The Butterfly Guard

The Butterfly Guard

Even decades after being developed, the butterfly guard continues to be one of the best guards in BJJ. It is the great equalizer for smaller guard players going against bigger and stronger opponents.

This is a guard that is simple, yet incredibly effective. Some of the best grapplers like Marcelo Garcia have used the butterfly guard to win multiple world titles in Jiu Jitsu.

Here is a detailed breakdown of the butterfly guard. We’re going to go over the origins of this guard and detail numerous techniques from the guard. Also giving you important details for playing butterfly guard and how to defend against it.

Origins Of The Butterfly Guard

In Jiu Jitsu, the butterfly guard began to be innovated during the open guard boom, but it’s far older than that. Even before the concept of a guard was developed, early grapplers would use a primitive form of the butterfly guard. Using their shins as leverage against their opponent’s legs to get up or reverse them.

With Jiu Jitsu, they adopted the butterfly guard from Judo. In this video you can clearly see butterfly guard being used in a Kosen Judo competition from 1982. 

During the 1980s “guarda do gancho”(hook guard) started to be used in BJJ competitions. Two of the biggest hook guard players were Carlson Gracie’s students Sergio Bolão and also Cássio Cardoso.

Later in the 90s “guarda da borboleta”(butterfly guard) began to really be developed technically. Two of the most prominent butterfly guard players of this age were multiple time world champions Jean Machado and Renzo Gracie.

Then in the early 2000s it was taken to another level by Fernando Terere and the great Marcelo Garcia. It was Marcelo who changed the game with his butterfly guard game. Using it to dominate larger opponents and win multiple ADCC titles.

Butterfly guard’s popularity has gone down a little in the modern age, but it is now a must guard.

Basic Butterfly Sweep

The basic butterfly sweep is a quick and easy technique that is especially good for smaller guard players. Before going into your sweep, you have to sit up and scoot into your opponent to close space.

Your shins have to be attached to the inside of your opponent’s with your knees slightly angled out. Without angling out your knees, your opponent will easily hop over your legs to pass.

For the next step, you need to get an underhook and overhook on your opponent. Your head will also need to be under your opponent’s head to control their head positioning.

Now that you have your opponent controlled, you are going to fall to the shoulder of your overhook arm. At the same time you’re falling, pull your opponent’s arm in and kick your leg.

These motions together sweep your opponent with ease as you end the position in side-control. Chewjitsu shows some really great details for doing this technique.

Pump Action Shotgun Sweep From Butterfly Guard

A common defense for the basic butterfly sweep is to base out on your foot to stuff the sweep. Don’t worry, you can still finish the sweep. All you need to do is make a slight adjustment.

When they base out on their foot, you scoot your bottom leg closer to your opponent. Keep doing this movement like pumping a shotgun to run your opponent down and finish the sweep.

Stephan Kesting has a really good breakdown of this butterfly sweep, you should check out.

Shoulder Crunch Sumi Gaeshi From Butterfly Guard

Setting up a Sumi Gaeshi sweep off of an arm drag is an easy technique to catch your opponent off guard. The technique starts by going for an arm drag and falling to your shoulder on that side.

Normally your opponent will defend either by basing their free hand next to your head or hook your head. Either way get a high underhook on their arm with your elbow pointing to the ceiling.

Once you clasp your hands together, your opponent will fight to free their elbow. Forgetting about their base.

To sweep them, switch your hip and butterfly sweep your opponent to the underhook side.

Butterfly Sweep w/arm Cross

Another way to misdirect your opponent to hit your butterfly sweep is off a cross grip arm drag. From a sitting position, cross grab your opponent’s sleeve and cup their elbow.

Use these grips to pull yourself into your opponent with one butterfly hook and your foot on their hip. If your opponent doesn’t posture up, you can take their back, but in this case they do.

When your opponent postures up, reach behind their back and grab their belt. Your opponent will keep posturing up, so you will now need to take your foot off their hip and dive under.

As you dive in, you keep your butterfly hook attached and underhook their leg with your free hand.

From here, all you need to do is turn your hips to sweep your opponent. BJJ champion and butterfly guard expert Adam Wardzinski demonstrates this technique from the BJJ Fanatics channel.

Key Details To Remember

  • Leg placement: Your shins have to be attached to the inside of your opponent’s leg and knees slightly angled out. If you don’t angle out your knees, your opponent will pass your guard with ease.
  • Scoot in: When playing butterfly guard, you have to scoot your body under your opponent. This is important, so you can compromise their base to complete your sweeps. 
  • Sit up: Do not lay on your back. That is not a butterfly guard and you will have your guard passed. 
  • Head in: Keep your head under your opponent’s to win the head fight. If your opponent’s head is under yours it is almost impossible to sweep them. 
  • Elbows in: Your elbows need to be closed to your body when going for underhooks and overhooks.  

How To Defend Against The Butterfly Guard

Butterfly guard is strong, but it is beatable. Here are important details you need to know for beating the butterfly guard.

Push them to their back: Your opponent can’t play butterfly guard if they’re on their back. Either keep your opponent on their back or push them to their back, so they can’t play butterfly guard.

Head control: Your opponent can’t sweep you if you’re controlling their head. Use a strong collar tie to control your opponent’s head when they’re playing butterfly guard.

Arm control: To sweep you, your opponent needs to control your arms. If you control theirs, they cannot sweep you.

Hook under their legs: Reaching under your opponent’s legs to cross grab their ankles and pants is a super effective defense. You can use this grip along with head control to turn them and pass guard.

Don’t engage: For butterfly guard to work, your opponent needs you on the mat engaging their guard. If you don’t engage them directly on the ground, their butterfly guard is not a threat.

Final Thoughts

Pound for pound, the butterfly guard BJJ is one of the best guards in all of Jiu Jitsu. Being safe, simple, and effective is what makes it so powerful.

The guard has become a staple in the curriculum of just about every Jiu Jitsu school in the world. To advance in rank, you must know how to use butterfly guard and how to use it effectively.

We highly recommend that you learn this guard to take your game to the next level.