Looking back over the years, there are five distinct revelations I’ve been through with my open guard. Each realization/revolution made my guard twice as difficult to pass.
1- Getting stacked. I realized that I could balance on my neck and shoulders, and that my guard wasn’t passed just because I was stacked. Virtually all of my blue belt students are better at this than I was when I first got my blue belt, which is more a sign of the times than anything else. 20 years ago, “guard” really meant “closed guard” to most BJJ practitioners and instructors. 15 years ago, “open guard” was in the first stages of coming into its own. For me, this realization came the earliest in my open guard evolution, somewhere between white and blue belt.
2. Getting underneath. In 2003, I watched Marcelo Garcia dominate ADCC with a new type of guard people started calling “X-guard.” About a year before that, I had been introduced to a less advanced version of X-guard by Eric Burdo, but seeing it in competition at the highest level made it much clearer to me. At about the same time, I was obsessed with leglocks, so I was looking at ankle lock and heel hook transitions from the bottom. Eventually, the two positions were revealed as branches of the same underlying concept: just because someone steps over my legs doesn’t mean they had passed my guard.
3. Spinning back to guard. I first noticed Rickson Gracie recovering his guard this way nearly 15 years ago and immediately saw the value in this, but didn’t see how to integrate it into my own game until years later. If your opponent is trying to throw your legs to your right to pass, instead of shrimping towards him, you continue the motion and circle your legs around to recover guard. This essentially doubles your guard recovery ability because you literally have two ways to go in order to get your guard back.
4. Lazy man hands. Remember that you have four limbs and your opponent essentially only has two when you are playing open guard. Not only can you use your hands as frames to escape a bad position; you can use your outstretched arms as guard maintenance tools, becoming every bit as important as your legs with your open guard, creating space and helping you make angles. This is one of the most frustrating things for the guard passer to deal with. Just because someone gets around your legs doesn’t mean your guard is passed. Your hands and arms are as much a part of your guard as your legs.
5. Inversion/upside down guard. This goes back to the beginnings of my open guard- being stacked and realizing my guard isn’t passed. Imagine you can do a 180 degree split with your legs. This means your guard has 180 degrees. If you simply follow your opponent when he goes around your legs and go upside down, you have an extra 180 degrees, totaling 360. No matter where your opponent goes, you will still have him inside your guard. Watch Michael Langhi if you’re curious as to what this idealized type of open guard might look like.
Be realistic about your expectations! You probably won’t be able to integrate all five of these at once, but pick one that makes the most sense for you to develop immediately. You will see your guard become tougher almost right away.