While it was once the most cutting edge guard in all of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), the X-Guard went through a temporary phase of obscurity as it was overlooked for some of the more dynamic open guards of modern grappling. Thanks to the recent explosion in no-gi submission only competitions, the X-Guard is making a comeback as practitioners realize it is a great way to attack the opponent’s legs with submissions.
You can initiate the X-Guard anytime one of your opponent’s knees is off the mat by underhooking his leg and pulling it up over your shoulder. Then hook your outside foot behind your opponent’s knee, while your inside foot hooks into the crook of his hip. Your legs should now form an “X,” trapping your opponent’s far leg in place. Now you can begin to attack!
1) The Technical Stand Up Sweep
Similar to how a skilled boxer uses the jab to force his opponent to react and then proceeds to attack based on the response, an X-Guard player should use the technical stand up sweep to probe his opponent. Based on how the opponent defends the sweep, the guard player can then go ahead and follow up with further attacks. In order to force your opponent to defend in a manner that opens him up to follow up attacks, your sweep will have to be legitimate, so it is crucial to have perfect technique.
Once you have established the X-Guard position, you can initiate the technical stand up sweep by extending your legs, driving your opponent’s knee outwards and compromising his balance. While it is not always necessary, the best result is when your opponent is so unbalanced that he is forced to put his hands on the mat to stop himself from falling over. Once his hands are on the mat, his legs will become unweighted, making him much easier to move and sweep.
After you have off balanced your opponent, unhook your bottom leg from behind your opponent’s knee and stomp on his knee, stretching him out even further. Then take your top leg and place it on the floor. Use this foot as your base as you put your free hand on the floor and execute a technical stand up, retracting your “push” leg and bringing it underneath you. The end result should be you standing up with your opponent’s leg on your shoulder. If he doesn’t fall over when you stand, hold onto the leg as you walk backward, dragging him to the mat.
2) The Knock Back Sweep
While the technical stand up sweep is very powerful and high-percentage, sometimes your opponent will have a very good base, making it hard for you to stretch him out. This is common when your opponent is taller than you, as he will be able to spread his legs further than you and stay balanced. If this is the case it will be difficult to sweep him with the technical stand up, but you can still attack with the knock back sweep.
Once you have attempted to stretch your opponent out for the technical stand up sweep, he will likely counter by bringing his legs as close together as he can. While this prevents you from pushing him forward onto his hands, he has weakened his base behind him. To capitalize on his mistake, slide the foot that is hooking behind his knee all the way to the mat so that it is now hooking behind his ankle. Once you have hooked behind his ankle, extend your top leg so that your foot is driving into your opponent’s hip, knocking him backward. As your bottom foot is now hooked behind his ankle, and your arm is still underhooking his leg, he won’t be able to step back, causing him to fall to his but.
Once he has fallen over, all you have to do is retract your top leg as you stand up, placing you above your opponent in his open guard.
3) The Knee Bar
While the X-Guard is well known for its sweeping ability, as you are underneath your opponent and between his legs, it can also be used to set up powerful leg attacks. While you can attack your opponent with leg locks as soon as you enter into the X-Guard, you will have much more success with your submission attempts if you use them as a follow up once your opponent has defended your sweep attempts. There are a plethora of leg locks to choose from, but perhaps the most powerful is the knee bar.
The best time to attack with the knee bar is when your opponent has been off balanced by one of your sweep attempts but is still able to maintain his base and stay on top. For instance, if you attempt the knock back sweep but are unsuccessful, you can immediately attack with the knee bar. To do so, take your top foot out of your opponent’s far hip and slide it to his near hip. Then take your bottom leg out from behind your opponent’s knee (or ankle if you have just attempted the knock back sweep) and swing it all the way around your opponent’s underhooked leg so that your heel is curling into his glute. You should now be facing towards your opponent in a perfect knee bar position, with your hips just above his kneecap.
Drive your hips forward into his knee, knocking your opponent to the mat. Continue to drive your hips into his knee as you pull on his heel with your arms, extending his leg and forcing him to tap to the knee bar.
While this list includes our favorite X-Guard attacks, they are by no means the only ones that are effective. The X-Guard is an incredibly dynamic, fun position that offers a plethora of ways for you to attack your opponent. Make sure you drill these three techniques repeatedly, but keep an eye out for any other you think would fit into your game!