Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.
Dealing with the hidden arm
Anyone who has been triangling folks for a while knows that one common and sometimes frustrating defense is when your opponent hides the arm that's in the triangle behind your back or under your hips. If you've been training for a year or more, you probably also know that the omoplata is a very common answer to this position. However, omoplata isn't the highest percentage finishing position. In fact, nearly 9 times out of 10, you are likely to get the sweep, but not the immediate submission. What follows are some very high percentage options (some much simpler than others) that work extremely well instead of the omoplata.
Grabbing the reverse armbar, then back to the triangle
Simple option 1: digging the trapped arm out
After your partner has hidden their arm underneath your hips, the simplest option in many cases is to lift your hips up, and then scoop the arm out. If they are hiding their right arm (as shown in the video), you can often simply lift your hips high and then use your left arm (brushing against your hips) to pry their arm out. However, your own left hip (or, more accurately, your left butt cheek) gets in the way of sliding your hand through. There simply isn't any space to fish the arm out.
By simply switching the way your legs are triangled, you will notice that your hips switch enough so that your hips and butt move out of the way. Now you can often dig the arm free with the same motion previously attempted, and this time, you are more likely to be successful. Your first attack is the reverse armbar, and there are actually two solid attacks - first, you can try a shoulder lock by clasping your hands together, as shown in the video, or second, you can finish a classic "arm crush" reverse armbar, using your neck as a brace while your hands pull the elbow in.
Often times, your partner will successfully defend the reverse armbar by twisting their wrist inward. Unfortunately for them, however, this allows you to drag their arm across, thus finishing the triangle choke you likely went for in the first place! In this particular video, I jump over Daniel's shoulder to finish the triangle, thus making the choke more effective. For more tricks like this, check out the 8 Alternative Finishes from the Triangle Choke Position.
Reverse armbar, meet reverse triangle
From the same initial defensive posture, where your opponent is hiding their arm behind your waist, you can also hit the reverse triangle. However, it is important to note that simply figure-fouring your legs in the opposite direction doesn't simply make the "reverse triangle" a choke. Instead, you need to make sure that your right leg (in this video) is parallel with the ground. Start by pushing your partner's head down with your right knee. This will force you to get up on your side, completely creating an effective angle for choking. Add a little English to the choke by reaching across to your opponent's trapped tricep for extra torque. Note: the reverse armbar from the previous technique often becomes available during this last step.
A second look at the reverse triangle, and the full sequence
Here's a second look at the reverse triangle, along with the preceding two techniques. I start by lifting my hips high, from the triangle, and attempt to dig the arm out immediately for the reverse armbar. If that works, the match is over. If not, I proceed to switching my legs, looking to dig the arm out from there (remember that your butt gets out of the way with this option, thus often ensuring the success in digging the arm out). Finally, having been unsuccessful with the previous two techniques, it's time to hit the reverse triangle as described previously. Here, you can note that the tricep torque really off balances my partner. When he stabilizes his base and I have the reverse triangle locked in, I simply jump my hips underneath him in order to finish the choke.
Reverse triangle/rear triangle
Here is a revelation I had a few years ago: the reverse triangle and the rear triangle are actually the same technique. In this video, I use a basic double under counter to set up a basic triangle, and my opponent once again hides the arm. After attempting the first two basic options to dig the trapped arm out, I elect to switch my hips for the reverse triangle (in this video you can see the dramatic shift as I turn my hips over). From here, instead of jumping back under my partner for the choke, I elect to build my base up with my hands on the mat, thus coming up on top. Once on top, a simple twist of the hips brings my partner down to the mat. I can now scoot back a hair, then squeeze my knees together to finish the choke. For more details on this move (and others like it), check out Triangles from the Back Mount and Turtle Position.
The right time
Be sure to try this sequence only when your opponent has hidden their trapped arm in the triangle. If the arm isn't hidden in this manner, you're certainly better off simply finishing the triangle choke, or switching to a more basic triangle armbar, shoulder lock, or wristlock. If you are interested in escapes from the traingle that don't leave you as open to counters as this position does, check out our late stage triangle escape tutorial. As always, please let me know what you think about the tutorial by leaving a comment!
About the author
Andrew Smith teaches gi and no-gi seminars across the country. Check out his schedule of upcoming seminars and bio here. If you're interested in booking Andrew for a seminar, email him here.