Butterfly Guard in Focus: The Secret Weapon for Modern Grapplers

November 24, 2023
From: Spartacus
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Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), a martial art steeped in strategy and physical prowess, has captivated enthusiasts worldwide with its intricate ground fighting techniques and compelling grappling strategies. At the heart of BJJ’s diverse guard positions lies the butterfly guard – a dynamic and versatile posture that has revolutionized grappling battles. 

In this deep dive, we’ll unravel the mysteries and strategies behind the butterfly guard. Our journey will not only shed light on the fundamentals of the butterfly guard but also explore its practical applications, both in traditional BJJ and in the adrenaline-pumped arena of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Whether you’re a seasoned practitioner or a curious newcomer, this article aims to enhance your understanding of the butterfly guard, demonstrating its significance in modern combat sports. By the end, you’ll appreciate how this seemingly simple guard can offer complex and effective solutions in the most challenging grappling scenarios.

Let’s embark on this exploration, uncovering the secrets of the butterfly guard and its transformative impact on the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The Basics of Butterfly Guard



In the world of BJJ, the butterfly guard is a cornerstone technique revered for its dynamic nature and strategic depth. This guard is characterized by the practitioner sitting on the mat, back typically against the opponent, and feet hooked inside the opponent’s thighs. This unique positioning is what gives the butterfly guard its name, with the legs resembling the wings of a butterfly.

The fundamental principle of the butterfly guard revolves around control – control of distance, balance, and the opponent’s posture. By hooking the feet inside the opponent’s thighs, the practitioner can effectively manipulate their opponent’s movements. This control is pivotal for executing a variety of techniques, including sweeps, submissions, and transitions to more dominant positions or other guards.

The versatility of the butterfly guard lies in its adaptability to various scenarios. It remains effective against opponents of different sizes and strengths. In no-gi grappling, where the lack of traditional gi grips demands a different approach, the butterfly guard proves invaluable due to its reliance on underhooks and body leverage rather than clothing grips.

In MMA, the butterfly guard adapts again, offering a viable defensive tool against a ground-and-pound strategy. While it does require modifications to guard against strikes, its core principles remain effective. In MMA, the butterfly guard allows fighters to create space to either stand back up or transition to more offensive positions, demonstrating its effectiveness beyond traditional BJJ mats.

Understanding and mastering the butterfly guard requires recognizing its core elements: balance disruption, control of the opponent’s posture, and effective use of leverage. As a testament to its efficacy, many top BJJ practitioners and MMA fighters incorporate the butterfly guard into their arsenal, making it a fundamental technique for any aspiring martial artist.

Advanced Butterfly Guard: Techniques and Strategies of Elite BJJ Fighters



The butterfly guard stands out as a versatile and dynamic position. Let’s have an in-depth look at how top BJJ fighters utilize the butterfly guard, breaking down key techniques and strategies.

Elevating Opponents with Hook Sweeps

  • Mechanics of Elevation: Top fighters emphasize the importance of using their legs, not just arms, to lift opponents. The butterfly hooks are key, with one leg generating lift and the other controlling the direction.
  • Timing and Opponent Reaction: They wait for moments when the opponent shifts their weight or attempts to pass, exploiting these transitions for sweeps.

Transitioning to Dominant Positions

  • Fluid Movement: Elite practitioners seamlessly move from the butterfly guard to more dominant positions, such as the full mount or back control. This involves quick hip movement and grip adjustments.
  • Layered Strategy: There’s a constant threat of submissions or position advancements, keeping opponents defensive.

Utilizing Grips and Leverage

  • Grip Variation: Utilizing different grips, like collar, sleeve, or underhook grips, is crucial. Each grip offers unique control and sets up different attacks.
  • Leverage and Control: By manipulating leverage points, top fighters control larger or stronger opponents, making the butterfly guard effective across weight classes.

Integrating Submissions

  • Opportunistic Attacks: Submissions such as guillotines, arm drags to back takes, and triangle chokes are common from the butterfly guard. Skilled fighters mix these attacks with sweep attempts.
  • Threat Multiplication: Constant submission threats force opponents to defend, creating openings for sweeps or position advancement.

Defensive Solidity

  • Balance and Base: Maintaining a strong base and balance is vital. This involves adjusting to the opponent’s movements and maintaining a compact, controlled posture.
  • Countering Pressure: Against heavy top pressure, top fighters use frame structures with their arms and angle changes to prevent guard passes.

