BJJ Street Fight Breakdown: Closed Guard, Distance, Clinching and Take Down Defense

Critics of Jiu Jitsu as an effective self-defense will often say “I would never pull guard in a fight.”

Most BJJ players would not disagree with this position. Every BJJ school instills avoiding physical confrontations as the best form of self-defense.. If a situation does escalate into a physical confrontation, there are many stand up techniques taught within the first year of BJJ training that one can use to defend themselves by taking their opponent to the ground while assuming a dominant top position. This includes body lock takedowns, judo trips and throws, and wrestling takedowns.

The reality is that many physical confrontations start with a surprise cheap shot or takedown that results in a person being knocked down and lying on their back with an aggressor in top position on the ground, trying to inflict more damage through strikes or a choke. Establishing and controlling an opponent in guard in a self-defense or street fight situation could mean the difference between walking away with a few bumps and bruises or going to the hospital with a serious injury. While pulling guard in a self-defense or street fight situation is a very questionable strategy, understanding closed guard fundamentals that are taught at BJJ schools is very important since you might find yourself with somebody lying on top of you with the intent to do harm to you.

The fight I analyzed starts with a teenager in a black shirt (BS) on his back on the ground with another teen in a sleeveless shirt (SS) on top of him. BS has SS in an opened guard with SS on his knees while throwing punches at BS’s head. 1 to 2 years of training in BJJ would have taught BS how to protect himself from blows in the guard and also how to sweep his opponent to gain and maintain a dominant position on the ground against SS.


Here are 5 key takeaways from the fight

1. Breaking posture and controlling the head and arm from closed guard: The fight starts with BS on the bottom with an open guard position established while SS is on his knees throwing punches down towards BS’s head from the top position. BS is using his arms and forearms to block and deflect the blows, but a few are getting through and connecting with his face. At :15, SS is in total control of BS from the top position and grabs and controls both of BS’s wrists once he needs a break from throwing punches.

Rather than trying to block and deflect punches from the open guard position, BS could have closed his guard and used his arms to control SS’s head and/or arms while using his legs and hips to pull SS into him and break SS’s posture down. SS was able to throw hard blows because of his high posture. Breaking down SS’s posture and controlling SS’s head and arm within a closed guard would have prevented SS from throwing hard blows that could have resulted in BS being knocked out. Any punches thrown by SS from a broken down posture with his arms partially or completely controlled by BS would have inflicted little to no damage to BS. Here is a series of techniques used to break down an opponent’s posture while in a closed guard situation.

2. Sweeps from closed guard: Once the posture is broken down, BS could have utilized basic sweeps taught in BJJ beginners and fundamentals classes to gain a dominant position on SS. SS is larger than BS and appears to have a bully mentality. Bullies are used to playing from a dominant position and once the script is flipped on them, many bullies will quickly fall apart and give up. If BS was able to gain and maintain a dominant top position on SS, there is a good chance SS would have given up or gassed out from having somebody on top of him.

With SS’s posture is broken down, he would likely react by trying to posture back up. This would be an opportunity to hit the “sit up/up and over sweep” which if executed correctly would result in BS landing in full mount on top of SS. This sweep is demonstrated by Pedro Sauer in the video below.

Another sweep option taught in the beginner level classes that BS could have used is the scissor sweep which would also result in BS landing in full mount on top of SS. Here is the scissor sweep being shown by Ralph Gracie Black Belt Kurt Osiander.

While the video shows the scissor sweep technique demonstrated in the gi, it can still be used in nogi, by controlling the head instead of the collar and gripping the back of the tricep instead of the gi sleeve grip.

3. Maintain distance from opponent and keep hands up: At :30 into the fight, SS lets BS up and they are standing 3 feet apart. SS was just manhandled by BS on the ground, yet he doesn’t maintain a safe distance from BS and doesn’t keep his hands up to defend himself in case BS tries to throw a cheap shot at him. When Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva got into a brawl on TUF Brazil, Sonnen recognized that Silva was inching towards him so he pushed Silva away and quickly put his hands up to defend himself.

maintain distance
Maintain distance and keep hands up to defend.

At :40, BS starts to close the distance on SS in an intimidating manner and SS still doesn’t back up or put his hands up in the event of a cheap shot of take down attempt from BS. At :52 seconds, BS goes for a double leg take down and puts SS back on the ground. In a self-defense situation, you need to maintain a safe distance from your attacker and keep your hands up to defend yourself to defend against strikes and prevent take down attempts.

Not maintaining distance and matching attacker’s level results in a take down.

4. Take down defense sprawl: The first step to preventing the take down would have been for SS to maintain a safe distance from BS. In order for BS to convert a single or double leg take down attempt on SS, he would need to be within arm’s length of SS. When BS lowered his level by bending his knees and back, SS also should have also lowered his level to match SS’s level. If BS still shoots for a take down, SS should use his head and arms as a line of defense and drop his hips backs to sprawl and defend the take down. Sprawling is another skills taught in many beginner Jiu Jitsu classes. There are many great wrestling videos online that show sprawling techniques. Here is an example from Olympic Gold Medalist Jordan Burroughs, who also shows a follow-up spin behind technique, which would have placed SS in an advantageous position where he could have controlled BS.

5. Understand how to fight in the clinch: At 1:14, BS attacks SS again after letting him up a second time. BS clinches with SS who obviously shows no knowledge or ability to battle in the clinch. Not knowing how to fight in the clinch could have resulted in SS being taken down again or taking some strikes from the clinch position. In many BJJ schools, defending bear hugs, full nelsons, and chokes from behind are taught as part of the beginner and self-defense curriculum. Knowing these skills will aid in defending attacks from behind and in the clinch. In the video below, Pedro Sauer demonstrates one option to defend a bear hug.

Also, learning the fundamentals of over hooks and under hooks pummeling, hip positioning, footwork and clinching is important in defending and controlling the clinch to prevent take downs and strikes from an attacker and also in setting up take downs to get top position on the attacker. Here is former UFC Champion Tito Ortiz demonstrating a pummeling drill and how it can be used in a self defense and MMA situation.

I have never attended a BJJ class where an instructor advised his/her students to pull guard in a self-defense or street fight situation. There is a reality where 70% to 80% of fights go to the ground from a take down or clinch situation. Once the fight hits the ground, there is a scramble where there is a 50/50 chance you could find yourself in the bottom position. This means there is a 35% to 40% chance of being stuck in the bottom position in a street fight or self-defense situation. Understanding self-defense and sweeps from closed guard is crucial in negating strikes from your attacker and escaping and/or gaining top position on your opponent. Additionally, knowing how to defend take downs from single or double leg shots and from the clinch is important in preventing getting slammed onto the hard ground and having an attacker or bully on top of you. These are all skills and fundamentals that can be learned within the first 12 to 24 months of training in Jiu Jitsu.



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