Guard Work - Head Up or Head Down?


Silver Belt
Feb 8, 2005
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I was hoping to get everyone's opinion on this.

I have always been taught to play closed guard with my head up off the mat. The reasons for this being 1) with strikes, you won't get your head smashed off the floor 2) forces you to be more active with your body 3) lessens space between you and your opponent.

Recently, a brown belt was watching me drill armbars from the guard and told me that I should have my head flat on the mat. At first I was a little skeptical, but he is a brown belt so I figured I would try. I noticed that it did definitely make it easier for me to pop my hips out for the armbar. However, I think it overall reduced my control over my opponent and made it easier to pass my guard.

I was just wondering what everyone thought about this detail because I haven't heard it discussed on here much. When I was drilling the armbars, keeping my head down definitely made them easier. Still I was reluctant to fight from the guard all the time with my head down since it makes it harder for me to gain momentum for my sweeps.

P.S. This is only somewhat related, but I overheard someone else advise one of my buddies to lock his closed guard over the opponent's hips for maximum control. I told him to forget about that. I have always been taught that the idea was to walk the guard up higher, not lower. I told him always take a high guard if possible and if your legs get around the opponent's hips, start playing open guard because you will get passed in two seconds if you don't.
I'd just drop my head whenever throwing my hips up for an armbar/triangle/omoplata. Otherwise I like keeping my head up.

Keeping your head down I think limits your ability to move your upper body, and that's a bad thing. Basically I guess it just depends on whether you are trying to move your upper or lower body.
i've never really thought about it, but i always have my head off the ground unless im resting/inactive
I always keep my head up, and occasionally put it down when switching hips.

Be careful of telegraphing your movements if you drop your head for a move every time.
I keep my head flat when gaurding against can openers, which we did all the time where I trained BJJ, so I had my head down most of the time. It is not an issue in judo because you don't lie on your back much (if you do, you are losing, obviously).
When on the bottom if you lift your head up you get used to it and in a nhb fight or anyone when they punch you in the face you get a double hit because you get the strike that hits your head and then your head bumps the concrete or ring floor.I felt it done to me and have corrected it since then .Stop doing it ,remember if you knew the punch was coming you could have avoided it ,so just be safe.
keeping your head up is very important for open guard work, not as much for low closed guard and really not important for a high closed guard...hope that helps
I cant see you do the technique, so I cant very well disagree with what they brown belt said, however, I disagree with what you say he told you- you dont need your head on the ground to do an armbar- an armbar is done by moving you hips either by pushing off with one foot or using the leg that eventually becomes the bottom one in the armbar to move your hips into the position (i.e. by "kicking" against your opponent).

Now, if you're attempting the armbar while you're sitting all the way up, natrually you wont be able to move your hips very well- what you can do when you're positioning your upper body to elbow escape/move is to have your shoulder blades on the ground, which can be done while keeping your head up. Perhaps this is what the brown belt told you and you simply misinterpreted him.

Keeping your head down often means you're not using your abs- having strong abs is a must if you're a guard player, and other than periods of rest, I cant think of a time when you're not supposed to be using your abs when in the guard.