Sep 20

The fundamental laws of the triangle choke

One of the biggest issues beginners face when learning the triangle choke is locking their legs in the proper way.That’s especially true when physical attributes hinder the process like when you have shorter legs. There are ways to work around that issue though, and when you learn how, the fundamental laws of the choke will be revealed.

First of all, some assumptions have to be thrown away:

  • You do not have to properly triangle your legs to finish the choke.
  • And you do not have to pull their trapped arm across your body.

Instead, your focus must always remain on the fact that your intent is to choke someone out, and to accomplish that, the only thing that you must do is cut off blood flow to the brain.

Old School Choking Mechanics

The old school method focused on the position of the arm because of how force was generated with the legs. It was either squeezing the knees tight (adduction) or pulling the head down and elevating with the hip.

Both methods work, and they were chokes, but they required significant amounts of force which easily led to muscle strain.

If you increase the amount of force that can be generated without effort though, the arm position becomes irrelevant.

The Four Stages of a Triangle

An early philosophy that I was exposed to was the four stages of a triangle. It’s a conceptual framework for understanding the triangle both offensively and defensively, and it’s been a part of my thought process ever since white belt.

The Stages:

  • Threaten – The first moment when the legs going over the shoulder, trapping one arm inside and one arm outside.
  • Lock – When the legs are triangled, strengthening the stability of the position and the threat of the choke.
  • Angle – When the ideal angle for the finish has been found.
  • Tap – All hope is lost, and there’s no escape in sight.

There are exceptions to this progression, but overall, it’s solid framework to work with.

The wiggle room lies in the middle two stages. How you configure your legs and the angle you use to finish can be changed without losing the effectiveness of the choke.

What Must Happen

There are many triangle variations but even among them all, there are some things that must happen in order for the choke to work:

  • You must control posture. (Because otherwise your opponent will be able to posture hard and escape easy.)
  • You must control distance. (Because otherwise you will be stacked hard and that will make generating force harder.)
  • You must apply pressure as soon as possible. (Because otherwise you will leave openings for escape setups.)
  • You must effectively block the carotid arteries on both sides of the neck. (Because that’s only way to choke someone out.)

Those laws are simple and irrefutable, but how you accomplish them will depend on your knowledge and imagination.

Jun 21

Technique Brainstorms – Armbar, Triangle and Canto Strangle

Technique Brainstorms - Armbar, Triangle and Canto Strangle

Last week at Randori, we set a drilling challenge for the students. They had to perform at least 100 armbars from closed guard outside of class. It’s a high goal but interesting things happen when you aim high.

That was true in my case.

I joined in on the challenge, and to make it more fun for me, I started playing with variables of the submission. I modified grips, I cycled through variations, and I landed on an interesting possibility. That was the start of the innovation.

The Armbar

As I played with different armbar variations, one of the setups used was a cross sleeve and tricep grip. It was initiated by using hip movement to pass the arm across your belly button to the position where the armbar can be threatened.

There were two issues though.

  1. Once the arm was passed, the arm had to be attacked immediately or a grip had to transfer for posture control. It left a wide probability of escape.
  2. The establishment of the two on one grip was a clear trigger. As soon as you grip, they’ll know that you want the arm and they’ll be able to make it difficult.

With those issues identified, the question became: Is there a way to address them? And an answer occurred.

All that was required was the change of a grip and a movement. The hand that was controlling the tricep switched to the collar (palm down). That gave a lot of control over posture, and the sleeve grip by itself is a weaker call for action. That switch though meant that it was no longer possible to easily control their threatened arm. It had become an even battle, arm against arm.

So the solution was to bring the legs into the fight and make it unfair again. Putting both feet on the hips and pushing as you pull with your hands off balances their body, isolates their arm, and makes it easy to transition into the attack.

The Triangle

For every attack, there is a counter, and understanding the counter opens the door to recounters.

This triangle specifically geared for when someone tried their absolute best to keep their elbow tight to their side. In that case, you exaggerate the pull then release. Their arm will fly back and there will be an opportunity for the triangle.

The Canto Strangle

The canto strangle is an awesome submission. It was only shown to me once, but I’ve wanted it since. For that reason, one of my projects is to figure out a way to make it work for me. This is the current attempt at that goal using the foot on hips to create the required space.

