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The triangle is perhaps the most definitive move in Brazilian Jujitsu. (So say the Gracies, anyway). In mixed martial arts, the triangle has earned its spot as one of the most effective submissions in the game.
That being said, I’ve been studying the triangle so I can get really good at it. There are a lot of good resources, and of the ones I’m familiar with, Ryan Hall’s triangle course is by far the most insightful. If you’re in the market, I wouldn’t consider anything else – it’s put together well, the instruction is clean, and the tips are great. A+. Once an assistant instructor started tapping me hard with Ryan’s version of the triangle, I was sold – I’ve escaped a number of triangles, but not these ones. In the video’s Ryan talks about biomechanics of posture, leverage, and other stuff that’ll blow your mind. Of course, if you want a free resource that is also super awesome, you could just consider reading the rest of the post.
Anyway, there are several elements that make a good triangle. Setups, head control, arm control, attack angle, hip placement, etc. You don’t have to everything right to tap someone, but the more elements you master, the higher your finishing percentage will be. If you have learned 2-3 things and apply them really well, you’ll be tapping out a lot of dudes. If you have 4-5 elements mastered, your triangle will be feared.
The Basic Move
The essence the triangle choke is trapping the head and one arm between your legs and then increasing pressure on the neck. Yep, that its it. Everything one does should revolve around that. The entry, the positioning, the finishing touches – it should all enable or amplify compression on the side of the neck after you cage up one arm and the head.
Below is a two-minute videos that goes over the basic move, just in case you need to be brought up to speed.
Setting up the triangle
There are many ways to setup the triangle, all of them revolving around the prime directive – to isolate the head and arm between your legs. Here are some of them.
Setup – Stuffing the arm :
Below, Bas Rutten grabs the wrist and jams it into their chest. Then you can pop up your hips and bite down with your legs into a triangle. This is a decent response to guys who try that elbow-grind guard pass.
Setup – Kicking the face:
Context – a guy is trying to punch in your face and you’re in various stages of the guard. Above, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira gets inside positioning – hands on shoulders/biceps – to block the barrage of punches. He creates space pushing off the hips and then kicks to the face as the attack tries to continue striking. He then drags the arm and pops his hips up to properly cage the head, and finishes. This upkick-to-triangle is how local fighter DaMarquez Johnson won his break-through fight at UFC 107.
Setup – Open guard/Knee weave to triangle:
Instructor Frank Benn opens his guard, and shrimps out his hips to one side. Then, he weaves in his knee under the arm and pushes the arm out with his shin. It’s kind of like pummeling with your legs. Video below.
Setup – Rubber Guard Triangle “The Meat Hook”:
In the this one get the triangle by breaking down the posture and holding it with the rubber guard. Also, you use your hand to hook the shoulder, which helps you “thread the needle” ie: slip your leg under the armpit and up through. The kicker is how your grab your ankle to and slip it underneath to lock the gate. The video below is one of the best I’ve seen – short, sweet, and tons of technical goodness is going on. We’ll elaborate on some of those details later.
Caging the Head AKA Sealing the Circle AKA Locking the Gate
Whatever you choose to call it, this is basically the process of locking up the triangle. After you basically pull guard on your opponents head and arm, you need to get your ankle into the back of your opposite knee. When the the ankle – or shin – gets there, you fold down your outside leg to keep your foot from going anywhere.
Notice how the fighter above is grabbing his shin and pulling it down. Even if you don’t have your legs closed via ankle lock, you can reach up and seal the circle, pull your opponent down into and then get the outside leg up and over to lock the gate.
There are different schools of thought when it comes to pulling the leg horizontally behind your opponent. I really like how Nogueira grabs his ankle from the outside, but sometimes it’s just not going to happen that way. Two tips though – don’t grab your foot (only the shin or the ankle) and grab your leg palm facing down as seen above. This isn’t rubber-guard mission control – heck even Eddie Bravo grabs palm down. Below is Eddie doing the aforementioned meat hook triangle.
The whole point is to have a locked up close guard around the head and arm, not an open guard. One other thing, if you want the triangle choke, lock your legs towards your outside leg (the one that’s not over the opponents neck).
Get those hips up – butt off the floor.
Don’t try to pull an opponent into a crappy triangle. Lift those hips, bite down, seal the circle if you can, and then pull them down. Otherwise, your hips will be can easily be controlled, and even if you’ve locked your ankles, the space where the choking is supposed to be happening is huge. “The noose is loose”. Below to the left, Nogueira is placing his right foot on his opponents hip to lift himself up. Examine how close his hips are to his training partners head. Below to the right, Rich Franklin’s submission coach Jorge Gurgel has popped open his guard and swung his hips high, almost like a jump. You can watch a triangle video here to see the explosive motion to get his hips up.
Bite Down with the Legs / Point the Toes
This is a basic thing – when you get your hips up, point your toes toward your knees, tightening your calf muscles. Above, George McGinnis from York MMA is choking the life out of his training partner, both sets of toes pointed up.
