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Triangle Maintenance - Dealing With the Hand in the Collar: A BJJ Tutorial

Andrew Smith is a 3rd-degree BJJ black belt based out of Richmond, VA (Revolution BJJ). He runs BJJ Path, a video tutorial website.

Opponent caught in a triangle.

Opponent caught in a triangle.

The "Hand in the Collar" Pass

You've set up a textbook triangle choke, and you're all set to finish the triangle on your (possibly much larger) opponent. Unfortunately, your opponent has other plans. They reach their free hand into your collar, thumb up, not only bearing down considerable weight on your neck but also torquing your hips out of alignment with your shoulders, making it virtually impossible to hold on to the triangle. Even worse, your guard is now child's play to pass!

Here are three ways to deal with this guard pass, all centered on a very simple concept you can internalize right away. This can help you quickly turn the tables on a much bigger, stronger guard passer, or, at the very least, frustrate them to no end. For more technical options to escape the triangle, visit here.

The "Elbow Push"

Here's the first technique at its core, and one you absolutely have to be good at if you're going to prevent this very common guard pass (and you're not insanely flexible). Your partner is going to be reaching their hand into your collar, attempting to bring your knee to your nose. This immediately threatens your hip/shoulder alignment, as mentioned previously, but also can result in your spine being stacked on itself, all while you're being choked!

Trying to attack this at the hand of your opponent is futile, as their leverage is going to be far too great. However, there's a very simple solution to this: push up on their elbow. This will instantly take your opponent's pressure away while compromising their base. Once you've gotten the elbow up, it is easy for you to sit up and scoot away, creating the space you need to fully recover your guard. Remember, this might just create enough space for you to put into practice some of the guard maintenance concepts, but that's all you need to survive here.

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Following Up on the Elbow Push With a Finish or Two

Here's a nice bonus when you do the "elbow push" escape: sometimes, you can actually finish the triangle choke with the same beginning motion, as opposed to simply escaping as your opponent tries to pass. Once you've used a great set up to catch that triangle, one escape your opponent might try is the "hand in the collar" pass, and you're already going to be conditioned to go straight to the "elbow push" defense. Because your opponent's base is so compromised while you're pushing up on the elbow, and if they are unable to open up the triangle this time, you can often force their posture down enough to tighten the triangle sufficiently for the quick tap. Note: if they hold on for long enough, they may also feel a shoulder lock on the arm that is grabbing the collar (although all they have to do to prevent this is to let go, they might not necessarily be aware of this in the moment, so be careful).


The "Hip Lift" Detail

If your opponent reaches behind your head instead of grabbing inside the collar, this makes things much easier for you, as you can immediately attack for the reverse armlock (as shown during the first ten seconds of the video). However, assuming your opponent goes back to the hand in the collar pass, if they have gotten good at nullifying your counters from here, the first thing they're going to do is to bury their elbow into your hip, making it really hard to push their elbow up, as we did in the previous two techniques.

The solution requires just a hair of timing. Lift your hips up high, and as they are about to drop back down, replace them with your hand as the thing that's holding their elbow up. Now you have managed to wedge your hand under the elbow, and you are in business. Because your hips are up already, it is going to be easier for you to grab your shin and make your final adjustment on the triangle choke finish. Remember: the finish is going to be quick once you have the figure four locked with your legs, as your partner has already committed their arm across their neck during the pass.

Last Thoughts

While a bigger person doing the "hand in the collar" triangle escape (and subsequent guard pass) can seem impossible to stop, with a few of the above simple tricks, especially the "elbow push," you can prevent your guard from being passed, eventually finishing a much higher percentage of triangles you go for. You might want to consider some of the overhook triangle setups as well, effectively eliminating the "hand in the collar" before it begins, but sometimes you're not going to have much of a choice in the matter.

Let us know what you think of the tutorial, and if you've had any success with the moves!

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