Ten Tips to Help You with Your Triangle

Very often I hear fighters complain that “the triangle is not for them”. Those are usually the individuals that only attempt the move during live practice, and never once drill the submission on their own. The success rate of every Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique relies on how often you drill it! This is especially true of the triangle. The amount of success you will have with it directly correlates to how much preparation you put in. I personally drill the triangle choke on a daily basis, and have been doing so for at least fifteen years! Make it a point to drill it often, and always under realistic conditions (you fight as you train).

Technique alone is not a panacea and you should not limit your training focus to improving it. Working on technique is always important, but so is improving your physical skills. Think about it, which one would you rather have: a technical triangle or a technical triangle backed up by immense power? Traditional martial artists often repudiate physical attributes and frown upon those that train and utilize them – avoid that type of attitude! Lift hard and work diligently on increasing your speed and power. Heavy squats, Olympic lifts and extensive core work will help you tremendously with your triangle and make you a more complete combat athlete.

While it is not necessary to be able to do the splits in order to be proficient with the triangle, flexibility not only eases the execution of the technique but it also expands its applications. The type of flexibility needed for the triangle choke is usually called “active flexibility”. The range of motion most commonly challenged is the same one you will find when trying to bring one foot to the opposite shoulder. If you can do that unassisted, you are as flexible as you will ever have to be to execute the triangle. If not, then work on it! Stretching should become part of your training regimen, together with lifting and cardiovascular work. The bottom line is that if you are not flexible you will have a hard time applying the triangle, especially on heavier/larger opponents.

The triangle is a choking technique in which your opponent’s head and one arm are trapped inside your legs. It takes its name from the inverted triangular shape formed by the legs of the attacker. The key to the choke relies on placing your opponent’s head between three “bars”: the inside of your thigh against one side of his neck, his inside arm on the other side and your calf on the back of his neck. We should always strive to obtain these three pressure points while building our ‘vise’ – anything short of that is undesirable. The triangle is not a neck crank! It is common for fighters to focus solely on pulling down on the head, when they actually should be attempting to make the triangle tighter instead. Drill the technique with a partner, and adjust it until you can finish the choke without having to utilize your hands.

To attempt a triangle without a set-up is like trying to skip the main course of a meal to go straight to the dessert – things just don’t work that way. An experienced grappler will immediately recognize a triangle attempt unless it is camouflaged by a well-executed set-up. Set-ups can be based on anticipation and preemption, disruption and counter-reaction, or diversion and misdirection (“sleight of submission”). As with everything worth having in your arsenal, you will have to drill your set-ups extensively until you can perform them in your sleep. Good Jiu-Jitsu is all about the execution of proper, clean technique. Great Jiu-Jitsu, however, is definitely found in the small details, and is all about the set-ups.

It is easy to think of the triangle in terms of a situation where one arm is inside the guard and the other one is outside. Most grapplers usually try to accomplish this by forcing one arm out of the guard. Instead, I prefer to focus on controlling the inside arm and moving it away from my opponent’s body, before closing the distance and forcing a closed guard-like situation. The more separation created between his inside elbow and torso, the better control I have. Once the inside arm is properly controlled you can take your time and close the distance on your own terms, easily guiding the outside arm to its intended position. Control of the inside arm also allows you to avoid “weak” triangles, where your opponent’s arm is not crossed in front of his neck.

As in every other technique in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it is important to disrupt the opponent’s posture before attempting to finish the triangle. If you execute the choke and allow your opponent to keep his back straight in a near vertical position, with his shoulders broad, chances are you won’t be able to finish it. It is important to understand that allowing your opponent to maintain good posture exponentially increases his escape ratio. Instead, your top leg should act as a sledgehammer, the calf striking down at the back of your opponent’s neck and forcing him downwards. Your goal should be to have his back as close to parallel to the mat as possible. This action also facilitates the creation of an angle and makes the triangle tighter.

A triangle executed in line with your opponent is a recipe for neck injuries, especially when facing heavier fighters that like to pressure you while driving their weight forward. Maintaining such alignment also makes it much easier for the top fighter to lift and execute a slam in mixed martial arts. While applying the triangle choke always move your body to the side, trying to get to a position perpendicular to your opponent while maintaining your back flat on the mat. It is always easier to use the aforementioned “sledgehammer” movement of your top leg to facilitate this action. Cutting the angle also allows you to better transition into armbars, and to control the other grappler’s legs (be it to reverse him or to prevent a slam).

The inclusion of the inside shoulder in the triangle choke is a dangerous and often overlooked mistake. The triangle is a type of head-and-arm choke, and just like in a good date with your girlfriend three is a crowd – the shoulder has no business being in there. The top leg should be running close to perpendicular to your opponent’s back, so that your knee and ankle are equidistant from your head. If your ankle is much further away, that means that you’re including too much shoulder in the lock and will therefore have a hard time closing it. This classic mistake is the number one reason behind grapplers claiming that “their legs are too short” or that they are not flexible enough to close the triangle. By not including the shoulder you will also be able to apply the triangle in much larger opponents.

The triangle choke is not only a great submission, but also an excellent platform for other attacks. If you have your opponent inside your triangle, keep your eyes open for other submission opportunities! A lot of grapplers get “tunnel vision” and fail to see great attacks that could branch off of a triangle, like armbars, inverted armbars, omoplatas, etc. The triangle can also be used as a way of reversing your opponent and obtaining the top position. In mixed martial arts competition, the triangle allows for the effective use of elbows and hooks to punish the opponent and force him to submit.

The triangle in my opinion epitomizes the essence of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. No other technique allows you to better see the practical application of leverage, enabling a weaker person to control and subjugate a stronger foe. The triangle is my favorite technique and should be a cornerstone of everybody’s grappling arsenal. I wish you the best of luck in developing this choke.

As I like to say to my students, closed guard is nothing but a failed triangle!

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