Curriculum Planning – Fundamentals of Open Guard

I feel like planning these guard series is coming off as giving up because they’re not as structured as the back and mount were. The reality is, the closer you are to finishing, the more prescriptive you can be with techniques; the more you’re in the midst of grappling and in more neutral positions, the less prescriptive we can be due to the number of situations. This is where a conceptual model that allows students to react following heuristics is better as a basis – it’s not as fine tuned as having 1000 great specific answers, but it’s a much faster lesson to get people effective.


The best defense is a good offense. Guard is for attacking. Chris Haueter has a good answer to a question by slideyfoot on countering the knee cut pass – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The person on top can’t pass if they’re defending their base. Always be trying to sweep, always be trying to submit. The ABCs of BJJ are “always be choking”. The three rules of wrestling are 1. force their hands to the mat, 2. high head wins the scramble, 3. always be attacking the legs. This is also where I like to talk about the three goals of guard are sweep, submit, or stand up. Too many people forget that standing up is a goal, and get fixated with remaining on their back when they don’t have to be. You can’t get passed if you’re standing up.

I don’t think specific techniques are worthwhile here, but an understanding of base and how forcing their hands to the mat and attacking the legs compromises it in concept would be invaluable. See the drills section below.


  • Grilled Chicken

If you haven’t seen Priit’s Grilled Chicken series, I highly recommend it. Of all the styles of guard maintenance I’ve tried, it’s the most straight-forward. Having said that, it’s also a style that I feel is very defensive in nature. I find I need to chain an active, attacking open guard style with it and transition between the two as I change roles between maintaining and attacking. If you can mentally handle playing one style while on the back foot and one style while being assertive, I find it fantastic. Since most beginners generally need to learn to survive before they worry about being the aggressor, it feels like the right place to start.


  • NAC Model
  • Feet, knees, hips, consolidate
  • No such thing as a no gi guard pass

Danaher’s “NAC Model” (Negate, Advantage, Completion) is probably the most comprehensive model for guard passing I’ve encountered. There are a lot of specific passes I like, but all of them do boil down to taking away their ability to threaten your base, get into an advantageous position (or weakly advantageous position), and then execute the pass. Thinking about this in terms of not having their feet pointing at you, not having their knees pointed at you, controlling the hips, and then consolidating the top position is another way Danaher discusses this in the Go Further Faster – Passing series, and it’s helped how I think about and approach guard passing. I don’t think it’s important to teach all the myriad specific advantageous positions we could go to in a single class, but picking one per class and using it as an example does seem worthwhile.

When I went to the Reilly seminar where he talked about how people choose to concede top position in no gi and the importance of “never stop wrestling”, it was a huge change in how I passed. If the person on bottom can’t establish meaningful grips, they can’t stop you from posting. You posting may be in their best interest, but it will almost always be in your better interest than conceding bottom position. Passing in gi requires grip fighting to mitigate this, but an understanding of the no gi principle also highlights the value of grip fighting in the gi.


The bulk of an open guard class should be drills. There’s a lot to discuss, but if you’re ever talking more than the students are moving, you’re probably doing it wrong, and as discussed above, there’s not a lot of specific techniques I think are super important when compared to time spent on conceptual development.

Touch the head – similar to half guard, if tori can touch uke’s head, reset. Uke should be actively maintaining space so that can’t happen. 30 seconds in each role and then switch partners.

Hands to the mat – the person on bottom (tori for this drill) wants to make the person who’s standing (uke) touch the mat with their hands, hips, or back. Essentially, they’re trying to sweep uke, but with a broader definition of “sweep”. The example I typically show for this is pulling them forward as you spin under so they need to post to keep from face planting. Tori should be trying multi-directional attacks. This will require they figure out how to get underneath uke, which is a concept I generally don’t talk about because it’s so easily discovered during this drill. Switch roles after 1 minute, and switch partners after each person has been the person on bottom.

Positional (no subs) – The person on top wants to pass (holding side, KoB, mount, or the back for 3 seconds). The person on bottom wants to be on top or stand up. Reset if either person meets those conditions. 2 minutes each role, then switch partners.

Positional (subs) – As above, but each person can also use submissions. My intention with this isn’t just to give a greater sense of reality to the drill, but because it should start encouraging folks to use the threat of a leg lock to set up their sweep or pass.


Open guard has a LOT of stuff in it, and while the back gives us a perfect, isolated opportunity to discuss chokes, and the mount or side control gives a reasonably good opportunity to discuss arm locks; open guard is probably the best place to discuss leg locks, but it’s not really easy to do so with so much to cover. The use of straight ankle locks as a threat to establish a pass is something I feel very strongly about and I want to convey to folks, but you can only threaten what you can finish. Without spending time on the nuances of finishing a straight ankle lock, it’s not something I can confidently work in. Were I planning a four week lesson plan around open guard for a mixed skill audience, I would unquestionably spend a week in that discussing the straight ankle lock and its use in passing.

I mentioned the importance of grip fighting for a gi context. There’s no reasonable way to teach all the grips breaks, neutralizing grips, and defensive/assertive grips necessary to convey a skillset in a beginner class for this. For this reason, I consider this beyond the basics. Ideally folks would be learning grip fighting while standing to understand the relationship between grips, movement, and off-balancing/base. I don’t feel qualified or have the intentions to teach a judo class at this point. They can go to Luke at Madison Judo for a solid grip fighting class.

Because this is so open-ended and concept-oriented, there’s a good chance it could blow up in my face. As mentioned elsewhere, when folks focus too much on the concept without specific techniques that illustrate the concept and/or without teaching the base movements necessary to apply the concept, it ends up being high level garbage. I expect a lot of refinement will need to be made around the specifics of what and how to show the concepts outlined above.

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