Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
History of the Tripod Pass in BJJ
I remember using the tripod pass in 2004 when competing as a purple belt at the Pan Ams. Half guard still wasn't very well understood, and this pass, which relies on very simple fundamental concepts, served me incredibly well for a number of years. It's one of the cornerstone methods of passing, and it's great to understand how to mitigate the most common risks associated with the pass. There are also some fairly modern tweaks we can make to the pass to help you stay on top.
Tripod to Mount: The Classic
The epitome of the classic way to do this pass is straight to the mount. Start by dominating half guard by getting the outside underhook, by establishing a strong crossface, and utilizing both technical positions in order to keep your partner completely flat on their back. This takes most of their ability to establish an offensive half guard out of the way (although watch out for butterfly half and the related messes that can arise).
Once here, the next step is essentially to posture up in the air with your hips, while making sure your partner's face turns away from you (hello, shoulder pressure!). Keeping their face turned away, you can begin to shake your knee free if needed and slide right into mount (some of the time; when this doesn't work, we'll have additional techniques to use).
This was my personal favorite half guard pass for years. Start with the same tall tripod, trying to move to the mount position, exactly as before. Unfortunately, this time, your partner keeps your foot trapped in between their legs, keeping you from achieving the mount. Next up, lift your hips again (or keep them up; you can "change gears" while you are still in the air if it makes more sense to use the knee cut option). Finally, slide your knee across, shooting for a classic knee cut guard pass finish. As always, from the knee cut, you also have the backstep passing options if they get the underhook during the transition.
"Yogafoot" and Shoulder Pressure
For a slightly meaner (and, ultimately, more stable) approach, try focusing on the initial shoulder pressure even more, making your partner look the exact wrong way. Next, while posturing only slightly up with your hips, swivel your free foot inside of your partner's knee, right where your leg is trapped. This "yogafoot" motion (swiveling the foot, but not moving the knee) is tremendously useful in BJJ. You can bring your knee in flush with your partner's hip here, so that you'll know when to shoot the foot in there. Now bring your hips up with impunity, and then switch things up for a knee cut pass.
This guard-passing sequence, while a classic, has undergone some significant modifications over the years. When I initially learned it, the classic method was to drive your shoulder under your partner's chin, almost as though you were trying to pop the bottlecap off of a soda or beer bottle. Nowadays it's more common to see the face turned away from the pass, and I think that's a good thing. The pass is still a very, very strong pressure pass, but it's also extremely technical and careful. As always, let me know how these techniques are working for you!
© 2018 Andrew Smith