How do you get people down in BJJ? Between Judo throws, wrestling takedowns, Sambo rolls, trips, and guard pulls, it can be difficult to hone in on a style of takedowns that is optimal for you. If you find yourself in such a situation, go for what is proven to work at a high percentage, has a small learning curve, and is very low risk. Go for the ankle pick takedown.
Thoughts on Takedowns for BJJ
Regarding takedowns for BJJ, there is too much chaos going around. To be fair, standing exchanges are much more chaotic in nature, given our instinctive movements tend to take over when we’re in our preferred position – on our feet.
That said, there are two ways to approach takedowns. One is to embrace the chaos and try to apply takedown from other grappling arts exactly as they are taught in said arts.
Another is to try and make sense of the chaos and use techniques originating from other arts but within a context that makes them effective and low-risk in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu setting.
Shooting across several feet of mats with penetration steps, for example, wastes your time in BJJ. In wrestling, it has a purpose due to the nature of the sport and the competitive rules. In BJJ, when your opponent gets close and tries to crouch as low as possible to the ground, a power double won’t do you any good.
It is pretty much the same with any Judo, wrestling, Sambo, or whatever technique you try to adopt. When you’re trying to make sense of the chaos. Look for moves that will work immediately in a BJJ setting and will be effective against as many different opponents as possible.
Once again, I will point your attention to the ankle pick, a slick takedown originally from wrestling that will completely change your stand-up approach… if you let it.
What is an Ankle Pick Takedown?
The ankle pick is a wrestling takedown that literally involves you picking up a person’s ankle from the ground, thus taking away their balance and making them fall.
To be able to first and foremost lift somebody’s leg off the ground against their will, you will need to make sure you have them off-balanced. In the case of the ankle pick, the off-balance is quite easy – make a person bend forward first.
If you try to grab and lift the leg of a person standing up straight, you won’t be able to budge it, and you’ll open yourself up to attacks. Instead, you want to make them bend forward by utilizing either a collar tie or a collar grip, depending on whether you’re No-Gi or with a Gi.
Having your opponent’s head near their knees means you have them “bunched up”, which is one of the main staples of wrestling principles.
From there, you can proceed to grab the ankle, and by ankle, I mean the heel of your opponent’s leg. The goal is to try and have your pinky finger in contact with the mats as you grab them. This is what determines exactly where you’ll grab the opponent’s leg.
Despite what the name suggests, you won’t be able to pick the leg up per se when trying to finish the takedown. Instead, you will be looking to pull the leg in a specific motion as you push with the arm that controls the opponent’s head.
This push-pull motion is what makes this takedown so effective and difficult to defend against. The principle of bunching up is what makes it low risk, as nobody can counter you from such a position. Finally, you can modify it any way you want as long as you understand the mechanics, which means you’ll be able to learn it really well in a relatively short time.
Finishing the Ankle Pick
The mechanics of the ankle pick are all about opposing forces – pushing the head on one end while pulling the far end of the lever (the heel/ankle of the leg) on the other. To pull the mechanics off, though, we need to cover a few finishing details that are crucial to any ankle pick’s success.
The ankle pick works on both legs, and you’ll usually be hunting for the one that is nearer to you once you obtain control of the torso. The easy way to do an ankle pick is to first pull the opponent’s ankle towards yourself, and only when your elbow is close to your ribs should you transition to a lifting trajectory.
This means you’re doing a sort of circle with the pulling arm. Pull towards yourself, then try to place the ankle of your opponent on your hip (or in your pocket, if you will). Paired with the push of the head, this will bring anyone down, given that a bunched-up opponent can’t really jump around on one leg to try and block you.
The ankle pick is also a safe way to enter into other leg takedowns, like the slow single, the single leg, or the double leg. Once you have the ankle, you can run the pipe, climbing your grips towards the opponent’s hips without any need for shooting.
Ankle Pick Setups
Getting to the ankle pick is easy due to the simple fact that you can set it up from a variety of different standing positions and grip configurations.
The simplest setup is to go for a collar tie or collar grip. In every situation, the grip from an ankle pick follows a very precise order – collar control first, leg control second.
Basic Ankle Pick
Once you have a collar tie/grip, you pivot to the side, pulling your opponent in a circular motion as you crouch down to one knee. This will help you to both force them to bend and bring you closer to their forward-stepping leg. Once you have both grips, you execute the finishing mechanics.
Front Headlock Ankle Pick
Another really effective (a personal favorite) setup for an ankle pick is off of a front headlock. Everything is pretty much the same as with the previous setup, and you just start from a front headlock (chin strap grip and control over the opposite side upper arm). From there, you still need to pivot and drop, bunching the opponent up and gaining access to the heel/ankle grip.
Fake Guard Pull to Ankle Pick
Another really cool and useful setup for BJJ is to do a fake guard pull, which you turn into an ankle pick at the very last moment.
It works best in the gi when you’re looking to set up your regular guard pull. You start off with a collar grip and a sleeve grip, which will allow you to pick one of your legs up and place it on the opponent’s hip,
Unlike a guard pull, though, you’re not looking to push on their hip, but rather touch it ever so slightly. This will cause the opponent to react predictably, pulling their hips back to prevent overhead sweeps.
Instead of you going down to your butt, though, you’ll actually pull the leg that you pretended to palace on the hip and do a backward lunge, ending up on your knees. This motion will cause the opponent to bend over (you still have a collar grip) and put you in the perfect position to grab the nearest leg and finish the takedown.
The ankle pick is a really versatile takedown that can not be countered directly. The worst-case scenario is that you abandon it. As such, adding it to your standing game makes sense, given that it works with and without the Gi, can be set up from different positions, and is a high percentage-low risk move that you can learn quickly.
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.