The Structure of Self Defense, Part 3 The Guard

Whenever I’m asked by a friend to teach “show” them some jiu-jitsu I inevitably show them the rear naked choke.  Its easy to teach and the results are dramatic as it can put someone to sleep in just a few seconds.  Yet what I want to show them is the guard.  The guard is jiu-jitsu.  It is why jiu-jitsu is special, and it is why jiu-jitsu works so well for self defense.

The reason I don’t show people the guard is really simple: it doesn’t lend itself to a couple minute long demonstration.  Its a somewhat awkward looking position for those who aren’t familiar with jiu-jitsu and most of the things worth knowing take time to learn.  And yet, if you are really interested in defending yourself you need to know this position.

In sport competition the word ‘guard’ is used to refer to a category of position more than one single position.  Closed guard, open guard, and half guard are all sub-categories of ‘guard’ and from there each contains a variety of specific positions.

If you’re looking for self-defense the two most important guards are the basic closed guard and the basic open guard.  In the closed guard you are on your back with your legs wrapped around your attacker and you have your ankles crossed.  This position gives you the ability to push and pull your attacker with your legs and arms while your attacker is limited to using their arms.

The basic open guard was shown in Part Two of this series and will not be examined in depth in this article.

Just like from standing, distance management is key and can be understood in terms of zones.

Self-Defense Zones from the Guard

  1. Safely Close:

    When someone is in your guard you have a very simple mission: break their posture.  This applies equally well for self-defense as it does for competitive jiu-jitsu as one is unable to throw a punch with compromised posture and unable to pass the guard with compromised posture.

    When your attacker’s posture is thoroughly broken you actually have slightly fewer submission options.  This is not a problem, as in self-defense survival is your goal and this is the safest place in your guard.  You can heel kick their kidneys, palm strike their ears, and maybe get an elbow landed on their head or neck – but again the priority is maintaining their compromised posture.

  2. Intermediate zone:

    If you have compromised your opponent’s posture and they begin to regain it, or if you never were fully able to break their posture, you may find them this transitional zone.  Oftentimes someone who is not familiar with jiu-jitsu will have their hands pushing off of the ground in order to keep their posture from being broken.  This is good for you as it means it is awkward for them to throw any strikes.  Further this position makes them susceptible to many different submissions.  Your priority as always should be distance management.  If they begin to throw a punch you can either push them away by arching your body, or pull them forward by curling your body.  Pushing them away and then quickly switching to pulling them forward is a good way to break their posture back into the safely close zone mentioned above.  Lots of submissions are available at this range, including the kimura shoulder-lock, the triangle choke, and others.

  3. Dangerously far:

    While the guard is a very good control position it, like most of BJJ, cannot overcome physics.  If your opponent gets enough distance to throw a punch you can be in trouble.  Often times this means they’ve either begun to stand up, have a straight back, or have opened your guard by backing away.  In all of these cases it is not quite as simple to simply break their posture back down.  While there are sweeps that can be used to reverse the position, the most important consideration is to survive, and with that in mind you need to keep yourself safe from strikes.  This can be done by putting your feet on your attackers hips, and raising straightening your body from head to knee.  This creates distance, keeping your head safely out of range.

  4. Safely Far:

    This actually isn’t a zone in the closed guard, but is instead the open guard with your opponent not directly in contact with your legs.  They can kick at your legs or lean over to throw punches, but at this point you are in a comparatively safe position.  This position is examined in more depth at The Structure of Self-Defense, Part 2 Fighting on the Ground.

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