May 03

Interview with Julius Park on inspiring excellence within your gym

Julius Park is the owner of Crazy 88 in Maryland, and he has built an extraordinary program. The proof of that lies in his students. Too many to count have become forces to be reckoned with and among their ranks are several World Champions.

I’ve also personally spent many hours training at his gym, and I have a lot of respect for the focus and vision he brings to Jiu-jitsu instruction. That’s why this interview is focused on gym leadership.

How do you inspire excellence with your gym? This interview approaches that question from a captain’s point of view but philosophy isn’t something that always must come from the top. That’s why this is an important topic. What we tell ourselves and what we tell others matters, and it can affect the culture and the growth of a gym.

When one of your students loses a match, what’s the most important thing that must be communicated to them and what must never be said?

There should be an honest assessment of the match. Sometimes this occurs right after the match and other times when the athlete is in a better state of mind and more receptive. The athlete can only get better with feedback and its up to the coach to provide feedback beyond WIN = GOOD and LOSS = BAD.

I think its very dangerous for coaches to put the locus of control outside of the athlete or allow excuses. Sometimes the excuses are real, like the referee really could have made a bad call. But because you don’t have any control over that, you want your athletes focusing on what they can control, rather than what they can’t.

The one thing you never do and that is NEVER put the opponent on a pedestal. I often hear athletes say stuff like “Oh, he’s been a Blue Belt for a long time” or “He won the World Championship” or even worse “He trains at XYZ”. You should never put the opponent on some sort of fundamentally superior position to your athlete. After all, you’ll eventually have to fight them again and hopefully win!

What ideas and philosophies should be reinforced over and over again to build an environment that inspires excellence within a gym?

World class effort. Give recognition to individuals who are working hard towards their goals.

Actions > Words. Self-explanatory.

Be a person others can depend on and look up to. Character of the student base will play a larger role in the long term development of the school than technique or skill.

Pick a lofty goal and hold people accountable to it. I’ve noticed this a lot recently where schools will purposely choose goals that are easily attainable or not quantifiable. Once this goal has been set, its important to make sure people are all working towards it. For example, if you say you want to have a competitive school, but everyone is only training 2x a week – there is obviously a disconnect between reality and the goal.

What do you consider the best methodologies for drilling and practice?

This is a very broad question so I’m not sure how to answer it.

I would say that the purpose of practice is to make people better. Sometimes, the student needs to work on technique. Other times, strategy. Maybe the students need more conditioning. And sometimes the students even need to work on their mental toughness. A practice emphasizing mental toughness is much different than one focusing on technique. So the best methodology is always changing based on what the student base needs. This requires the instructor to always keep an eye on whats occurring on the mats.

I think there should be emphasis on particular systems and these systems should be developed in the right order. For example, I have a White Belt student right now who is focusing on Worm Guard. It actually works pretty well on the other White Belts who are dumbfounded by this. But as soon as he faces non-White Belts, he gets passed easily because his De La Riva and Spider Guard aren’t there.

There should always be an emphasis on Fundamentals (Fundamentals meaning Fundamentals… not Fundamentals meaning everything that was taught before 1996).

I know that you’ve often recommended that your students read specific books, so what are your five best books for inspiring excellence?

Talent Is Overrated, Outliers (I personally found this boring but other people really like it and its a great introduction to the idea of dedicated practice), Mindset, Turning Pro, and The Inner Game of Tennis

I’d also recommend the first 2 chapters of The First 20 Hours

Have you noticed any specific benefits when your students have read those books and others that you’ve recommended?

The benefit of the books for the people who have read them is that it helps students realize that a lot of the patterns and frustrations that they face are commonplace across different fields. It also helps that put their goals and training into context. For example, if you read Outliers, you should understand that you won’t be UFC champion or a BJJ Black Belt in 4 years if you’re training 2x a week.

From a coaching perspective its good too b/c it allows the coach to identify students who are willing to listen to the coach’s advice.

Is there anything that you would like to add on the topic?

I think that everyone should try to pursue excellence. Of course, not everyone is going to become a world champion but everyone can reach the next level of their own development – whether its becoming more fit, more technical, more perceptive, etc. Its the active pursuit of self-improvement that is the most important. It will keep you motivated even though it will take time and be uncomfortable. Its worth it.