Adapting to Opponent’s Style

  • Reading and Reacting: Top BJJ fighters study their opponents, adapting the butterfly guard to counter specific passing styles or offensive patterns.
  • Customized Approaches: Depending on the opponent’s tendencies, they might play a more defensive butterfly guard focusing on control, or an aggressive version seeking sweeps and submissions.

Through these techniques and strategies, the butterfly guard remains a staple in the arsenal of elite BJJ fighters, demonstrating its effectiveness and adaptability in high-level competition.

Advantages of the Butterfly Guard

The butterfly guard is not just a position in BJJ; it’s a formidable tool offering several tactical benefits. Let’s explore why this guard is a favorite among practitioners, from novices to elite fighters.

  • Superior Control and Leverage: One of the most significant advantages of the butterfly guard is the ability to use your legs actively. This provides a strong base and excellent leverage points, which is especially useful when facing larger opponents.
  • Flexibility in Attack and Defense: The guard is incredibly versatile, allowing for a seamless switch between offense and defense. It can be used to execute sweeps, set up submissions, or even transition to more dominant positions.
  • Effective Against a Range of Opponents: Whether you’re facing a standing opponent or one trying to pass your guard, the butterfly guard remains effective. Its adaptability makes it suitable for a wide range of scenarios in sparring or competition.
  • Minimizing Opponent’s Offensive Options: By maintaining this guard, you limit your opponent’s ability to launch effective strikes or advance their position. It forces them to address your guard first, buying you time and creating opportunities for counter-attacks.
  • Enhancing Mobility and Evasiveness: The butterfly guard enhances your mobility on the ground. It enables quick movements and adjustments, making it harder for the opponent to predict your next move or establish a stable offensive position.
  • Promoting a Proactive Fighting Style: This guard encourages an active, engaging style of fighting. It’s not just about defense; it’s about constantly looking for opportunities to advance or submit. This mindset is crucial for success in competitive BJJ.

The butterfly guard, with its blend of control, versatility, and offensive potential, is a cornerstone technique in BJJ. Its efficacy in various situations makes it a go-to choice for fighters looking to maintain an edge in their ground game.

Adapting the Butterfly Guard for Mixed Martial Arts



The transition of the butterfly guard from the pure play of BJJ to the diverse and unpredictable realm of MMA demonstrates its versatility and tactical value. Let’s delve into how this guard finds its unique place and adaptation in the world of MMA.

Incorporating Strikes and Defense

In MMA, the butterfly guard is not just a grappling tool but a means to integrate ground strikes. Fighters use it to create space, allowing them to land elbows or punches. Conversely, it also provides a buffer against the opponent’s strikes, making it a balanced offensive and defensive position.

Managing the Distance Against a Standing Opponent

One of the biggest challenges in MMA is dealing with opponents who vary their attacks between standing and ground techniques. The butterfly guard enables fighters to manage distance effectively, offering protection against kicks and punches while setting up for sweeps or takedowns.

Transitioning to Submission or Stand-up

The dynamic nature of MMA demands versatility in ground positions. The butterfly guard allows for quick transitions to submission holds or an opportunity to return to a standing position. This adaptability is crucial in the fast-paced environment of an MMA fight.

Countering the Ground-and-Pound Strategy

In MMA, the ground-and-pound approach is common, where a fighter on top aims to dominate with strikes. The butterfly guard provides an effective counter by allowing the bottom fighter to control the posture and distance, reducing the impact of the top fighter’s strikes.

Utilizing Sweeps for Positional Advantage

Sweeps from the butterfly guard are particularly effective in MMA. They can reverse positions, putting the fighter on top in a more dominant and strategic advantage. This reversal is critical in scoring points and gaining control in an MMA bout.

Challenges and Adaptations

Adapting the butterfly guard to MMA also involves understanding its limitations. The lack of a gi to grip requires modifications in grips and control strategies. Additionally, the guard must be tight and active to prevent the opponent from advancing or escaping, considering the slippery nature of MMA due to sweat and less clothing.

Training and Conditioning

MMA fighters who utilize the butterfly guard often focus on specific training and conditioning to maximize its effectiveness. This includes developing core strength for better control and balance, as well as drilling transitions and sweeps under MMA-specific conditions.

