Open guard is kind of difficult to define in the sense that it’s dynamic (constantly changing or moving) and not static like much of the closed guard position.

So if the closed guard is when your feet are hooked together around your opponent’s torso then the open guard is when your feet are unhooked.

The Two Ways You End Up in Open Guard

This may seem subtle, but there’s a VERY big difference between the two.

1. You open your guard (The Good)
2. Or your opponent opens it for you (The Bad)

The difference is if YOU open your guard first then you get to dictate where the fight takes place, but if your opponent does it for you then HE does.

Lloyd Irvin blackbelt Paul Greenhill has a transition concept that illustrates this perfectly, it’s called the Less than 70 Rule.

It states that if your defense has a 70 percent or less chance to stop your opponent’s attack, then move to the next position.

So if you’re opponent has almost broken your guard (you probably shouldn’t wait til that point) it’s best to open it yourself and transition to an open guard where you control the action.

The Standard Open Guard

When you open your guard—whether by choice or by adhering to the Less than 70 rule—you maintain the same options you have from the closed guard position : Standing up, sweeps, subs, and strikes.

Technically, you’d have to transition from closed guard to open guard to complete those options anyways.

Remembering that it was you who opened your own guard you would maintain an upper body control, e.g., overhooks, underhooks, wrists, elbows, or head, and use one or both feet on the hips of your opponent or as hooks in and around their legs to transition into your option of choice.

Here’s what your standard open guard look’s like.
Standard Open Guard

I’m using the head as my upper body control and both feet are on the hips.

If you’re the guy on top of this open guard then you’re the one in danger of being swept, or submitted.

To make that danger momentary you’ll want to get those feet off your hips, and regain your posture, all while attempting to maintain a balanced base.

Defending the Guard Pass

When your guard is opened for you then you don’t have any of the previous options, and you must defend FIRST.

Now the guy on top has the advantage because he is no longer reacting to you, you are reacting to him.

Action will always be faster than reaction.

From there HE has the offensive options—strikes, passes, strikes to passes, and leglocks. (The Ugly)

If he’s content to strike you’ve got to regain control of his posture or if he leaves you enough space, position your feet on his hips and push him away.

If he intends to pass guard then you’ve got to defend the pass using hip movement and all four limbs.

Escaping your hips in BJJ is called shrimping.
Shrimping 1

Shrimping 2

Used in concert with your hand(s) driving the head away from your body you’ll successfully defend the guard pass attempt to re-guard or get to your knees.

Preventing the Guard Pass

And being that open guard is probably the position where you’re most susceptible to leg attacks you’ll want to be acutely aware of the set-ups to sense when they’re coming, the defenses, and the counters just in case your opponent chooses to go that route.

Other Cool Open Guards

Along the way you’re going to learn a bunch of different variations of the open guard that you can apply in different situations like butterfly (which utilizes those ”hooks” I was talking about), de la riva, inverted, spider, sit-up, and octopus guards.

I wouldn’t worry about them when you first start, but slowly familiarize yourself with the principals of each.