This makes the leg-gate you’ve locked up that much more difficult to break and it allows you to “bite down” with your legs. Once you get your hips up, your opponents will typically try to get posture and spaz out. If you point the toes, you can really clamp down on them like a bulldog, preventing their escape – even if you haven’t sealed the circle/caged the head.
Tightening the noose
As I have mentioned before, the triangle choke is a noose around your opponents neck. Often, you don’t get it tight from the get go – you have to make adjustments to get the noose tight. Above, Erik Paulson is escaping the triangle because the noose is loose. To prevent a guy from escaping – and simultaneously making it very tight – Steven Kesting gives corrections to the 4 most common triangle errors in the video below.
I’d like to recap the above video as well as add a few things.
Bury the shoulder:
If you can see that shoulder, you have a problem. Here, even though Dean Lister has cleared the arm across, his training partner Jimmy still picked him up for a slam. Your legs must be over the shoulder. Maybe you can bury the shoulder as you’re doing the move, but most of the time when you start to get the triangle your opponents will freak out and their shoulder will pushing through. Dean Lister solves the problem of the shoulder next.
Readjusting, getting an angle:
Dean has control of his opponents posture, and can safely open the locked ankles. Then, he plants the foot on the floor and pivots into his opponent. Relocking the gate, his triangle is much tighter. Alternatively, he could also hit an armbar as a backup submission.
Don’t be straight and aligned with your opponent, as Kesting explained above in the video. Maybe you can tap a guy with strong head pulling action, but the 6 o’clock position is much easier to escape, and not as tight. Above, Lister is in the preferable 3 o’clock position, below, Kesting in the 6 o’clock position. (Well, he’s really in the 7 o’clock, but close enough.)
Lock the ankles correctly:
Below, the guy has the lock reversed, and although there are submissions from this position, it’s not the triangle. If you don’t do it right the first time, when you switch the locking orientation it gives escape opportunities. If you just proceed with the move, you’re not going to choke them.
“Windshield wipers” the legs:
You want to have your legs “swished” over to one side, like when you turn on the windshield wipers in your car. Your outside leg is using your pointed up toe’s as a fulcrum to crowbar your outer leg into his neck, in turn pressing his neck into the inside leg – making the choke much tighter.
Pulling the head down:
Don’t be fooled, pulling the head down isn’t the coup de grace of finishing the triangle. Yes, it works. However, if you don’t already have good mechanics going on, the triangle becomes a smother into your crotch, instead of blood choke. Again, if you just have the head pull mechanic working for you a grappler can resist the smell of your sweaty crotch and escape. It’s not choking him unless you are pulling your opponents head over something. And no, your crotch doesn’t count as something. Below is the Undertaker pulling a wrestlers head over his shin – aka the gogo-plata aka the devil’s triangle.
Squeezing the knees together- the Teepee:
Ari Bolden from the submission 101 crew goes over a different finish to the triangle if you just can’t seem to lock the ankle gate.
Also, some people have success by squeezing the noose tighter with their arms and extending their legs like the teepee, hooking the head and their inside knee but keeping their 3 o’clock positioning.
Control Posture/ Get a proper angle:
I know we’ve sort of covered this already, but getting a proper angle is perhaps the most vital tip to tapping someone to the triangle. Not only does it naturally help tighten the noose, but it helps to prevent stacking, slamming, and nerfs strikes to your face. Your success or failure of the choke will based upon posture control and angle. It is the grand mastery key. I used to think that pulling down the head was the key, but now I’ve changed my tune thanks to one of my instructors and Ryan Hall’s videos.
There are three schools of thought to this.
Clear the arm across your body and pull the head down over it – shown above.
Tightly under hook the near side arm and extend your legs. This type of triangle is currently my favorite, because I can create immense amounts of pressure by using my hamstrings and quads – the strongest muscles in my body. Above, a Sambo practitioner shows this method.
Who cares where the arm is? method. Just keep it off your body – as to not allow the opponent control of your hips and possibly escape – and pull down on the head like crazy!
Dealing with the Freak Out / Stack:
In the video below, the Gracies deal with how to keep the triangle when an opponent is freaking out, trying to regain posture and escape. The solution? Shoulder-walking.
My favorite Gracie quote from the movie: “People aren’t machines, people are people.”
There is a ton of information here, I know. There’s even more out there to overwhelm you – but don’t worry. Just pick one or two things and play with them for a few weeks. Don’t worry about doing all the right things all the time. If you have good training partners, they’ll let you develop skill in these areas without crushing and escaping every triangle you throw up. Just work an element until you get to know it like a friend. Then move on to another aspect.
If you do want even more (what? you thought I knew it all? hardly!) check out Ryan Hall’s triangle DVD’s.
The triangle choke: Know it, Love it, Do it.
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