Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
Late Stage Triangle Defenses
As a general rule, a loose triangle is far, far easier to deal with than a tight triangle. This may sound obvious, but by far the most common and effective defense of a triangle is prevention: avoiding the initial setup in the first place. The second most effective and common defense is to posture, framing off of your opponent's hips.
Having said that, there are times when your opponent has you well under control initially, before setting up the triangle, and when they finally lock it in, your posture is already under control. For the moves shown below, we're assuming that your posture is already thoroughly compromised.
Overhook/Wrist Control Setup
In this particular triangle set up, you're tightly controlling your opponent's posture. In the video, I'm being punched at by Rudy, and this setup is absolute gold under those situations. However, this works extremely well in a sport BJJ or gym rolling scenario as well. All you really need to do is control your opponent's posture initially, then set up an overhook on one side.
Once you have the overhook, you can take your time to hunt for either wrist control, or to slide your knee in between you and your opponent (at the armpit, as shown). Once there, it's easy enough to take control of the wrist and "jump the triangle"—retract your knee to your chest, jumping over their arm just like skipping rope.
The end result is, of course, a very tight triangle set up, and your opponent's posture is thoroughly under control. This is exactly what makes this move a great opener for the escapes shown here.
The "elbow down" escape is a great go-to as soon as you realize your posture has been compromised. For starters, your opponent will have a much, much easier time choking you if your arm is across your body, thus cutting off your carotid artery with your own shoulder. If your elbow is framed out and down (as shown in the video), you will be considerably harder to choke. Second, your opponent really wants to turn their hips out perpendicular to you, thus tightening the triangle. In pinning his hip with your elbow, you are making this task extremely difficult to accomplish.
As soon as your opponent locks in the triangle, even if they have a figure four with their legs, open your elbow out and bring your chest forward. Be sure to protect your hand (the arm that's inside the triangle), as this is likely to be a secondary attack for your opponent. Slowly walk your shoulders and feet in the direction of your opponent's ankles until they come open. Remember: even if the ankles don't open up, you're still surviving, likely for far longer than you otherwise might!
Deep Triangle Defense: The Knee Pin
Okay, times are really tough right now. You're caught in a super deep triangle, and not only does your opponent have the figure four with their legs, but they've also managed to get your arm across your body so that your own shoulder is completing the choke across your carotid artery! It's looking pretty bleak.
Enter the "knee pin" defense. Start by grabbing their knee with your trapped arm. Once again, don't forget to reinforce the trapped hand with your outside hand, lest your opponent switches to an armlock, shoulder lock, or wristlock from inside the triangle. You have to remember this the entire time you're doing this defense! Once the knee is pinned, you should instantly feel some relief in the blood flowing to your brain. You are no longer being strangled so much.
If you can find the spot in the crook of their knee to put your carotid directly, you're going to be way better off. They will not be able to close this off anywhere near as effectively as if they were flush with their hamstring, as they'd really like to be. Further, you've already killed the ideal perpendicular angle once again.
From here, it's time to put some serious pressure on their crossed ankles (or figure four, if they're somewhat flexible or lanky). In order to do this, you're going to need to pull back on their knee, in towards your chest, while pushing your chest forward. Make absolutely sure that you're walking in the direction of the pressure, keeping your base and preventing the sweep! This combined pressure will often force the person to release the triangle. Even if it doesn't, it should buy you some time.
© 2014 Andrew Smith
Wieslawa Olkowska on November 27, 2015: