I’ve been grappling for a number of years now, and have developed a variety of different submissions into my repertoire. Like many people, I’ve come to have a few submissions that have emerged as my “go-to” moves that I come back to time and time again. One such move is the triangle choke. A great number of my successful submissions have been from the triangle, especially against larger/stronger opponents.
The triangle is a dynamic submission in sport ground grappling, and as much as I love it as a move in a rules-based, competition-oriented martial arts context, it has its limitations, hence my love-hate relationship with it. Every martial arts move has its own purpose, as well as its own benefits when applied in some contexts, as well as some distinct disadvantages when used in other contexts.
I train in and teach the martial arts for the purpose of self-defense. While we do incorporate submission grappling techniques into our curriculum, as you’ll notice in my recently published ground defense book, we do so with the goal of being better able to defend against them so we can get back to our feet and escape in a real self-defense scenario, not to score points. There are a number of factors that make the triangle, as well as other popular submissions like the arm bar, dangerous choices for self-defense, so even though it comes to me so naturally when doing ground grappling training, it is not something I would want to rely on primarily if I were attacked on the street. I want to give the triangle a fair shake though, so I’ll present some of the pros and cons I’ve come across as a move.
The Pros of the Triangle
There are many benefits of the triangle in a competition context:
- Works on larger/stronger opponents. Because the triangle relies on the strongest muscles of the body, the leg muscles, it is one of the easier submissions to use against larger/stronger opponents.
- Can be hard for opponents to see coming. Because the triangle can be applied from a wide variety of positions, you can transition into it quickly and unexpectedly, when you get good at it, catching people off-guard.
- Makes good use of flexibility. The triangle makes my flexibility a big advantage. Being flexible allows me to slip my legs into position and even hold on to it against a resisting opponent more easily as they try to bend me over and stack me (something that will cause many other people to let go).
- Allows for smooth transitions into other moves. Even when I don’t get the triangle choke successfully, I often use the position to transition into others submissions like the arm bar or the omoplata, or a simple sweep. It is a powerful controlling position whether you get the vascular restraint on or not.
The Cons of the Triangle
In a self-defense context, the triangle has many potential disadvantages.
- It keeps you on the ground. The triangle is nearly always applied on the ground, not from a standing position. The ground has many potential dangers in a self-defense context, like environmental hazards (i.e. concrete, broken glass, etc), kicks from multiple attackers, close contact with your attacker which can make you more susceptible to weapon attacks, and more. Applying a triangle can therefore put you in a dangerous position.
- It ties you up. When you apply a triangle on someone, you tie yourself to them with your legs. And while it can be an effective move for taking out one person, you have to essentially untie yourself first before you can deal with other threats that may presents themselves.
- Requires fine motor skill development. The triangle can be quite powerful but only once you’ve learned how to apply it, which can take a long time. And it’s not even enough to know how to do it. You also have to be able to recognize good opportunities and be able to get into the position quickly before the person has a chance to defend against it. These factors make it a fine motor skill, which takes more time to develop in training, to make it more potentially useful in the high stress context of an attack. If you’re in a good position to go into a triangle, you could easily kick your attacker in the head, which is as easier move to pull off with less training.
Even with all the above potential disadvantages to consider in a self-defense context, I try to always remember the following maxim often quoted in Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu: “Never say always. Never say never.” You could find yourself in a self-defense situation in which a triangle could make complete sense. You could be alone with your attacker, on a cushioned surface like grass or a rug, and on the underside position for whatever reason, and your attacker gives you the perfect opening to get into a triangle, allowing you to cut off their blood supply and make them pass out so you can escape. You might also be able to sweep them and get on top to more easily make an exit. If a person doesn’t know how to defend against it, it can be really hard to get out of it. That’s why I try to always keep an open mind in self-defense and martial arts training. Every move can have its place when used sensibly.
What are your thoughts on the triangle as a martial arts move? Please share your thoughts in the comments.