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What is the Triangle Choke?

June 6, 2024

The triangle choke is one of the signature submissions in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), largely thanks to its versatility. Originating as a judo technique, it’s a figure-four chokehold that involves using your legs to encircle your opponent’s neck and one arm and applying pressure using both legs and the opponent’s own shoulder to constrict the blood flow to their brain. It received its name because of the shape a fighter’s legs make when applying the move. 

While it is most commonly applied from the closed guard, fighters who are able to master this move can apply from virtually any position, which means it is not only great on the mat, but also for real-life self-defense scenarios. It’s an effective and safe way to restrain an attacker. Because it’s such a powerful submission hold, it can force them to tap out or lose consciousness.

This article explains why the triangle choke is a cornerstone of BJJ fighting, the technical nuances that make it a uniquely effective tool, and how it epitomizes the art’s fundamental principle: using an opponent’s strength and momentum against them.

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History of the Triangle Choke

The triangle choke was created in the early 20th century by two judo masters: Tsunetane Oda and Yaichibei Kanemitsu. They were both direct students of the groundbreaking martial artist Jigoro Kano. Oda specialized in submissions and pins, while Kano focused more on judo’s system of takedowns and throws.

Kanemitsu and his apprentice Masaru Hayakawa first registered use of the move in a judo tournament in 1921. He claimed that it was the result of a less refined move practiced by Takenouchi-ryū master Senjuro Kanaya. Some stories say it came to BJJ after Rolls Gracie read about it in a judo book, but there is evidence the Gracie family encountered it in 1935 when Yasuichi Ono performed the triangle Choke while training with Helio Gracie.

The exact origins and evolution of the technique are unknown, but over time, it became an essential part of most BJJ fighters’ arsenals. By extension, it also became very popular in mixed martial arts, especially after Jason Delucia used a triangle to defeat Scott Baker at UFC 2 in 1994. 

Technique of the Triangle Choke

A big reason the triangle choke is so popular is that it can be used in many ways, including from the bottom position, the mount, side mount, and back mount. As fighters are often vying to isolate one arm, it makes sense that the triangle choke is so frequently used. Here’s how it works:

1) Establish wrist control

Gain control of your opponent’s wrists so they can’t secure grips and can correctly position their arms to apply the triangle choke. If you’re in the guard position you will have your back on the ground and your opponent in between your legs.

2) Isolate the arm

Isolate one of your opponent’s arms – you’ll need control of it to apply pressure to their neck using your legs and their shoulder. After you have wrist control, press one of your opponent’s arms into his or her torso while pulling the other arm forward. Shift your hips to one side, creating an angle, take the leg on that side, and place your foot on your opponent’s hip on the opposite side. 

 3) Lock the Triangle

Moving your hips upward as quickly as you can to limit how much time your opponent has to react. Lift your other leg and pass it over the shoulder of the arm that is trapped inside, making sure the back of your knee is tight around the neck. Lock this leg by placing the ankle under the knee of your other leg, which is resting on the opponent’s hip.

6) Choke

Pull down on your opponent’s head to tighten the choke and adjust your legs. Make sure your ankle is securely locked under your knee, and your hips are elevated enough to apply pressure. The foot on the hip can push off to help tighten and adjust the lock. Squeeze your knees together and pull down on your opponent’s head while elevating your hips; this will compress the neck using your thigh and your opponent’s shoulder, restricting airflow.

Mechanics of the Triangle Choke

The triangle choke is such an effective submission not because it causes pain but because it compresses the carotid arteries in the neck, slowing blood flow to the brain. Research suggests that when done properly, it takes about 9.5 seconds to render an opponent unconscious using the triangle choke. 

Like all moves in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the triangle choke requires a fighter to understand the anatomy involved. Restricting someone’s blood flow and air supply can be very dangerous when done incorrectly, so practicing the triangle choke requires careful attention to detail and safety for both you and your training partners. You should only learn and practice this technique under the supervision of a qualified BJJ instructor.

Successfully pulling off the triangle choke requires utilizing leverage and body mechanics, such as the proper angle and alignment of your legs. When you are working to secure the lock, focus on explosive hip movement, and maintaining control and stability during the submission.

Defending the Triangle Choke

Escaping the triangle choke can be tricky because you don’t have much time to react (if your opponent knows what they’re doing). First, elevate your head so your opponent can’t use their full force, and try to keep your arm away from your neck. If they manage to squeeze your arm against the artery, you will quickly lose consciousness. 

If you can get control of your arm, try to reverse or escape the figure-four by breaking your opponent’s legs apart. If your opponent is in a bottom guard position, stand up, and try to walk to the side opposite the captured arm to put stress on their legs. This will weaken the choke, and allow you to muscle your way out of the choke.

Training and Practicing the Triangle Choke

Like all aspects of BJJ, practice makes perfect, and the triangle choke is no exception. We’re going to get into some exercises and drilling you can do to get better at the maneuver and improve your flexibility and strength. Again, when practicing the triangle choke, always do it under the supervision of an experienced BJJ trainer.

Live Drilling

Mimicking competition is the best way to learn. But before you can do full-scale resistance drilling, start with repetition drills that involve setting up the triangle from the guard position (without resistance). This will help you hone the mechanics of shifting your hips, placing your legs correctly, and locking the triangle. Repeating this over and over will help you build the muscle memory you need in a match. 

As you get more comfortable with the mechanics,  you can practice performing the triangle more quickly to work on improving your speed. Once you’re confident in your ability to apply the triangle choke, you can move on to resistance drilling. This is where your partner tries to prevent you from securing the choke, helping you get a feel for what is like to use it in a live setting.  

Eventually, you can take it a step further and try using the technique during actual sparring sessions with your partner. Sparring gives you the chance to try fighting from positions that naturally lead to the triangle, like the closed guard or from a failed sweep. This experience comes in handy when the time comes to use the triangle choke against an opponent who is actively resisting.

Conditioning, Flexibility, and Strength Training

BJJ training isn’t just about practicing the moves. You also need to improve your endurance, mobility, and stability. You can do this through:

  • Weight training to enhance core stability, grip strength, explosive power, and overall muscle endurance. Common exercises include deadlifts, squats, bench presses, farmer’s walks, and pull-ups. 
  • Improving cardiovascular health through aerobic and anaerobic workouts that mimic the dynamic and varying intensity of grappling matches. BJJ practitioners commonly cycle, run, swim, jump rope, or do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to enhance their stamina. 
  • Stability exercises that focus on core strength, joint stability, and proprioception, all of which help to improve your ability to control every movement of your body. Yoga, Pilates, and core stabilization exercises are really effective and can add a lot to your overall training. 

Watch and Analyze 

Study matches and instructional videos featuring high-level practitioners who are known for their triangle chokes. Pay attention to how they set up the choke, handle resistance, and finish the submission. Try to mimic these setups and transitions in your training.

Implementing these drills and exercises into your training routine will help you become more proficient with the triangle choke, making it a dangerous weapon in your BJJ arsenal. Remember, consistent practice and careful refinement of your technique are key to mastering any BJJ move.

Conclusion

The triangle choke is a quintessential element in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but doing it right doesn’t just require physical prowess. You also have to have a deep understanding of human anatomy and the principles of leverage. It requires a blend of flexibility, strength, and tactical acumen, but when done correctly, it’s a formidable offensive tool to bring with you on the mat.