Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
Open Guard Setups
The aim of this tutorial is to show off two completely different approaches to the triangle choke set up. One involves your partner actively putting their arms in a position where you can go in and dig out a solid, high percentage triangle choke. The other approach involves you forcing your opponent to post on the mat, making them make a mistake, so your setup is easy. Both approaches are necessary in order to have a lethal triangle setup game, as both are present at various different times.
Shin on Shin Setup
Here's a very high percentage setup from the spider guard. Start with a very strong bicep control (your foot in the crook of their elbow, at the bicep). This is the key to a very nice sequence you can work from here, depending on how your opponent reacts, including a spider scissor sweep, the Leandro Lo sweep, and a basic hook sweep.
Let's assume that your opponent is privy to the spider scissor sweep options, and is fairly savvy at preventing most of these positions from happening. As a result, he leads with his right knee forward in a "combat base" position. Keeping the strong bicep control, establish a shin on shin position, whereby you can flick your opponent's shin out from underneath them, driving their knee to the ground. See Michelle Nicolini and Keenan Cornelius for very high-level examples of this in tournament action.
As your opponent's weight comes forward and their knee drops, their right arm is also going to drop down. It is your job to make absolutely sure that your opponent's right elbow drops down behind your hip, not in front of it (like, especially not in your crotch). Your right leg can now jump up over their bicep, sealing the triangle set up.
An Advanced Setup From Double Unders
Here's a completely different approach to setting up the triangle: your opponent is now trying to pass your guard with a "both arms under" or "double unders" pass. It is imperative here that you keep your back on the mat, potentially shoulder walking back or sliding (if the mats are smooth enough) while being extremely heavy with your hips. You can grab both sleeves during this transition, ending with both feet on your opponent's hips.
From double sleeve control, you're going to opt for cross-sleeve control, meaning your right hand will eventually control their right sleeve. Now weave your left leg under their arm, all the way across their stomach to the other side of their body. You can grab the pants with your free left hand here, preventing them from rotating. Now you have a really nice shoulder lock attack.
Assuming your opponent is savvy enough not to tap to the shoulder lock, he is likely to start pushing down on your knee in order to pass away from the pressure of the shoulder lock attack. This is exactly the reaction you're prepared for, as you're going to weave your right hand underneath their left elbow, ensuring that their arm will stay out of the triangle you're about to jump.
Now it's just a matter of getting your left leg out from underneath them. Remember: they already put their arm underneath your leg, so all you have to do is unentangle it from their body.
- Note: this requires a basic understanding of guard maintenance and prevention concepts and basic Double Under Stack Pass Defense.
The triangle choke has been a huge part of my game for at least 18 years now since I started training judo (and BJJ shortly after that). I've used triangles to win my most recent competitions, and I used them a whole lot during my white belt days. Having a strong fundamental concept of how to finish the choke itself and maintain the position is more important than having a bunch of fancy setups, but it sure is fun to learn the fancy stuff, too!
If you're more interested in the Kimura, you might want to check out how to pass the guard using the Kimura grip. If you're caught in a triangle and want to know how to get out, this tutorial on how to escape the triangle choke might come in handy. Finally, don't miss our overhook triangle setups tutorial as well. As always, try this stuff out only under the supervision of a qualified Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor. Happy training!
© 2014 Andrew Smith