More thoughts on Butterfly Guard for the Vertical Clinch

After my post about training butterfly guard in order to better your standing clinch game, a number of questions were asked, and a major point that I left out was pointed out by one of my mentors. So here are some follow up thoughts along this subject.

I was talking to someone last night who is really, really good at keeping me on point and he made me realize I left something important out in the prior article. How do we keep ECQC goals in the vertical clinch congruent in a BJJ class?

After all, while the skill sets (as I already pointed out) needed for both are almost identical, the fundamental three butterfly attacks are focused on keeping the fight on the ground, though with a reversal in dominant position. So how do we keep focused while not pissing off our BJJ coach?

Understand, that I DO NOT have all the answers and am not 100% sure. This is what I am finding to consistently be the best solution right now, but I am still actively trying to see if there is a better answer. So buyer beware.

What I think is the best idea is to have your end state be taking your opponent’s back or going to his side and crossing his T (your hips outside and 90 degrees to his hip). Most of the basic butterfly attacks lend themselves to this end state without much, if any, modification. For example, the arm drag to hips outside his hips generally ends with you sweeping him over. You can easily substitute taking his back or even coming out and regaining your feet with no one looking at you like you have two heads. Even the classic sweeping him straight to the side with an under hook and over hook control can be turned into a duck under rather than a full sweep.

Basically, if you keep the goal of taking the back always in the forefront of your brain, I strongly believe you can get in a lot of good work that will translate directly to the standing clinch game.

The chance of getting guillotined in butterfly if you are doing things correctly is close to nil. My chin is lower than his chin (as it should be in the vertical clinch) and you are always looking towards his “center” – which I mark as his spine. In that position, not only are you in little danger of having your head/neck attacked, you are also maximizing your control of our opponent. Also, you go to butterfly when it is contextually appropriate and you are able to do it. The only way to know when that is appropriate is through mat time and hands on coaching.

And I don’t think you EVER go to your back to do the classic side-over butterfly sweep. If you can’t pull it off from the position you are in, it generally means you either do not have good limb control, or have the wrong angle on the sweep, or you don’t have head position, or a combination of all those.

You also don’t have to ball up to play butterfly. I don’t, mostly because I can’t. My list of injuries is fairly long – both shoulders permanently jacked up, a left elbow that has lost some range of motion, a big toe that has NO range of motion, and a left knee that is bone on bone and in certain positions I can actually move my knee laterally outwards (which is cool to gross out my wife with). The balling up is actually a positional replacement for being conscious of your spinal alignment. As long as I keep my head in the proper position (as I mentioned above) and I keep my spine as straight as possible and my head forward of my tailbone, I find I can do anything in butterfly without having to compress into a ball. And, balling up IMO takes away some of the advantages of transference to the standing clinch. Compressing too much has a tendency to take away from your hip mobility and that is where people start to play too much by going to their backs to attempt sweeps (which, again IMO is a bad habit to get into and not necessary ).

Here are a couple of video clips that illustrate what I am trying to say.

First one, go to about 3:13 for a nice shot of Saulo’s non-compressed position:

And this one is good. Look from about 1:09 to 1:28. I would just use her position in a little tighter, but I would not change anything else:

Butterfly Guard for the Vertical Clinch

In my opinion, one of the most critical skill sets needed for close quarters fighting is a deep understanding of the vertical clinch.

It is one of the primary ways to prevent yourself from being taken to the ground. It is one of the primary methods to be able to access and deploy your weapon in a fight at bad breath distance. And it may be your only chance to continue the fight if you have been taken by surprise with a sucker punch (there is a major reason boxers clinch up when they have taken a mind altering hit). Done correctly with technique and correct tactics, it can also help the smaller, less physically capable person handle a bigger, stronger attacker.

Unfortunately, while there are only a handful of physical actions needed in the clinch and are simple to learn, they require a good amount of work to be able to get the maximum functionality. So we need to do some work and train it and here we run into the biggest drawback. It is not that easy to find places to get some legitimate work in the clinch. Ideally, we would have access to a top notch Greco-Roman wrestling club. There, not only would we have great instruction, but we could have a lot of varied training partners to get in the flight time needed. Tack on some practical “street” practice, you would have a definite ability to fight in the vertical grapple. It is too bad clubs/gyms like that are as rare as an honest politician. So what can we do? Here are some alternatives.

First, a general wrestling club that is focused on freestyle/folkstyle will have some clinch work, as well as possibly having some members who have competed in Greco matches. Again, though, most wrestling clubs are competition oriented and have little to no interest in teaching this to people who are not committed to competition. Understand this mentality if you do find a local wrestling club.

Second, some MMA gyms (like The Hardcore Gym in Athens, GA have a great knowledge and understanding of clinchwork. Thanks to the popularity of MMA however, many, many MMA gyms are no better than strip mall McDojos. And many other MMA gyms may train hard, but are run by people with little true MMA skill ( a lot of MMA gyms are run by guys who did a year of BJJ, a year of some striking martial art and maybe a seminar or two, but no real deep level of experience). So, as with the local wrestling club, caveat emptor.

Third, judo is an option. Not completely the same, since with the cloth handles, there can be more “distance clinch” work, but for some places (especially in areas that do not have a strong wrestling background like the UK), it does have some usefulness.

So where does this leave the average person? Should we just give up? Or settle for a sloppy clinch game? I say no. There is a very viable alternative. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. But not just BJJ in general; rather a specific strategy/positional game – butterfly guard.

The positioning of butterfly guard is almost identical to classic clinch work. And the principle moves that we need in the vertical grapple – wrist tie, elbow tie, underhook, overhook, arm drag, duckunder, 2on1 – are exactly the heart and soul of the butterfly guard. The way we need to position our body parts – head, elbows, hips, feet – are the mirror image of what we need to do with butterfly.

Here is a visual of what I am talking about. Note particularly his head, hip, and elbow positioning, and especially at how he shifts his hip to sweep:


Watch here for the armdrag. Note carefully that EVERYTHING you need to do while standing is done here as well:

The great thing is we can go to any BJJ gym in the world, focus on training butterfly guard with the intent of making our vertical clinch better, and no one in the gym will say a word against it! And even better, we make our horizontal grappling better at the same time! Talk about bang for the buck. And butterfly guard is usually taught even to beginners in BJJ, so even if you are new to jiu-jitsu, there is a good chance you will be taught butterfly guard fundamentals fairly early. In the Fundamental class I run myself, it is generally taught within the first six months.

And, there is a lot of butterfly guard instructional material out there. Books, DVDs, YouTube videos, it is all easily accessible. So, improve your standing clinch while sitting on your butt!