The Beginner’s Guide to Triangles in Jiu-Jitsu

Feb 6, 2023Jiu-Jitsu0 comments

The triangle choke is one of the most versatile, effective, and proven submissions in the sport of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ). Both gi and no-gi grapplers have found immense success using the triangle in competition and training. It remains a high percentage submission even at the highest levels of the sport. The triangle choke transitions seamlessly between BJJ and submission grappling styles. It is equally useful in mixed martial arts. Unlike some techniques that favor particular body types, the triangle choke can be applied successfully by athletes of all sizes and shapes. Smaller grapplers, in particular, use the triangle to defeat and submit much larger opponents.

However, many grapplers fail to maximize the triangle choke by limiting themselves to just one variation – the front triangle applied from the guard position. In reality, there are five main variations of the triangle choke in BJJ. Each one serves a particular purpose and has strengths and weaknesses compared to the others. Learning all five triangles, recognizing when to use each, and developing the ability to transition between them against resistance is the key to truly mastering the triangle choke and getting the most out of this incredible submission.

The Five Foundational Triangle Chokes

While there are a number of different triangle choke variations, five foundational triangles form the core of the technique in BJJ:

1. Front Triangle (Omote Sankaku)

This is by far the most common triangle variation seen in BJJ matches and training. It is the triangle that most grapplers think of instinctively when you mention the technique. The front triangle begins from the bottom guard position, or occasionally from dominant top positions like full mount or side control after spinning inverted. The legs lock in a figure four around the opponent’s head and arm, with one leg over the shoulder and the other under the armpit. By squeezing the knees together, pressure is applied to the carotid arteries in the neck. This cuts off blood flow to the brain and elicits a tap.

While all the triangles serve a purpose, the front triangle rightfully earns the title as “king” of the various triangle chokes. No other variation results in as many submission finishes, both in training and competition. The lion’s share of training time should be dedicated to developing an elite front triangle choke.

2. Opposite Side Triangle (Hantai Sankaku)

Also referred to as the “reverse triangle”, this variation catches the opponent’s arm on the same side as your choking leg, which is unconventional. The choking leg wedges behind the opponent’s head while you control their nearside arm. Immense pressure can be applied by leveraging your leg against their head and pulling up on the trapped foot. Though less common than the front triangle, the opposite side triangle is an important complementary technique when the front triangle fails or the opponent’s posture makes finishing difficult.

3. Back Triangle (Ushiro Sankaku)

As the name suggests, the back triangle is applied from a rear position where you sit behind your opponent. The legs lock in a figure four around the head and arm, while the choking arm is controlled and pulled across the neck. Pinching the knees together tightens the choke. One advantage of the back triangle is the leverage created by pulling their wrist in towards your chest, which exposes the neck more effectively. The back triangle pairs well with rear naked chokes and can be a higher percentage finish from the back against an opponent with good rear naked choke defence.

4. Side Triangle (Yoko Sankaku)

The side triangle begins with the legs passing from the side position to lock in the figure four triangle choke. The top arm is controlled with a “kimura” grip at the wrist and elbow. This exposes the neck and helps finish the choke as the legs constrict. Though a bit less common in BJJ, the side triangle choke sees extensive use in judo based grappling styles. It remains an important secondary triangle to compliment the front triangle.

5. Reverse Triangle (Gyaku Sankaku)

As the name implies, the setup for the reverse triangle often involves scissoring one leg over the arm while the other leg reaches over the head. The leg over the head then reaches under the neck to lock in the figure four choke. Though perhaps the statistically lowest percentage triangle variation, the reverse triangle still forces opponents to defend yet another angle of leg attack. It expands the number of threats presented.

Categorizing Triangles for Effective Transitions

An extremely important concept to understand is that these five foundational triangles naturally fall into two distinct categories:

  • Category A: Front Triangle, Back Triangle, Opposite Side Triangle
  • Category B: Side Triangle, Reverse Triangle

The triangles within each category have a close relationship to one another. By shifting your body position around the opponent’s head and shoulders, you can transition smoothly from one triangle to another within the same category. For example, if you attempt a front triangle and the opponent postures up, you can easily switch to the opposite side triangle by adjusting your angle and bringing your leg across behind their head.

