Artemis BJJ (MYGYM Bristol), Can Sönmez, Bristol, UK - 23/01/2017
There are lots of ways to set up the triangle, which is one of the fundamental submissions in BJJ. The name comes from the 'triangle' shape you form with your legs, capturing their neck and one arm inside that structure. The basic process is:
1. Get their head and one of their arms inside your legs
2. Put your ankle behind your knee to 'lock' the triangle
3. Squeeze your legs into their carotid arteries on either side of their neck.
Of course, there is much more detail to a successful triangle than that, which I'll break down in the rest of this post.
For the first stage (entry), the simplest option is probably to grab both their wrists (or you could try their forearms) with your same side hands. Push their arm into their stomach, while clamping the other to your chest. You can then bring your hips up in order to fling your leg (on the same side as the arm you've pushed back) over their shoulder, locking your feet by the top of their back. Your thigh presses into their neck. The important thing is to clear that hand and arm you've shoved into their stomach, so that you're ready to move into the triangle.
If you can drive your knee into the inside of the arm you want to clear, that can work too: in Gracie Combatives, Rener pushes into their bicep/crook of their elbow with his knee, grabs the wrist, then kicks over to get into position. Alternatively, he also shows how you can circle your leg around the arm to get your leg past. There are many other entries and not just from guard: the triangle is possible from pretty much every other position in BJJ too, whether that's the back, mount or side control.
Once you've got their head and arm trapped between your legs, it's also helpful to move their arm across your body, though not essential. You can still choke them without that arm across, it just tends to be more difficult. Triangle expert Ryan Hall repeatedly states that it isn't necessary, because you're choking them by pressing their shoulder into their neck, not the lower part of their arm (remember, to choke you are pressing into both carotid arteries on either side of the neck. With the triangle, on one side their shoulder blocks the artery, the other is blocked by your leg).
He demonstrates how you can still choke them even if their arm is on the other side. Still, it isn't 'wrong' to bring the arm across, particularly if you are going for a choke where you're square-on, as per the traditional triangle method. The point Hall makes is that you should never prioritise pulling the arm across rather than controlling the head.
That's because controlling the head is absolutely key. Ideally, you want to pull their head into your belly button rather than your chest, to really break down their posture. If they are able to lift their head up, they can regain an upright posture. So, be sure you have some kind of control over their posture before you attempt the triangle. If they are sat fully upright with strong posture, you're going to struggle to get a triangle from there: a different technique would be advisable.
Once you have their posture broken down and their head and arm between your legs, you want to lock that in place. When locking your legs in this second stage (locking), you can sometimes move straight into a locked triangle. If not, especially if you have shorter legs like me, stick with a secure 'diamond' leg formation rather than a sloppy half-locked triangle. From there, pull on your shin to bring your ankle behind your knee, swivelling off at an angle if necessary. Be sure you don't lock over your toes: it must be your ankle. If your leg is locked on your toes, they have a chance to knock your leg off them. More importantly, if you press down while locked over you toes, you're in danger of injuring your ankle.
You might well find you need to adjust to get your legs locked. Opening your guard to do that is easier, which will enable you to push off their hip with your locking leg foot. However, be careful that you don't give them space to escape when you open. You can maintain control by grabbing the leg you have over the back of their head, meaning that you are replacing the control your leg provided with equivalent control from your arm. Ryan Hall doesn't like to unlock his legs at all, but then he has long legs.
You also need to have your neck leg right across the back of their neck, rather than angling down their back. If it is part way down their back, you are no longer pressing into their neck: their body will get in the way of your choke. Similarly, your locking leg does not want to be obstructed by their shoulder. You therefore don't want to see their shoulder once the triangle is locked in: try and get your leg past it, or simply push their trapped shoulder back a little, in order to get your legs more tightly on their carotid arteries. If they have a lot of shoulder inside your legs, that's a chance for them to drive forward and dig out some room to breathe.
Having locked the triangle, you now have two main options for the third stage (finishing). The traditional way to complete the choke is to squeeze your abductors (i.e., the muscles of your inner thighs) into their neck. At this point, you might also want to raise your hips and/or pull down on their head for some extra pressure. Other little details that can help are pulling your toes back to tense your calves, meaning more pressure on their carotid arteries. Angling your locking leg outwards can also help increase that pressure, a nifty tip from Mike Fowler.
The other main option, which again comes from Ryan Hall, is to instead use what he calls the 'stomp and curl' method. The reason for his preference is that he says this uses larger muscle groups than the abductors, which tend to be comparatively weak. First, he attains a perpendicular angle, meaning he is looking at his opponent's ear rather than their face. From there, he can now kick forwards with his neck leg (the stomp) while pulling down with his locking leg (the curl).
Perpendicular angles are good for smaller people too, as it makes it harder for the opponent to stack you (I'll talk more about stacking in a moment) because you aren't straight on. The easiest way to get a perpendicular angle is hooking under their free arm, then grabbing around your own knee. This also has the advantage of clamping you in place: should they try to square back up, you'll stay where you are as they move. There's a second benefit too in that they can no longer use that arm to create a frame by linking their hands, which they could otherwise use to press into your hips and make space.
You can also grab right under their body and link your hands, though it is unlikely you'll be able to get to that extreme position. Hooking under their leg is another option, but normally you won't have the space to do that. However, it is important to remember the leg grabbing option. That is the best way to stop yourself from being slammed when triangling, so should you want to use a triangle in a situation where slamming might take place, it would be very advisable to hook a leg.
You may find you keep getting stacked, particularly if you are square on. However, as Renzo Gracie teaches, even with that style of triangle you can submit a larger opponent. The key is preventing them from driving into you and curling your body. Renzo's method is to brace his arms against his knee and shin, something I was first shown by my old training partner, Howard. Should they continue to drive forward, all they are doing is extending themselves, which makes it easier for you to choke them.
BJ Penn teaches something similar, which he refers to as the 'triangle sprawl out'. This time, instead of straight-arming into your own leg, you're going to wriggle back, then come up on your elbows and finally your hands. From here, keep moving backwards until they are almost lying down in front of you, making sure your triangle lock around their head is still tight. To apply the submission, drive your legs down as your lean your upper body forwards.
Generating that habit of moving backwards to stop yourself being crunched up is a good habit in general for the triangle, whether or not you're going for the Renzo or BJ Penn finishes above. It is less of an issue if you have attained a perpendicular angle, but sometimes you might find you need to shoulder-walk back in order to get the space to create that angle.
Finally, keep in mind that the triangle combines very well with the armbar. You will often find that when somebody is defending an armbar, they focus so much on freeing their arm that they when they yank it free, they forget their other arm is still inside your legs. That's the perfect time to swing your leg to the other side of their head and lock up a triangle. Even better, you can still attack the elbow joint from within the triangle, applying choking pressure while also going for the armlock.
Teaching Notes: I talked a lot about head control, but as ever people still forget. It is natural for people to grab the arm and forget about the head. I tried just saying it over and over again, but next time, I will also have a think about other ways to really emphasise it. The other usual problem people have is swivelling around enough. I will again emphasise about grabbing the shin (and not grabbing the foot to adjust, a safety point), pushing off with the other foot to get the angle. I showed it again to somebody at the open mat on Tuesday, where he understood it straight away. It's of course easier to get the points across one to one, but still, I'd like to think about streamlining the way I teach this, make it as memorable as possible.