Apr 18

Triangles, triangles oh boy

Earlier today, I taught a seminar at Randori on how to improve your finish rate with triangles, and this post is about what was covered.


The seed of innovation lies in the deep understanding of fundamentals. That’s why we looked at the triangle from a variety of angles in order to create that seed.

It started off with a review of the push pull entry to the triangle because it emphasizes how the hips should be used to attack. I’ve always likened it to how a crocodile treads the water right before it shoots out of the depths, clamps onto its prey, and then drags it down to its demise.

Then we switched gears and went over posturing up to neutralize the effectiveness of the triangle. It was important because posture is the first thing that must be addressed whenever the triangle threatened.  If you’re on top, posturing up is an easy way to kill the threat, and if you’re on bottom, killing posture is an easy way to keep the threat alive. So after going over it from the perspective of the top person, we went over methods of controlling posture once the triangle is threatened.

That format of teaching a counter and then teaching the counter to the counter was the focus of the first portion of the seminar. Also in those recounters, there was a recurring theme in a few of them because the creation of frames against the hip in order to suspend movement occurred more than once.

After that, we concluded with  triangle entries from various positions and the micro adjustments that can make the submission more lethal.

Triangle Elements

(This is something I wrote awhile ago on the topic of triangles to focus my mind on the essentials.)


  • Arm In / Arm Out
    • Whenever the one arm is inside of the legs and one is outside, the triangle is possible.
  • Posture Control
    • Whenever a triangle is initiated, posture must be controlled.
  • Choke Theory
    • The choke works by cutting off one side of the neck with your leg and the other side with your opponent’s shoulder.
  • Angled Leverage
    • Changing the angle of your hips will apply greater force to the opponent’s arm, driving it deeper into their neck.
Common Problems
  • Stacking
    • Opponents will stack you on your head which kills the strength of your hips and reduces your comfort in the position.
  • Hard Posture
    • Opponents will look up and push their hips forward to create separation between their neck and your hip.
  • Enforcing Space
    • Opponents will attempt to brace their trapped arm against their knee or wrap it under your body to enforce space in the triangle.


Apr 17

Objectives for learning the fundamentals of jiu-jitsu

(I wrote this for new students of Jiu-jitsu. The intent was to give them some objectives to focus on in the learning process, and I just decided to share it here as well.)


  • Learn the positional hierarchy of Jiu-jitsu.
  • Start to understand how the individual pieces of Jiu-jitsu connect together.
  • Learn the fundamental movements of the art.
  • Learn how to escape from inferior positions.
  • Learn how to establish dominant position.
  • Start to understand weight distribution and control on top in dominant positions.
  • Learn how to execute, prevent and counter the most common submissions.

Positional Hierarchy

Jiu-jitsu is all about unfairness. We aim to create situations that either maximize our ability or minimize our opponent’s. Everything circles back to that objective, and dominant positions are one of the advantages we can take.

Here a basic overview of the positional hierarchy:

Inferior Neutral Dominant
Bottom of Rear Mount Open Guard Top of Rear Mount
Bottom of Mount Closed Guard Top of Mount
Bottom of Side Control Half Guard Top of Side Control
Bottom of Knee on Belly Top of Knee on Belly

One of the first steps in understanding Jiu-jitsu lies in understanding the positional hierarchy.

Piecing the Puzzle Together

Learning Jiu-jitsu is like learning a new language.

You start by learning a word then another and more after that. Even as your vocabulary grows though, you’ll struggle to communicate until you start to refine your pronunciation, learn the rules of the language, and figure out how words can be strung together to form sentences.

Jiu-jitsu is like that.

You will learn the concepts, movements, and techniques that form the foundation of the art. Each of those pieces will be like a foreign word, and the true value will lie in the relationship between each piece. The connections you make will determine both the speed and altitude of your growth.

So here is a short list of action steps you can take to accomplish this objective:

  • Whenever you learn a new concept, movement or technique, think about how it relates to something you already know and try to make a connection.
  • Take a note when you notice one movement or concept used in a variety of techniques. It will help you to focus attention where it would have the most effect.
  • Drill techniques in sequence. It will teach you to make connections between techniques without conscious thought, and that is the key to mastery.

