The arm triangle is one of the most powerful and potent submissions in jiu-jitsu. It can be approached from all top positions, has a very low risk if unsuccessful, and is equally effective in gi, no-gi, and MMA.
The arm triangle, also called the head and arm choke, is a strangulation where you use your arm and head to apply pressure on both sides of the opponent’s neck. It can be set up from mount, side control, half guard, or even when standing, and is one of the most commonly used chokes.
Chokes remain the best submissions in jiu-jitsu, and the arm triangle is one of the fundamental ones, used effectively at all levels. It can be a game changer for those who enjoy a pressure-heavy top game. Here is a breakdown of how to properly apply a tight arm triangle and get yourself out of one if you’ve been caught.
What Is An Arm Triangle Choke
The arm triangle choke is a blood choke, or more accurately, a strangle, where you use your arm and the opponent’s own shoulder to choke them. The mechanics are similar to those of the regular triangle choke, but instead of the legs, you use your arms.
The strangle works by cutting off the blood supply to the brain by blocking the carotid arteries with your arm on one side and by pressing the opponent’s shoulder into the opposite artery.
The arm triangle is also called the head and arm choke and comes to jiu-jitsu from judo, where it’s called kata gatame. It’s one of the most popular submissions in BJJ, especially in no-gi, where the lapel chokes available in the gi from top positions are absent.
The technique is relatively simple and does not require complex setups, but at the same time, it is super effective and has a high success percentage, making it one of the most used submissions in no-gi and MMA.
In mixed martial arts, a lot less submissions work, and the arm triangle is one of the top 5 most frequently finished because it does not leave you open to strikes like many others.
How To Do An Arm Triangle
The arm triangle can be executed from a few positions, like side control, half guard, or even standing, but the most popular way is to set it up from top mount. Even if you set up the submission from side control, you must move through mount and then to the finishing position.
The arm triangle can be a great way to advance position, and if you secure the head position from half guard, you can use it to transition all the way to back control. But let’s keep it simple and see how to submit people with the arm triangle.
Arm Triangle Setup
The first step in setting up the arm triangle from mount is to secure a good mount. The best type is to be in a low mount where the opponent has fewer options to make space and escape.
You need to have your chest as tight as possible to the opponent’s chest, which is also valid for the arm triangle setup from side control.
The most challenging part is to separate the opponent’s arm from their body. Inexperienced people will do this for you, but most practitioners keep their hands tight, and you must do the work.
You can muscle your way and pry open their arm using your forearm, but this is impossible against stronger guys.
Instead, try to position your shoulder underneath the opponent’s elbow and use your entire body to push the arm up, as shown by the great Roger Gracie in the video below.
Once you have their arm high above the shoulder line, slide your head outside behind their shoulder.
Arm Triangle Finish
There are a few key points in successfully finishing the arm triangle:
Grip- You can use an RNC grip, an S-grip, or my favorite and generally the most popular option- the Gable grip. The palm underneath their head should face the mat because this leaves the least space.
Body Position- Once you have the correct upper body position (head behind their shoulder and hands gripped), you need to transition your legs to the side where your head is for the finish. Getting the tap from mount is possible, but it’s unlikely to happen against most people.
To move to the side, keep your body close and carefully transition your leg across the opponent’s body while being careful not to end up in half guard.
Your hips should be on the mats, and the entire lower body should be in a position like you’ve done a full sprawl. For extra pressure, slightly turn your hips towards the opponent.
Head Position- Keep your forehead on the mat to maximize your squeezing potential and push your head against the opponent’s head and shoulder.
When you squeeze everything together correctly, the opponent will have only two choices- tap or go to sleep.
The arm triangle can be applied with strength, and it does help to have strong arms, but it’s not required if you get the proper body position and grips correct. If you align everything perfectly, the choke will be extremely tight with little effort.
How To Defend The Arm Triangle
Like with other submissions, the defense depends on the stage at which you are applying it, and it’s always best to avoid being stuck in the final position, where it’s usually game over.
One way to prevent the arm triangle is to push against the opponent’s hips, bridge, and turn to the side while they are trying to pry your elbow up.
This can leave you open for back takes, and some grapplers use the threat of the choke in the hope of this reaction so they can take the back, but you are at least out of the immediate danger of getting chokes.
When the opponent already has the grip and their head is behind your shoulder, you can try to put your elbow between your heads if you feel a gap, and the action is possible. If you manage to insert your arm, you can quickly turn towards them and be out of the choke.
The most trusted and effective late-stage defense is grabbing your leg. Get a little momentum in your legs and swing them towards your head.
Grab the underside of the leg with the trapped arm. From there, you can roll forward or backward and even get into a dominant position. Even if you don’t manage to secure it, if you roll to the side, you are effectively out of the strangle.
One of the highest percentage chokes in no-gi jiu-jitsu is the arm triangle. Being relatively simple, safe, and possible to set up from many places, this blood choke is one every BJJ practitioner must know in and out of.
The arm triangle is one of the best tools for players who employ heavy-pressure game, and with enough practice, it has all the potential to become your most dangerous weapon.