Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
How to finish the triangle choke is probably one of the first things you learn in jiu-jitsu, but there are constantly ways to tweak and improve your finish rate. It's easy to get the tap when you're working with a non-resisting opponent who wants you to get the tap, but when you're rolling (especially in competition), this can be far more difficult to accomplish due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is that your opponent is trying not to tap while you're using an awful lot of energy to get the submission. What follows are some very simple tweaks to finish the triangle that you can start using right away, save energy, and get the tap much more quickly from the choke via triangle.
Hips Up, Arm Over
The first finish detail many students will learn is "hips up, arm over." This movement makes intuitive sense once you understand the objective of the triangle choke: to cut off the flow of blood from the heart to the brain via the carotid arteries in the front of the neck. Both sides are cut off in an ideal situation, and the left side (as you're looking at your partner, and as shown in the videos) is cut off by your partner's own shoulder as it comes across their neck.
While in some instances you can easily finish the triangle without moving the arm across (as shown in the closed guard overhook triangles tutorial), sometimes it's necessary to move the arm across to amplify the choke. Simple as it may seem, there are two things that you can do to improve the tightness of this move (and prevent escape).
First, be certain that your knees are squeezing together as you lift your hips up to make the adjustment. Your partner will be far less likely to be able to rip free via posture. Second, as soon as your partner's posture is compromised, be sure to grab the back of their head immediately. If you skip this step and try to go straight to your own shin, you may be in for a rude surprise.
Exposing the Carotid
I love this next detail. Ever close a super tight triangle, only to have your partner sort of relax and stare at you while not tapping? This may well seal the deal for you. From the head control described previously, try tilting your partner's head to your left. The idea here is to open up your partner's neck so that their carotid is exposed to the back of your leg. As you flex your right leg to create the all-important two legs of the triangle, the back of your leg will create a rigid cord (kind of similar to a lapel) that will cut into your partner's now exposed neck to completely cut off the flow of blood. Pivoting out your hip so that your heel leads the way (as shown in the video) is the ideal way to make sure your hamstring bites into the neck.
Tightening the Top Leg (Toe Direction)
Here's another crucial (and much missed) detail: your top leg needs to be facing the front, heel leading the way. If your top leg isn't turned outward like this, once again, your hamstring isn't going to be engaged. You can correct this common mistake by turning your top (right) toes toward the back of the room (if you and your partner's heads represent the front). It is incredible how much of a difference this one adjustment will make, especially if you've already worked through all of the usual basic triangle tips.
Combining the above tips will certainly improve your triangle choke finish percentage, but there are more details to come. Again, learning the triangle in the beginning is simple enough, conceptually. You sort of squeeze your knees together to choke your partner, easy-peasy. However, as you struggle along in your jiu-jitsu journey with progressively tougher opponents, your finishing efficiency and efficacy need to improve dramatically. These tips will help a great deal. As always, let me know if these work out for you! If you're looking for more finish details, check out fine-tuning your triangle finish here.