Understanding The Closed Guard Game with Prof Valerio Ubaldini

“The beauty of Jiu-Jitsu is that the game always evolves and there is always something new you can learn, work and get better on!”

Prof Valerio is very passionate about Jiu-Jitsu and more specifically – he loves the closed guard position. According to Prof Valerio, the closed guard might well be the most important position in Jiu-Jitsu.

Prof Valerio has put together a video series on his closed guard system on BJJ Fanatics and GB caught up with him to learn more about how GB students can understand and develop their own closed guard game.

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GB: What Jiu-Jitsu concepts are most important to a dangerous closed guard game?

Prof Valerio on both passing and playing closed guard: Being on top in the closed guard. What is important? Two things: BASE and POSTURE.

These are two words that in Jiu-Jitsu a student will always hear, in training or in the tournament from their professor: “ BASE! “ “ POSTURE UP! “ “ BASE!”

When we talk about base, we mean the position of our legs. When we are in the closed guard, we don’t want to keep our knees too close to each other: the closest is the knees – the highest our hips level is! If the level of the hips is high, we are not heavy on our legs and we are complete in the balance!

So very important to have a strong base is to spread your knees out: the wider is your base and the strongest and heavier you can become.

When we talk about posture, we refer to the position of our back. We can never bend over and kind of hug the person on the bottom: at first, you can think that we can be more in control because we are closer, and sometimes we can always think that this might be a good position to recover from the previous action.

In reality, this is a huge mistake! The closer you are to the chest of your partner/opponent and the closest are your collars: if the collars are close to your partner’s body, your partner’s hands are closed too, and would be very easy for them to set up his attacks as sweeps or submissions.

So if you are on top of the closed is really important to maintain a straight posture: the most straight you are, the more distance you will create from the hands of your partner: and to start a good action helping to have a good base and posture, I always recommend my students to start controlling with both hands the partner’s hips. So in this way, they can prevent arm locks as well: because they will need to keep their elbows behind the line of the belt of the bottom player.

Because is from the hips that comes all the players on the bottom attack: IF YOU CONTROL THE HIPS – YOU CONTROL YOUR PARTNER’S MOVEMENTS“. The person on the bottom needs to move their hips to shrimp out and create space, or they need to move their hips if they want to crunch and reach your collars.

After making sure to have your base and posture in the right way, even before starting making your grips on your partner’s uniform, I always encourage my students to keep their toes active, so they can be more reactive to move either to start the action first of to follow the partner’s movements.

Only then would the next step be to make grips, controlling the upper body and the hips or the person on the bottom.

At this point, there are two ways to open the guard: from the knees or from standing up.

Lower ranks tend most of the time to open the guard from their knees because of the lack of balance; they feel safer staying closer to the ground so they will try to open staying on their knees. The highest rank is different: very often you can see a match in the black belt division and see the person on top fighting to open the guard from his knees.

Most of the time highest rank stands up because they can link really quickly a way to open with a way to pass the guard right away, as once the guard is open is a very versatile situation.

I always encourage my students to work on their debilities, especially in training and far from competition. If you want to get better at something, you need to train this specific situation with all your teammates until you are able to master your lack. Once you got better you can choose a different position/situation, work it for months with different teammates and if mastered it, move to the next one.

The beauty of Jiu-Jitsu is that the game always evolves and there is always something new you can learn, work and get better on!

GB: What should Jiu-Jitsu students pay special attention to in developing their closed guard game?

Prof Valerio: The most important detail to have a dangerous closed guard is the control. If you don’t have the control you automatically will start at disadvantage.

If you are on the bottom obviously the first thing to do is to keep your feet locked and the second is to use your grips. Breaking down your opponent’s posture is absolutely a very important part of playing the closed guard. You will not be able to make a grip on your partner’s collar and sit up or do anything so long as the player on top has his grip on you. By using a cross grip for example and feeding your hand underneath your opponent’s grip you can elevate his arm up, breaking his grip, breaking down his posture, and giving you an opportunity to pull him down into your guard, securing your grips around his head and his arm. Once you have broken down your opponent’s posture, you can now look to work a way to improve your position using a sweep or working a submission.

If you are on top, as we previously said, two things are important: base and posture.

Once you are sure to start the action of opening the guard make sure to have a good base and a good posture, what is important is to set up your best grips. Very common to use both ends to close the lapels of the person on the bottom and feed them to the strongest and while the weakest hand controls the pants around the hips; another common way might be the one to have the lapels and the sleeve if you plan up stand up or having both hands on the belt or on the pants if you want to work your way out from your knees.

I always recommend my students to don’t start their own actions if they are not free of movement. What do I mean by that? If your partner/opponent starts making a grip first, do not follow your original plan: something is going on, and most likely the other person has something in mind.

So it’s very important before to start your own action the break every time (can be 1, 2, or even 5 times) the grips of your partner; you will see not only that your technique would become more efficient, but also you will notice how frustrated the other person can become because would not be able the make good grips and start his action. The goal in Jiu-Jitsu is always the same: trying to be one step (at least) ahead of your partner or opponent.

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