However, there is an important limitation – you cannot quickly transition from a Category A triangle to a Category B triangle. The leg positioning simply does not allow it. Understanding these connections and relationships will enable you to link triangle attacks together into powerful combinations that are very difficult for opponents to effectively defend. Integrating the triangles together raises your chances of successfully breaking through their defenses and finishing the submission.

The Two Phases of Executing Triangle Chokes

Another vital concept to understand regarding triangle chokes is that there are almost always two distinct phases to finishing the technique:

Phase 1: The Trap Triangle

Contrary to what some may believe, it is extremely rare for a triangle choke to come on “fully locked in” from the start. Rather, most triangle attempts begin by trapping the opponent’s head and one arm between your legs while the other arm is isolated and controlled. At this stage, the legs are simply crossed at the ankles rather than locked in a figure four. This is called a “trap triangle”. You do not have a choke at this point. However, you control the opponent’s posture and have their head and arm contained.

Phase 2: The Figure Four Triangle

From the trap triangle, you must make a transition to close the legs into a figure four formation. The figure four triangle with the ankle crossing under the knee to get maximum leverage is what actually applies effective choking pressure to the neck. If you cannot manage this transition from the trap triangle to the fully locked figure four triangle, then you will fail to finish the submission.

Learning to control an opponent from the trap triangle and then methodically work to close the legs into a figure four against their resistance is arguably the single most important skill to develop in triangle choking. Those who can do this consistently will find far greater success with the technique.

Principles Underpinning an Effective Triangle System

In addition to categorizing triangles and seeing them in terms of two phases, there are several overarching principles that will allow you to develop an effective triangle choking system:

Employ All Five Triangles (Multiplicity Principle) – While the front triangle accounts for the highest percentage of finishes, limiting yourself to only that one triangle significantly reduces your chances of success. You must diversify your triangle attack by becoming competent with all five.

Control the Two Phases – Mastering the transition from trap triangle to the finishing figure four is essential to a good triangle system.

Eliminate the Shoulder – Removing the shoulder from inside the lock increases choke pressure. Keep just the head and arm trapped.

Categorize into A and B – Know which triangle variations can be transitioned between and used in combinations.

Isolate an Arm (One In, One Out) – Controlling one arm inside the legs and one arm outside opens attacking possibilities. Train yourself to see these “one in, one out” opportunities.

Prioritize the Choke – Strangles should take precedence over switching prematurely to joint locks. Keep attacking the choke as your first option.

Solutions to the Most Common Triangle Choke Problems

While undoubtedly an effective technique, the triangle choke does present some inherent difficulties that can be addressed through proper understanding and training:

Circumference and Length – Short legs do not necessarily prohibit triangle success. Focus on only isolating the head and arm, not the shoulder. Develop quick leg dexterity to close openings.

Posture – Use your core to flatten them out. Pull the head down or shin across the back. Elevate your hips into them.

Stacking and Lifting – Scoop grip the inside thigh to off-balance them. Create an angle off to the side rather than staying square.

Mastering The Triangle Choke

At Apex MMA in Brookvale, we help students master the art of the triangle choke through our systematic curriculum built on the five triangles, two phases concept, and principle-based solutions to common problems. Whatever your body type, consistency with this approach will have you choking opponents from all angles and in all phases of combat. Come experience our technical coaching and give triangle chokes a try in your next class with our free 7-day trial!

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Team Apex MMA Martial Arts Coach
Apex MMA is a specialist mixed martial arts gym focusing on Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Led by an experienced team of instructors, Apex MMA offers comprehensive training programs for students of all ages and skill levels. With Apex MMA's systematic teaching methods, passion for martial arts, and strong community relationships, you will gain the tools to succeed in the gym and beyond.
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