The butterfly guard in MMA is a testament to the evolution and adaptability of BJJ techniques in a broader combat sports context. Its application in MMA showcases the strategic depth and versatility that BJJ brings to the table, proving that with the right adaptations, traditional grappling techniques can thrive even in the diverse world of mixed martial arts.

Butterfly Guard: BJJ Purity vs. MMA Adaptation

The butterfly guard, a fundamental component of BJJ, undergoes a fascinating transformation when adapted for MMA. Let’s look at the distinctions and adaptations between its application in pure BJJ and its usage in the multidimensional arena of MMA.

BJJ Emphasis: Technique and Control

In the world of BJJ, the butterfly guard is a quintessence of technique and leverage. Practitioners focus on:

  • Precision of Technique: The success of the butterfly guard in BJJ is heavily reliant on precise techniques, where leverage and timing play a critical role.
  • Grip and Sleeve Control: Utilizing the gi for control is a staple in BJJ. The butterfly guard in BJJ often involves intricate sleeve and collar grips to manipulate the opponent.
  • Sweep Efficiency: BJJ practitioners employ the butterfly guard primarily for effective sweeps, using it to unbalance and transition against opponents.
  • Ground-focused Strategy: Pure BJJ matches are fought on the ground, making the butterfly guard a key position for control and submission setups.

MMA Adaptation: Versatility and Defense

In MMA, the butterfly guard must adapt to an environment where striking, less clothing, and a more dynamic range of combat are involved.

  • Integration of Strikes: The MMA version of the butterfly guard integrates defensive and offensive striking. Fighters must protect against ground-and-pound tactics while finding opportunities to strike from the bottom.
  • No-Gi Gripping: Absence of the gi necessitates alternative gripping strategies. Fighters rely on underhooks, overhooks, and body control.
  • Transitional Fluidity: MMA demands more fluid transitions from the butterfly guard, often shifting quickly to stand-up fighting or other ground positions.
  • Defensive Posturing: In MMA, the butterfly guard serves as a crucial tool for defense against aggressive strikers, using it to create space and manage distance.

Shared Core Principles

Despite the differences, some core principles of the butterfly guard remain constant across both BJJ and MMA:

  • Leverage and Balance: The fundamental concept of using an opponent’s weight and balance against them is a common thread.
  • Hip Mobility: Effective use of the butterfly guard in both BJJ and MMA requires excellent hip mobility to adjust position and execute techniques.
  • Offensive and Defensive Options: In both disciplines, the butterfly guard offers a range of offensive sweeps and defensive maneuvers.

The transition of the butterfly guard from BJJ to MMA is an exemplar of martial arts adaptability. It underscores how foundational techniques can be modified and applied effectively in varying combat sports contexts. The butterfly guard, in its diverse applications, highlights the evolving nature of martial arts and the continual blending of disciplines for strategic advantage.

The Butterfly Guard in Practice: Tips and Drills



The butterfly guard is more than just a position; it’s a dynamic and adaptable tool in the arsenal of a BJJ practitioner. To truly harness the power of the butterfly guard, one must engage in focused and consistent practice. This section offers valuable insights into tips and drills that can elevate your butterfly guard game.

Fundamentals First: Building a Solid Foundation

Mastering the butterfly guard starts with understanding its core principles. Key to this is developing a keen sense of balance while sitting up with feet hooked inside the opponent’s thighs. Practicing hip movements is essential for enhancing mobility, a critical aspect of the butterfly guard.

Engaging the Core: Strength and Stability

In the butterfly guard, core strength is paramount. Strengthening the core through exercises like planks and Russian twists can significantly improve your ability to execute techniques from the butterfly guard. This not only enhances your offensive capabilities but also your defensive resilience.

Drilling for Success: Essential Butterfly Guard Drills

Drilling is the cornerstone of mastering any technique in BJJ, and the butterfly guard is no exception. Practicing drills that focus on sweeping techniques, transitions into and out of the guard, and maintaining control over the opponent is crucial. These drills should simulate real combat scenarios as closely as possible to build muscle memory and reaction speed.

Advanced Techniques: Elevating Your Game

Once the fundamentals are in place, it’s time to explore more advanced techniques. This includes variations of sweeps, submissions from the butterfly guard, and transitions to other guards. Understanding these advanced techniques not only makes your butterfly guard more effective but also more unpredictable to your opponents.

