If you want to become a master of triangle escapes, you have to understand how to do a triangle choke. Without this understanding, any lessons on escape are devoid of context and are ultimately doomed to fail against a determined opponent. This article will give you a basic understanding of this powerful choke – and thus the tools to defend against it!
My Journey From Triangle Hater to Triangle Believer
I always thought that the triangle choke was not for me. I knew how to do it, but I had fallen prey to the common (and incorrect) notion that people with short legs should focus their efforts on other submission holds. Little did I know that triangles, of all shapes and sizes, would become the staple of my BJJ.
The full story of my triangle journey is something I’ll leave for a different occasion. The point I wanted to make was that 9 years down the road from that initial thought about my “incompetence” to execute triangle chokes, I finally understood the submission!
The triangle choke has now slowly turned into my favorite way of not just finishing, but also torturing people I roll with. Evil I know, but we all have to work through our traumas somehow.
You see, my avoidance of the choke as an attack, meant that I never understood the inner workings behind it. Conversely, my ability to successfully defend a triangle, especially once it was fully locked, was non-existent. As a result, I think I have tapped more to triangle chokes than any other submission in Jiu Jitsu.
The moral of this short (and perhaps sad) story is that understanding how a submission hold works is the first step on your journey to learning how to defend it.
The Anatomy of a Triangle Choke
I like to describe triangle chokes as an indirect choke, on account of the fact that only one of the opponent’s carotid arteries is obstructed directly by a part of your anatomy (your hamstring). The pressure on the other side of the neck is from their own shoulder, which is the one aspect of the triangle that is absolutely key to making it work.
As an attacker, you’ll struggle to finish your triangles if your opponent has space between their own shoulder and their neck. Many an unfinished triangle has this problem to blame.
The angle of a triangle is another make-it-or-break-it aspect of the choke. As the attacker, you generally want to be creating a nearly perpendicular angle to your opponent. If you stay in a straight line with one another, you’ll struggle to finish.
3 Early Triangle Escapes To Bet your Life On
If you’ve read any of my earlier articles regarding defense and/or escapes, you know I am a big fan of escaping very early (i.e. before a submission, position or motion is all done) or very late (at the literal last possible moment before I have to concede).
This article will focus on the early variety – so keep in mind that late options exist, but will be discussed elsewhere. On that note, I qualify as early, those triangle escapes that you set up before the triangle structure locked on. After the legs have been locked in a triangle around your head and arm, choke on or not, you can’t claim to be escaping a triangle choke early!
I like to organize my early triangle escapes around three main checkpoints: posture, framing and pressure release. They work as a ladder, and should be treated in the order presented above.
You’ve heard about posturing up whenever people try to hit a triangle choke. In most cases, violent, quick vertical raises of your upper body in relation to your hips will do the trick to stop someone from locking a triangle. However, you may already know where that leads – armbar, Omoplata, or a sweep.
The reason behind this is simple – you are actually over posturing. Just like with everything else in BJJ, if you overdo a motion, you’ll open up options for your opponent instead of blocking them.
In regard to the triangle, simply focusing on keeping your head higher than your butt. As long as your head is higher than your butt, and you will have the strength to posture up and not only will triangles become harder to get, you’re also shutting down follow-ups at the same time. With this initial posture, you’ll find it easier to raise your head when they launch their triangle.
You can time this when they have a diamond position locked on, or even earlier, when one of your arms ends up in between the legs and triangle danger is looming. It is very annoying and very, very effective
Framing comes second on the ladder of early triangle escapes. It is best used to aid in keeping the posture and allowing you to climb on the third step of the ladder (pressure release). However, you can also use framing to achieve posture if you are somewhat late with it in the first place.
The frame is simple, yet might surprise some of you. The goal is to place the arm that is inside the triangle with the elbow on one of the opponent’s hips, and the wrist on the other, your forearm straight across their pelvis. This frame doesn’t require you to be grabbing their leg or making an angle – it is simply an L-shaped barrier.
Your free arm has the task of reinforcing this frame. The goal is to place a palm-to-palm grip and then hide your free arm’s elbow by pulling it tightly towards you, as if you were looking to set up a turtle position.
