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How to Set Up the Triangle Choke From Side Control: A BJJ Tutorial

Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.


The Triangle From Side Control

On its surface, the triangle choke from the top of side control looks both risky and flashy. However, once you understand the basic mechanics, it can become a regular part of your game. The tricks involve staying on top (unless you want to go to your back), isolating the inside arm, and maintaining a very, very tight control over your weight distribution. The following are some extremely effective setups you can use, depending on what reaction your partner gives you. Your finish percentage will almost certainly go up dramatically after integrating these techniques into your game.

Hip Switch, Arm Pin, Bottom

Hip Switch to Clear the Arm

All of the following triangles involve first isolating the inside arm. Another way to think about this is like having a near-side overhook, completely taking the first arm out of the way. This first method for controlling the inside arm involves a simple hip-switch maneuver: as you switch your base, your right knee can slide underneath your partner's right arm, thus clearing their elbow from inside your hip (and jacking it up onto your hips momentarily). From there, you can lift their shoulder or tricep (I prefer the shoulder for better control), then switch your hips back while maintaining upward pressure on their inside arm. Voila—you have control of the arm now.

If your partner is underhooking with their free left arm, you'll just need to pin the wrist to their stomach. Now switch your hips, encouraging them to want to try to bridge up and get on top of you. When they make the initial effort to bridge, it's helpful to try to push them back flat with your right foot, lifting under their thigh, almost like a butterfly hook from the outside. On the second effort, they'll often overcompensate and jump right into the triangle. You can keep the wrist through the entire transition until you've caught the triangle, ensuring a solid shot at the submission before sacrificing top position.

Shoulder Pressure, Wrist to Stomach, Top Finish

Shoulder Pressure, and Dealing With Double Defensive Frames

Here's a second way to isolate the inside arm: with shoulder pressure. Often times, the hip switch won't work very well, because your partner is doggedly determined to keep their elbow and forearm either firmly planted in your hip, or all the way on the ground. Here, using shoulder pressure by driving your bicep and shoulder into their near carotid artery can be extremely effective. You can actually choke someone completely unconscious by cutting off one carotid 100% (I'll be happy to demo this on you if you're skeptical). The key here is to drop your hips so that your entire base is lined up with their neck, much like a torpedo dropping down underwater before advancing parallel to the ground. Your partner is bound to react as you pull in on the far armpit or shoulderblade by reaching up with their hand, giving you the space you need to "windshield wiper" your left leg underneath their shoulder.

Since we began with double defensive frames, and one is out of the way, the second is much easier to deal with. Simply swim inside with your right hand to your partner's bicep, then slide down to the wrist. You're looking to pin the wrist to their stomach. From there, just put your weight on their wrist as you step over for the triangle. Pay extra attention to make sure the inside arm stays isolated, and try to stay on top for the mounted triangle finish.


The "Arm Pin" Technique

After using the shoulder pressure technique to isolate the inside arm (or the hip switch technique; it doesn't really matter which one you start with), let's look at the "arm pin" variation. This works best when you can't swim your arm inside to the bicep in order to execute the last technique (pinning their wrist to their stomach), but instead, simply push their wrist to the side, almost like you're a first-week white belt going for an Americana (shoulder lock). Now, carefully walk your right foot over while you keep the wrist pinned to the ground, making sure to completely walk past their trapped wrist and arm. This can be extremely frustrating, because there's really nothing your partner can do as you walk right past their last line of defense. If you can scoop the head up, you can finish the mounted triangle, just like in the last technique. If you can't scoop the head, or can't quite close the triangle, the armbar with the arm trapped behind your armpit is very high percentage. Note: this works well even against alternative defensive posture.

"Bad Americana"

The "Bad Americana" Finish

This set up is virtually identical to the last technique, except that at the end, perhaps your partner is really strong, or you're having a hard time controlling their wrist. It's time to call in the reinforcements of your left arm (the one that's underneath their head). Like a first week white belt once again, you're going to pretend to be confused, making what essentially amounts to a backwards Americana grip on their arm, using your left arm to reinforce your right, keeping their wrist pinned to the mat. From here, step over as before, making sure to creep that right foot up extra slowly, securing a very tight triangle from the top.

Final Thoughts

Remember: position before submission applies here just as with any BJJ technique (although there are exceptions to every rule), and what this really means for the triangle setup is being sure you have secured the inside arm, while also maintaining a strong top position, based out and completely balanced, before proceeding with your attack. Once you've isolated the far wrist, you're good to go. Try these out on unsuspecting partners, starting with the white belts at your gym and gradually working your way up the food chain. As always, let me know how these work for you!

© 2015 Andrew Smith