The primary rule in playing inside the guard is this:
If you open their guard - you're passing.
If they open their guard - they're playing guard.
In short, if you break their guard you can begin the passing sequence with the odds in your favour.
This will ensure you're breaking guard and not at the whims of someone playing guard.
Failure to adhere to this means the two S's we mentioned earlier: you're getting swept or submitted.
BEFORE YOU START TO BREAK THE CLOSED GUARD.
Below are a bunch of 'must-haves' before you can break the guard.
These are non-negotiable for a beginner and will set you on the right path to passing.
In a way, these steps before passing the guard are far more important than actually passing the guard.
Because with them you destroy the closed guard and make the open guard null and void.
Without them, you're really letting your opponent play guard.
So let's go!
1. DON'T ALLOW BROKEN POSTURE.
If your posture is broken don't even think about breaking the guard.
Head down bum up, you're going to get swept.
With broken posture, there's no strong way to break the guard as you can't effectively push away from your reference point (we'll talk about this soon!).
What you need is the couch potato posture. Hips forward and slouching with a spinal curve away from your opponent.
Being too straight creates a massive lever with your head as the endpoint.
Expect your partner to exploit this and use it to break you down.
Hips forward, curve your spine and stay slouched like a couch potato.
2. WIN GRIPS.
Don't allow grips on you.
Or even better, get your grips first and nail their arms or armpits so they look like a scarecrow.
Or, pin one arm across their body on an angle and swap hands to pin it there.
Which one you pick kind of depends on the type of break and pass you want to use.
This allows you to form a frame of reference and point of connection without opponent resistance.
Now you have grips we can start giving them an extra job and that's building frames of reference.
3. KILL THE GUARD BEFORE YOU OPEN IT WITH FRAMES.
You've got your posture and your grips?
Start setting up frames on your opponent with your arms and legs.
This means when the closed guard is broken you can track their movement.
I like either framing on the hips with my opponent's hand/s to create a strong frame of reference to break the guard.
Or, I create a 'gi burrito' i roll up a nice handful of gi to use with one hand.
Try it with both lapels or with the belt.
My frame of reference is a strong skeletal connection with them using big bones that keep them in place.
I put my hands on their hips with my forearms inside their thighs to keep the pressure on them.
I don't flare them (yet) because they are just frames.
With their grips now my grips and frames in place, I can effectivelymonitor their grips and hips.
And what's a guard without grips and hips?
They're not playing guard.
You're passing guard and you haven't even started passing yet.
This is the secret sauce to smashing guards and getting high percentage passes to work for you.
Now we can actually start the physical mechanics of breaking their crossed feet.
GUARD BREAKING MECHANICS
4. DESTROY THE LOCK.
You don't break the guard with your arms.
Very new players will try to by reaching back and inviting triangles.
Or they'll understand the concept of frames and start pushing to break the guard.
There is actually merit to both of these.
First, the triangle victim in the first case understands the fact they need to break the lock.
This is good.
What's not effective is how they try and break it.
But that's easily fixed.
In case number two - guard breaker wants to use their arms and body to break the lock - understands that reaching back is bad.
They also get that limiting the guard players hips & grips is an example of good practice.
Again, they are on the right track, but this is a poor application of the concept.
The fact we're on the second last point means that these two beginners have missed some key concepts.
The first has posture, but no grips and no reference point of frames on the guard players body.
The second has posture and grips but no reference point again.
You're not lifting weight or performing a bench press.
By pushing your opponent to kill the guard you're using force to break the lock-in the wrong direction.
Imagine you're opening a door and it swings inward, but you ignore the sign and you push.
That's what pushing into your opponent to open the guard is.
Its the force applied in the wrong direction.
Don't push the door, get your frame of reference and kick the door down. by stepping back and extending your body through the lock.
At the same time, I take my framed forearms inside their thighs and begin to flare them so the pressure is forward into them and outward too.
This trifecta of pressure creates a 360-degree explosion that kills the guard wrapped around you.
There are a few ways of doing this which we will illustrate in three techniques below.
If you understand the 360-degree concept, you are on your way to freeing yourself from the closed guard.
Force pressure into the guard with strong frames means the lock will pop open.
Force pressure outward means the thighs of your opponent stretch away from the lock.
Force pressure backwards means you blow the lock wide open.
This allows you to proceed to pass the guard safely.
5. BE REACTIVE WHEN THE GUARD BREAKS OPEN.
Like point number 3 says, use frames immediately to set up passes and kill the guard.
If you're opening the guard with frames, posture and grips you're passing.
But good guard players can turn the tables on this and win some grips or kill posture.
This means they are playing open guard and isn't good for your efforts.
Be very responsive to their attempts to break your preliminaries:
Be reactive and seek to go on the offensive.
Going on the offensive means you go straight from cracking open the guard to passing.
Also, there's very little room for the guard player to use their guard game.
But enough about the conceptual side of it.
Let's look at it in the real world.
Here are two high-percentage ways to break the closed guard.
1. THE BASIC CLOSED GUARD BREAK
A pretty standard guard break that works handily if you can get your 'must-haves'.
Hands set in the gi burrito or roll up the belt and gi.
Knee in the spine.
Step foot back and move away.
There are some pros and cons to this technique like anything we do in grappling.
Luckily, the steps are basic and you'll find yourself here a lot.
Especially on your knees in the guard.
This makes it often available to you so start this in your next session.
Some cons are that although it has simple steps, the concepts are a bit harder to master.
There's some knowledge of frame of reference and posture needed.
Luckily you just read an entire blog about it...
See how much easier it is learning simple steps when you understand the concept?
Another thing worth mentioning is that it tends to stop working as well after the white belt rank.
But that doesn't mean you should stop using it.
It's still chained to other techniques.
So broaden your techniques from this and don't dismiss it.
More experienced grapplers will give you a hell of a time getting your grips, posture and frames.
So it's a simple technique with some finesse needed.
Something a bit more technical with less conceptual understanding is the standing break.
2. THE STANDING CLOSED GUARD BREAK
This one takes a few more steps but as you'll see is more powerful than being on your knees.
Remember how we said branded cows get taken down because they have powerful legs?
We're going to use our powerful legs to open the guard.
Get your posture, grips and frames sorted.
Take their sleeve and pass it to your opposite hand. This is the side you'll stand on.
Shift your knees the same as the kneeling pass but instead of propping a foot up and away, step it next to their hip
Standing makes your feet vulnerable to, so your grips here are important.
The arm you have crossed over cannot grab your foot.
But even if it could you can kill their guard and pass anyway.
Push your lower back out and angle your knee in.
Conceptually, this is an easier guard break to learn but with obvious dangers to it.
Because it's a pretty brutish guard break in comparison, we often choose to teach guys the basic one first.
This helps beginners to master the concept before introducing the power of standing.
For instance, very big or powerful new grapplers can stand and bust the guard open.
But they don't understand keys concepts in breaking and killing the guard.
This means it won't work for them forever.
The key here is not muscle, it's using grips, frames and pressure to bust open a lock.
Plus we have the forethought into killing the guard so we can pass.
DON'T ALLOW BROKEN POSTURE.
KILL THE GUARD BEFORE YOU OPEN IT WITH FRAMES
DESTROY THE LOCK
BE REACTIVE WHEN THE GUARD BREAKS OPEN.
Here's Renzo Gracie and his version of standing to break the guard that was the muse for writing this blog.
With these concepts, you'll be able to bust open any guard and have the tools to attack the guard and pass.
Stick with it and #WriteYourOwnHistory.
Jake Anderson is a Bachelor of Sport Development and Mixed Martial Arts commentator with over 18 years of combined training in various Martial Arts and tertiary education in health & sport. His blogs on the foundations of health and martial arts are dedicated to the communication and education of leading a holistically fulfilling life.