Almighty Ankle Pick

When fellow grapplers (who haven’t wrestled) inquire about effective takedowns I always recommended the ankle pick. This is for a number of reasons. When successfully done, it is a low investment move with a high payoff. The move can be initiated and finished without much risk to the initiator. It can be hit from a number of positions including the wrestling tie up without incurring a great number of consequences for improper technique or timing that isn’t ideal. In judo and the gi for BJJ players, it has also been adjusted to take advantage of grips. Let’s explore a number of configurations, set ups, and finishes with today’s wrestlejitsu highlight: 

In wrestling or no-gi, the ankle pick is often initiated from the tie up. Some wrestlers however, like Olympian Li Hak Son, simply fake a tie up to gauge distance to the ankle and instantly go for the pick. He made a career out of this move and hence it has become known as the “Li Pick”. When using the tie up a number of options are available. Both same side and opposite side picks can be done. That is, one may grab their opponents ankle on the same side (left hand grabs opponents right heel =same side pick) or opposite side (left hand grabs opponents left heel = opp. side pick). As with many moves, it appears opposite side picks are more effective (anecdotally at least), as this attacks the opponents weaker and less coordinated side. This is similar to the arm drag discussed in a previous post. We can see both of these options and more exemplified by the modern master of ankle picks: Cael Sanderson.

Same side ankle picks can be set up a number of ways. A juking motion may be initiated in the opposite direction of the ankle to be picked. This causes your opponent to step forward bringing the target heel within reach. Reach is extremely important as every long armed wrestler knows this advantage in relation to the ankle pick. Circling is also an important set up. Circling to the left when you desire to grab your opponents right foot causes them to rotate towards you. However, Cael is careful to point out that it is extremely important to square back up with your opponent just before picking. This closes the distance to your target. He also shows us that controlling your opponents arm (not involved in the tie up) allows you further control and can aid in bringing their body position closer and their ankle even closer for the picking 🙂 The same side pick can also be hit from a snap down with head and arm control if the opponent remains standing (an unlikely occurrence in BJJ).

The opposite side pick is also an extremely successful takedown. Many times opponents pull back the original target leg and the other ankle remains open. Rotating in the opposite direction and pulling back your own leg also lends access to the opposite side pick. To increase effectiveness when reaching through the opposite foot, let go of the tie up to provide the necessary space as you’re going a farther distance to finish the shot.

Foot sweeping and leg blocking can also help facilitate a successful ankle pick. Cael Sanderson does this when he can not maintain a solid tie up due to a resisting opponent. With a simple over hook, the foot can be blocked from the inside in an uchi mata type position. In fact, Gene Mills shows us that an unsuccessful throw can be finished by picking the ankle.

Ankle picks can also be used to set up throw-bys (another move to be analyzed in the future.)

Ankle picks are also successful in the gi. It is of upmost importance to understand the restrictions of the gi. Most often your opponent gets and maintains lapel and wrist control and you get the same grips. The ankle pick can still be done both using the same side and opposite side arms. When picking the same side it is necessary to posture up when completing the takedown to land in a favorable position such as with the knee forward.

Getting to a leg can be challenging when someone is controlling your lapel. Ronaldo “jacare” Souza exemplifies that this problem can be solved by using one’s feet in conjunction with the takedown. For example, when picking the same side ankle an inside trip is used to isolate the leg. When using an opposite side pick an outside trip or back heel is used to isolate the opponent’s target leg. The one advantage of using ankle picks in the gi is that many times you don’t even need the ankle/heel. Simply grabbing a decent hold of material and knee picking often suffices. In opposite picks the “knee pick” serves a dual purpose in allowing you to pass to side control or if one falls short – into an over/under pass.

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