Breaking down and breaking through the triangle (diary entry)





We continued our ground-fighting training for MMA with a look at handling the classic leg-triangle choke from closed guard. The lesson began with a simple warm-up of grappling specific exercises before moving onto a breakdown of this submission hold and the various phases where a fighter is vulnerable.


Breaking Grips/Releasing Hands to Strike:

Much like any submission using the legs from closed guard the attack is usually initiated through climbing the guard up an opponent’s back. As discussed in a previous diary entry, MMA has an even stronger incentive to restrict the top fighter’s arms when holding guard due to the striking permitted. So long as the top fighter has a strong posture and base, striking is a devastatingly effective tactic when in guard. Gravity provides a huge advantage for strikers from the top position and many fights can be ended quickly by just using punches, hammer fists and elbow strikes. Therefore, it was important for my client – who was taking the position of the top fighter – to break any initial grips early and efficiently. We covered tearing back out of a grip and striking along the same attack line in a sawing motion and, alternatively, turning into the grip to release and elbow strike to the head.


Muscle Memory Drill Preamble:

From this point onwards we broke each stage of passing the guard into individual drills to build up muscle memory. As with any series of techniques, the weaknesses are in the transitions, so it was important for me to have the top fighter build up behaviours of keeping a tight offence, protecting himself at all times.


Posture in Guard:

One of the first pieces of advice I was taught about passing guard by Braulio Estima when I began Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 2004 was to stand up. Standing up in guard effectively is key to breaking any control the underneath fighter might have in the fight. If the fighter can get up onto two feet at once, retaining a strong posture with his hips forward, so much the better. We drilled this as a single exercise.


Break Guard:

From here he should push down directly onto the opponent’s knee to break the guard. This should be immediately followed by pinning the pushed down leg with the knee and shin whilst simultaneously blocking the other leg in combat base.


Pass Guard:

From here the fighter replaces his blocking leg with his hand and passes this far side leg over and passes into side control.


Countering stage one leg triangle:

The next part of the lesson was less drill orientated and more technique based. Discounting the set-up with the closed guard, which we had just covered we looked at a worse case situation and what could be called the first real stage of the leg triangle. The opponent has successfully climbed his guard and simultaneously pushed one for fighter’s arms back, pulled the other one forward and put one leg over his neck. The first half of the choke/strangle is now in place. The first thing here is to stop the second half from starting. In order to be successful the trapped arm will need to pushed across, so the fighter needs to keep it on the other side, preferably controlling the opponent’s pushing or would-be pushing arm. Meanwhile, the fighter’s arm on the outside of the opponent’s attacking leg can be used for overhand strikes to a limited degree. The opponent can block or cover his nearest side against these shots and their power will be reduced by the attacking leg obstruction. Therefore, the fighter should look to pass over with the arm whilst ensuring to posture up and to aim his shots (hacking/horizontal elbow strikes and/or hammer fists) on the unprotected far side. Attacking the near side is still important as it distracts the opponent from the fighter posting one foot up, creating a combat base position. Now the fighter can maintain an attack to the far side, pushing the offensive forward, leading to pass over the attacking the leg and take side control.


Countering stage two leg triangle:

This part isn’t as straightforward as many instructors led me to believe in my early submission grappling days. Maybe I was just incompetent, but once that leg triangle was closed it felt like I was stuck in a war of attrition slanted against me. Likewise, I have closed the triangle on opponents and seen others do the same and only really lost it through not tightening it up enough and being worn down.


Key to defending all the closed guard submissions, as described earlier, is to post up and get up when possible. The same applies here and the entire submission can be stopped at this almost final dangerous stage by standing and posturing forward. However, it takes a lot of timing and a good degree of confidence.


MMA also presents us with an option not usually afforded to non-striking grappling fights – the slam! We drilled this under control and then against a heavy bag. It is testament to the use of the dead lift and power cleans in any fighter’s auxiliary strength training.

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