A can opener is a move in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that is used to open the opponents guard. It is generally seen as an unpopular move in sport BJJ because it relies solely on pain and discomfort. For example say you are inside someones guard and they refuse to open it, a can opener is a sure way to get your opponents attention and cause a reaction – which is usually to open the guard and move to relieve the discomfort.
Because of the fact that it can cause cervical discomfort and injury, however, the can opener is often banned in many tournaments and gyms. It’s likely not going to be a go to move for anyone, but if you are planning to use it do your research and ask your gym or tournament organization if it is even allowed.
Why would somebody use the can opener?
There are a few reasons that the can opener might be used in a fight or a grappling match:
- To inflict pain on or injure an opponent (more of a self defence consideration)
- To open an opponents guard
- To get a reaction from the opponent so that they move or expose gaps
While the can opener can be used for these reasons, it is generally considered a last resort and considered by many to be a “dirty move”. There are many other ways to open someones closed guard that are less dangerous, painful and more effective.
Is the can opener legal in competition?
The can opener is not legal in most competitions. In official IBJFF rules, the can opener is not allowed. This is because it can easily cause cervical injury. The below image is a sample from IBJJ rules on banned techniques which can be found here.
How to Do the can opener
Check out some of the below video tutorials on how to do the can opener. Be warned however, using this move in the gym will not make you any friends!
- From inside your opponents closed guard: break any grips that have so your arms are free
- Lean forward, keeping your elbows tight, and grab the back of your opponents head with both hands.
- With both arms, pull your opponents head into your chest.
- To relieve the pressure/pain, your opponent will have to open their guard and move.
Important note: BE CAREFUL when practicing this technique or applying it during rolling. It can be dangerous and cause cervical injury so do it slowly. The first time you try it ask your partner if you can do it slowly and with no resistance. It’s also a good idea to have your partner do it (slowly) to you so that you can feel it on your own body.
How do I counter the can opener?
Now that you know what the can opener is and when it might be used, you might ask: How do I defend against it? Well, there are a few ways to counter. The most common methods include:
- Stuffing the head – getting their head below yours.
- Threaten the arm bar on their exposed arm(s)
- Hip escape – scoot your butt/hips back and out from under your opponent
Here’s a great video from Stephen Kesting at Grapplearts explaining these common counters:
My thoughts on the can opener
While it may have it’s place in self defense jiu jitsu or MMA, I’m not a big fan of this move. To me it’s a last resort and there are so many other effective ways to open your opponents guard that do not involve relying on pain or risking neck injuries.
Having said that, some people – particularly those who are more interested in the self defence aspect of martial arts – will appreciate and use this technique. After all, while it might be dangerous it is effective, nobody can deny that.