Fundamental Movement

Learning movement will be one of the greatest challenges you face in our art because many of the movements we use aren’t common outside of Jiu-jitsu. It’s likely that many of the movements will be unfamiliar to you.

Acknowledging that is important because you may struggle at first, but it won’t be because of your level of talent. The cause is more likely to lie in a movement pattern that has to be focused on and improved.

So your first priority will be to master the following movements:

Standard Shrimp Used to create space for defense and offense. Common applications are seen in escapes from side control and mount.
Offside Shrimp Used to initiate inversions from non-ideal situations. The most common application lies in countering over under passes.
Reverse Shrimp Used to close distance and change the point of leverage on bottom. It can be seen in sweeps and reversals.
Shrimp Out Used to create separation. In essence, it’s a combination of a shrimp and a sprawl, and it can be used to escape or reverse.


Upward Bridge Used to create space and off balance opponents.
Shoulder Bridge Used to tilt opponents laterally and off balance them.


Forward Roll Most common usage is seen in rolling back attacks.
Backward Roll Used to generate significant leverage for some sweeps.
Granby Roll Used for guard retention and ground mobility.
Upa Roll Used to generate significant leverage for some escapes.


Shoulder Crawl Used to create separation and decrease an opponent’s control of your body.

Each of these movements is used in a wide variety of techniques, and once you master them, your performance will improve significantly.

Positional Escapes

The ability to escape from bad situations is one of the greatest skills that will contribute to your level of success and confidence in Jiu-jitsu. As your confidence grows, you’ll be able calmly assess a situation and decide on the best course of action. It will also make the experience of training more fun because you can play and really focus on using all the techniques you’ve learned.

Establishing Dominance

In Jiu-jitsu, our goal is to take advantage of how the human body works so that we can increase our probability of success in any fight. In order to accomplish that, we aim to create situations where we can use the full potential of our body while depriving our opponents of that ability.

That’s why the positional hierarchy exists. As we go from inferior positions to dominant positions, we increase our control of the situation and increase our ability to dictate what happens. For that reason, it’s important that you learn how to transition to dominant positions.

Here are a few common transitions:

  • Sweep: Whenever you start from the bottom of a guard position and tilt, flip or move an opponent so that they fall to their back while you come up on top.
  • Takedown: Whenever you and your opponent start on your feet and you throw or trip them so that they fall.
  • Pass: Whenever you’re in the top position of a guard and you’re able to get to side control or mount.
  • Backtake: Whenever you transition from any position to firm control of an opponent’s back.

All those transitions are movements upward in the positional hierarchy, and we’ll cover them. Initially however, you’ll want to focus on the following goals:

  • Sweeping from closed guard, half guard and basic open guard.
  • Throwing or taking someone down on the feet.
  • Passing closed guard, half guard and basic open guard.
  • Taking the back from closed guard and half guard.
  • Transitioning to mount from side control.

Maintaining Dominance

Once you establish dominant position, you’ll want to maintain it, and that’s mainly accomplished in the following ways:

  • You must take away the tools your opponent will need to initiate their escape such as grips and leverage.
  • You must control the weight distribution of your own body to decrease their ability to move or move you.
  • You must learn how to place them in positions that make them mechanically weak so that they are unable to utilize the full potential of their body.
  • You must learn how to transition between dominant positions in order to maintain mobile control.

Understanding Common Submissions

Submissions are the most offensive tools in Jiu-jitsu, and as you improve at them, you’ll improve your ability to end fights.

As you train, it’s also important to keep in mind your safety and the safety of your teammates. We should always tap early, tap often and train safe. So don’t hesitate to tap if you get caught in a submission and always apply submissions with control so that your opponent has time to tap without injury.

With that said, these are the basic submissions you must learn:

  • Armbar
  • Triangle
  • Omoplata
  • Americana
  • Kimura
  • Cross Choke
  • Guillotine
  • Rear Naked Choke
  • Bow and Arrow Choke

Learn and understand the mechanics of each submission in that list and ask yourself the following:

  • Why do they work?
  • What is being accomplished?
  • How can they be performed in different situations?
  • How can they be prevented?

Those are the kinds of questions that you must be able to answer before you progress up through the ranks.

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