Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
Triangles From the Back?
Triangle chokes are everywhere! One of the first submissions I remember being any good at—maybe even the first one—was the triangle choke. After watching UFC 4, where Royce Gracie tapped out Dan Severn after 16 minutes of fighting, I was hooked, and had to learn this submission. Fortunately, the submission exists in judo, called "sankaku jime," so I had an opportunity to start learning the move almost immediately.
For the first five or six years, I obsessed over setups from the guard, such as the overhook/wrist control combo that I still love so much all these years later. It wasn't until much, much later—well into purple belt—that I realized you could do a triangle from the back mount. Like, on purpose. I would sort of occasionally clumsily fall into this position, but it turns out that it's a very sneaky, very effective move to hit against a particular style of posture.
Direct Set Up: Triangle From the Back
Here's the most basic set up. This works best when you have an athletic opponent who is trying to base up, or get back to their feet. Any time your opponent puts both hands on the mat when you're on their back, they are going to open up the opportunity for the triangle. Thread your right leg through in between their arms, and allow your body to shift underneath them, grabbing your shin as you slide down to the ground. Be sure to pivot, so that you're facing your opponent, not too far off to the side.
Often times, after you complete the above steps and land in the triangle, no matter how far below your partner you try to land, you'll end up off to the side at an undesired angle. In fact, your partner is primed to execute the knee pin triangle escape. Never fear: to prevent this, use your right knee pointing inwards to shift your partner's head over to your left. This will keep them form pinning your knee to the floor, and your angle will be correct for the finish.
The Hip Bump Sweep
If this technique looks familiar, it's because it's essentially the same move as the hip bump sweep to the triangle. It's really good to practice this one in conjunction with the back triangle set up for just this reason.
Start by sitting up into your opponent, ending up with a head and arm control. When you notice that your partner isn't pushing back into you, but instead seems to be leaning back just a little too far, take advantage of this by bumping into them with your hip. This will give them a choice: either they are swept (and you take the mount position), or they'll post their right arm on the mat. From here, it's important that you don't sit back right away, but instead, hook your left arm around their back so that you stay up off the ground and keep the pressure on their right arm, so they can't safely remove it from the ground without being swept. Now you're all set to land the triangle.
Using the Kimura Grip
The above techniques work well when your opponent posts on the mat, but what about a more advanced partner who knows better than to do a "push up" of sorts while you're on their back from the turtle? No problem.
Start by setting up a classic Kimura to armlock from the back. When you feel that your partner is defending their arm well, and keeping their base really strong and toward the back, this presents you with the opportunity to weave your right leg through, once again going around their neck and setting up the triangle choke.
A Second Look at the Switch From the Belly Down Armlock to the Triangle
Bonus: A Different Kind of Triangle
Here's a solid set up for the crucifix position from the turtle, a great alternative to getting the back mount with hooks in on your opponent. Start by establishing a strong crucifix position, including the Kimura grip (typically set up from one on one control). From there, it's easiest to set up the triangle if your opponent is on their back, so go for a forward roll here. It's possible to set up the crucifix from the takedown as well.
Now push their head out of the way, then step over their face all the way, making sure your knee roughly lines up with their chin (but just underneath the jawline), and lock up the triangle. You can often hit the choke from this angle by pulling the Kimura grip toward you while simultaneously squeezing your knees together. Even if you can't finish the choke from here, there are numerous other options for the finish.
Triangles Are Everywhere!
Triangles really are everywhere—easily one of the most common submissions you're likely to use, all the way from white to black belt and beyond. Some of the different methods you can use to set them up are also outlined in our open guard triangles tutorial. Play with these set ups and figure out which once work for you, and you're likely to start seeing them everywhere!