This frame will help you keep your head over your butt (posture) easily without opening any more avenues for attack for your opponent, while firmly denying the opponent a triangle choke.
#3 Pressure Release
The final step of the early triangle escapes ladder is making certain that your neck is not under pressure. Keeping the posture will more or less help alleviate pressure from the opponent’s hamstring that is aiming to press directly on your carotid artery.
It is the frame, however, that will allow you to keep your shoulder off of your own neck. In order to fend off any pressure, your aim is to retract your shoulder blades, thus circling your shoulder back and as far away as possible from your neck.
Staying in such a position will discourage anyone from keeping up with triangle attacks, and as they tire they’ll give up on the choke, allowing you to execute the most effortless of triangle escapes imaginable.
Remember, once you posture, frame, and release the pressure, all you need to do is wait.
What NOT To Do When Defending Triangles
How to escape a triangle choke?
Keep your head higher than your hips and posture up. With this initial position, you will have the strength to posture up and not only will triangles become harder to get, you’re also shutting down follow-ups at the same time…
How to get out of a triangle choke ?
Place the arm that is inside the triangle with the elbow on one of the opponent’s hips, and the wrist on the other, your forearm straight across their pelvis. This frame doesn’t require you to be grabbing their leg or making an angle – it is simply an L-shaped barrier.
There are some very common mistakes people make when defending the triangle. Here’s what not to do when you find yourself getting put in a triangle choke!
If you try to stack your opponent as you feel them heading for a triangle, you’ll actually put yourself in a lot more trouble. In driving forward, you’re breaking your own posture, bringing your head down and your butt up! If you might think that if you stack the bottom person, they can’t finish the triangle, you’re gravely mistaken.
A sneaky triangle player will bait you to come further forward until you compromise your balance in addition to your broken posture. They will then tilt you over your head, ending up with a mounted triangle. As they get on top, they’ll wrap up a tight triangle, and now they have gravity on their side. Good luck getting out of that one.
Trying to Pin the Choking Leg
I see this one often as well. A person aware that a triangle is coming will try to put the thigh of the leg that presses directly upon their neck on the ground. This does change the angle for a triangle choke, but it won’t make you safe from one.
One thing this maneuver does is prevent your shoulder from retracting as described above. Moreover, it actually places the bottom person in a position to finish a side triangle choke – a variation that is somewhat more painful than the front triangle choke.
Grabbing Their Leg
This is the worst action to take when you’re looking to do triangle escapes. Grabbing the thigh of the leg that is directly placed on your neck means that you’re leaving the arm that is on the inside of a triangle exposed.
The first thing an opponent can do from there is the transition to an armbar, without ever having to bother closing an actual triangle choke. Moreover, they can go back to the triangle any time they want. Or even do a double triangle-armbar submission.
The Concept of Defensive Awareness
The reason I mentioned the things you shouldn’t do is to introduce the concept of defensive awareness. When you’re looking to do triangle escapes, in particular, you need to be aware of the things I mentioned earlier – the fact that a triangle choke utilizes your shoulder and the angle from which the choke is the strongest.
By denying a person these, you’ll throw them off their game, and make them think why they can’t even get to the triangle position.
Defensive awareness is the ability to detect and mitigate threats before you are in real danger. For example, anytime a bottom person tries to place one of your arms in between the legs, you can expect a triangle to come next. Now that you’re aware of the risk, you can even let them attempt, as long as you have all your early triangle escapes ready to go.
The concept of defensive awareness applies across the board. With any movement you do, you should have an idea where you will end up, and where your opponent will end up. This will spare you the indignity of being caught in quick submission and will annoy those trying to submit you.
Remember to Be on Time!
If there is one thing to remember about early triangle escapes, it is that they need to actually happen early. That means not allowing the person to close the triangle configuration around your neck.
Using this ladder-system of defense (posture, frame, pressure release) will guarantee that you’ll make the bottom person give up on their triangle by making it completely ineffective. Just remember that the first few times you try this, it may fail – probably because you’ll misjudge the timing. Stick with it, and soon you’ll be able to defend against most triangles!
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.