The mastery of the butterfly guard doesn’t happen overnight. It requires patience, persistence, and continuous practice. Regularly revisiting these tips and drills, and incorporating feedback from training partners and coaches, will steadily enhance your butterfly guard skills, making it a formidable component of your BJJ game.


The exploration of BJJ and MMA highlights the butterfly guard’s critical importance. This guard, with its offensive and defensive capabilities, is a key technique for fighters at all levels. Its effectiveness in both BJJ and MMA showcases its essential role in grappling arts.

Mastering the butterfly guard is a continuous journey, requiring practice and refinement. Resources like Spartacus are crucial in this pursuit. Spartacus offers more than just combat sports promotion; it provides live TV, pay-per-view events, and educational content that bridges theory and practice. By leveraging Spartacus, enthusiasts and fighters can see the butterfly guard in action, gaining insights into the routines of top fighters. It connects theoretical understanding with practical application in combat.


What is the Butterfly Guard in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)?

The butterfly guard in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a versatile and dynamic guard position where a practitioner sits upright with their feet positioned inside the opponent’s thighs, using their legs to control the opponent’s hips and legs. This position is characterized by the use of hooked feet, often referred to as “butterfly hooks,” which are placed under the opponent’s thighs.

How Does the Butterfly Guard Provide an Advantage in Grappling Scenarios?

The butterfly guard offers several advantages. It allows for effective control of the distance and balance of the opponent. It facilitates a range of sweeps and submissions, enabling the practitioner to off-balance and potentially reverse the position. Additionally, it offers flexibility in transitioning to other guards or stands-ups, making it highly dynamic.

What are the Fundamental Principles of the Butterfly Guard?

The core principles include maintaining an upright posture, effective use of butterfly hooks to control and manipulate the opponent’s legs, active engagement of the hips and upper body for control, and constant adjustment to the opponent’s movements. Effective hand fighting and upper body grips are also crucial.

How do Top BJJ Fighters Utilize the Butterfly Guard in Competitions?

In competitions, top BJJ fighters use the butterfly guard for sweeping opponents, transitioning to more dominant positions, or setting up submissions. They often combine it with other guards, using it as a springboard for complex attacks and defenses, showcasing its adaptability and effectiveness in high-level grappling.

What are Some Effective Techniques and Strategies from the Butterfly Guard Position?

Key techniques include the basic butterfly sweep, where the practitioner elevates the opponent using their legs and hips to roll them over. Other techniques involve transitions to x-guard or single leg x-guard, armbars, guillotines, and transitioning to the back. Strategies often revolve around creating off-balancing opportunities and exploiting openings for sweeps or submissions.

How is the Butterfly Guard Adapted for Use in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)?

In MMA, the butterfly guard is adapted to account for the inclusion of strikes. Practitioners often use it to create space to strike from the bottom, prevent ground-and-pound, or set up sweeps to reverse positions. It is also used to reduce the opponent’s mobility, limiting their striking effectiveness.

What are the Differences Between Using the Butterfly Guard in BJJ and MMA?

The key differences in MMA include the need to be mindful of strikes, leading to a more cautious approach. The butterfly guard in MMA focuses more on defensive aspects like controlling posture to mitigate strikes and finding opportunities to stand up or execute a sweep.

What Kind of Training and Conditioning are Beneficial for Mastering the Butterfly Guard?

Training for the butterfly guard involves drills that enhance hip mobility, leg strength, and core stability. Flexibility exercises and dynamic movement drills are beneficial. Specific sparring sessions focusing on entering and maintaining the butterfly guard, along with resistance training, can greatly aid in mastery.

How Does the Butterfly Guard Contribute to Both Offensive and Defensive Strategies in Combat Sports?

Offensively, the butterfly guard allows for various sweeps, submissions, and transitions to more dominant positions. Defensively, it is effective in controlling an opponent, preventing passes, and creating barriers against strikes or dominant grappling positions.

What are Some Essential Tips and Drills for Improving Skills in the Butterfly Guard?

Essential tips include maintaining an active guard, constantly adjusting to the opponent’s movements, and mastering the timing for sweeps and transitions. Drills could involve repetitive sweeping motions, transition practice to and from the butterfly guard, and specific sparring situations focusing on using the butterfly guard effectively under different scenarios. Regular practice with varying levels of resistance and diverse opponents can significantly enhance proficiency in this guard.

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