The triangle choke is one of the most common and versatile strangulations in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and one of the most visually recognizable ones. The move originates in judo and has become a hallmark of BJJ and one of the first techniques taught to beginners.
The triangle choke is a strangulation technique in which we use our legs to stop the blood flow to the opponent’s brain. The signature figure four shape of the legs creates a triangle shape between them where the opponent is trapped, giving the name of this submission.
Because the triangle is so powerful and versatile, it’s one of the techniques you will have to master or at least be competent with both offensively and defensively, regardless of your style. This guide will take you step by step through how to execute a front triangle, how to defend one, and the most common variations.
Step 1 – Creating a One-in/One out Scenario
The requirement to perform a triangle choke is to first achieve a one-arm-in, one-arm-out scenario.
We must trap one of our opponents’ arms and his head with our legs. This is usually done by grip control and off-balancing the opponent.
In a gi, this is usually done with a collar and sleeve grip, while in a no-gi, you have to work a bit harder to secure a dominant wrist grip.
From guard, you need to compromise the opponent’s balance to make him post his hand on the mat, where you can grab his wrist and separate the arm.
This arm will be the arm-out of the equation, while you must also take hold of the other arm and keep it close to your body—this is the arm-in.
Step 2 – Shooting up the triangle
After the opponent is out of balance and we have separated the arms, it’s time to shoot up the triangle trap.
This is done by quickly lifting the leg directly to the neck of the partner on the arm-out side.
Pull the other hand you control and lift your leg. At this point, the position looks like a closed guard with one arm inside. This position is sometimes called “triangle trouble.”
Step 3 – Angling Off and Converting to the Figure Four
The angle is crucial for a successful triangle finish. It is the position of the primary leg, which is directly on the neck.
At this point, you must angle off to the side with or without the help of the leg on the shoulder side of the opponent and turn in the direction of the neck leg.
Once you have the right angle and the opponent’s shoulder is outside of your triangle, you can lock in the full figure four by shooting your other leg up and, ideally, putting the ankle of the primary leg behind the knee of the second leg.
Step 4 – Finishing The Triangle
With the correct angle and the opponent’s inside shoulder out of the way, you can apply tremendous pressure.
Bring the heel of the second leg down and your knees together. A good, sustained squeeze should make the opponent tap or enter dreamland.
A good detail to implement is to undercook the leg opposite the arm inside to prevent the opponent from moving around or standing up, which is a primary defense, especially in MMA, where slams are allowed.
Defending The Triangle Choke
Just as important as knowing how to attack with triangles, you must also know how to defend them.
The best option is never to get caught in one and avoid being caught with one arm in. But it’s inevitable that you will find yourself in a bad spot sooner or later, so it’s good to know your options.
Good posture prevents many triangle setups and is the best way to avoid trouble. If you find yourself in the triangle trouble position, immediately posture up and drive your hips forward.
This can separate the legs of the opponent or at least buy you some time.
The best escapes are early on before the opponent locks up tight. The key points are moving around, not letting him have the dominant angle, and keeping your shoulder inside the triangle.
Before he has the right angle, it’s easier to pull up and separate his legs.
If things are already tight, you don’t have many options or much time. The only chance of escaping this late is by freeing both your hands and creating some space around your neck by pushing his knee.
With both hands on his knee, push his strangling leg to the floor to kill the angle.
During this time, your shoulder should already be partially inside the triangle, which will help you exit from behind the primary leg.
Different scenarios elicit different solutions, so here are a few more escapes from triangle chokes in different stages:
Triangle Choke Variations
Aside from the popular front triangle from guard, a few other variations are applicable from different positions. Some are rarer, others more common, but all are a worthy inclusion to the arsenal.
Triangle From Mount
The triangle is a viable option from mount when we already have the dominant positions.
The sequence is longer than the front triangle, but it can surprise the opponent. Once locked, you have to option to apply the pressure from the mounted position like this:
Or use the opportunity to transition into a front triangle:
Rear triangles are a great option from the back and have recently become very popular.
When attacking with this type of triangle, the crucial element is to have your opponent’s arm extended over his head and his elbow on your chest.
What Is The Triangle Choke
The triangle choke in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is one of the most popular, effective, and versatile strangulations you can do.
The main element in all triangle variations is that we use our legs in a triangular figure-four shape around the head and one arm of the opponent.
This lock cuts off the blood flow from the carotid arteries to the brain, causing loss of consciousness if the opponent does not submit. This is why triangles fall into the category of blood chokes.
The triangle is so popular in all its variations because it’s incredibly versatile and can be applied in many scenarios.
It’s equally applicable and effective in gi and no-gi. It’s just as good in real fights and MMA, where a punching arm is easily separated for the one-arm-in, one-arm-out setup needed for a triangle choke.
Another general point making triangles so popular is that chokes are often better than joint locks because some people are much more flexible and can withstand enormous pressure on their joints.
Additionally, some are willing to sacrifice a joint and not tap. Still, no amount of courage or willpower can save them from going to sleep once the blood flow to the brain stops.
The triangle choke requires some dexterity in the legs and hips.
It can be challenging to lock against someone much bigger, but while the length of your legs is important, much more so are the positions you set up and finish the triangle.
Furthermore, the different shoulder and neck builds of opponents will always require adjustments.
So while the triangle is a seemingly straightforward submission, it requires years of diligent practice to master and finish consistently.
Here is how to do the most popular variation of the triangle choke, called the front triangle, in detail.
Frequently Asked Triangle Choke Questions
How Does A Triangle Choke Work?
The triangle is a blood choke that stops the blood flow to the brain by placing pressure on the neck by the attackers’ legs locked in a figure four position.
On one side, the pressure is placed directly on the neck, while on the side, the leg squeezes the shoulder to the neck. Blook chokes can cause loss of consciousness in 5 to 12 seconds if applied tight enough.
Does A Triangle Choke Hurt?
Triangle chokes hurt, but this is not their main purpose. When applied properly, the triangle creates a feeling of pressure more than it does cause pain.
Who Invented The Triangle Choke?
Many of the moves found in Brazilian jiu-jitsu have been around for much longer and come from other martial arts, usually judo. The case with the triangle is the same.
The creation of this submission is credited to 20th-century Judo masters Tsunetane Oda and Kanemitsu Yachibei Hyoe. Still, the origin lies in older traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu.
The choke was transferred to BJJ by Rolls Gracie, who probably found the move in an old judo book and started implementing it as a main closed-guard attack in addition to the armbar.
The triangle has since become a hugely popular move in BJJ and MMA, where Royce Gracie used it to submit Dan Severn in UFC 4.
Like almost all BJJ submissions, with the triangle, every little detail matters. The possible setups and ways to finish triangles allow for different interpretations by different grapplers with endless opportunities.
It is also a clean and precise submission, the likes of which are responsible for the moniker of BJJ as the “gentle art.”
This guide cannot encompass every single detail, but it is enough to take your triangle knowledge pretty far. You can learn from the experts and develop your unique approach from there. True mastery of the triangle requires years of practice, but you will get there with attention to detail and diligent work.