Triangles have a way of surprising you. You think you’re going to set up a pass, and all of a sudden you realize your opponent swung his leg over your arm and you are in the middle of a triangle attack. Good habits and recognizing what stage of the attack you are in are the cornerstones of having a good escape plan.
Early stage escapes rely on maintaining posture and eliminating the angles that make a triangle effective. As soon as you realize you are in danger of a triangle, the best thing you can do is posture up. This prevents your opponent from getting his biting leg fully engaged on your neck. They want to have the back of their knee on your neck, so the farther away their knee is, the better off you are. Even if they cross their ankles, a good posture will keep you safe from a lot of bad options.
Your best bet after successfully posturing up is to either swim your free arm inside to get back in the guard, or, if your opponent doesn’t have proper control of your trapped arm, you can simply withdraw it and start setting up a stack pass.
Let’s say your opponent was able to break you down a bit, but they were unable to properly control your trapped arm. They have their legs locked, and all they need is to get your arm across to finish their triangle. Focus on posture and a good defensive position first. Drive your trapped elbow back towards your own waist and place your hand on the inside of your opponents leg, then put your head on top of it and wrap your other hand on top of your trapped hand for additional reinforcement. From this defensive position, you are going to completely destroy the angle your opponent wants.
Step up the leg that is on the trapped arm side and do everything you can to twist that knee to in front of your trapped elbow. This twist will break down the angle your opponent needs to both hold his legs in the right position, as well as prevent them from finishing the submission. Be careful about your weight distribution. Your goal is to get your knee on to your opponents belly or chest. This will help hide your trapped arm as well as give you something to posture up and push against.
As soon as the legs are opened, keep control of your trapped hand and slide your elbow past your opponents hip and back around the leg. You have now escaped, your previously trapped arm is not in danger of armbars and omoplatas, and you can push the leg away to establish side control.
A common mistake is to twist the wrong way, which only solidifies the submission. Remember you are always stepping up the leg that is on the same side as the trapped arm and you are trying to connect your knee to the trapped elbow.
Your opponent has created his angle, and you are in danger of a submission you can’t escape. Despite prior experience with upper belts and instinct, there’s still hope.
This escape is a little tricky to anticipate as an attacker. Most people attack a triangle from and angle that is too head-on to the opponent. If they properly cross the arm over, squeeze the knees, and pull the head down, 95% of the time the tap comes quickly. This doesn’t mean they have the best angle, despite their finish record.
This escape basically assumes this common finishing position and takes advantage of it. Before you do anything else, establish a defensive posture to keep things from getting worse. Ideally, you should place your trapped hand against the inside of the biting leg near the knee. Wrap your other hand on top to help prevent your opponent from attacking armbars and americanas from the triangle. From here, your goal is to relieve pressure. Instead of allowing your arm or shoulder to apply pressure to your neck, you must aggressively try to get your trapped elbow down to the ground next to your opponents hip. This immediately relieves the pressure and destroys any chance your opponent has of creating a better angle.
Once the pressure has been relieved, you can start the rest of your escape. You opponent still has their ankles locked, keeping you trapped. Elevate your outside should as much as possible. You want your shoulder as close to the ankle as you can get it. Also, make sure that you are driving all your weight into your opponent. You’ll be up on your toes with your hips off of the mat, like you are doing a plank.
From this position, pull your opponents knee towards your hips with your hands, and drive your shoulder into their leg. The best case scenario is your opponent feels like they are getting an ankle lock applied to them. One way or another, the pressure will pop their legs apart. Immediately move to straddle the leg and start rotating your body over the leg to get to side control. This can be a little tedious and slow, but pressing your opponents leg to the ground with your body weight will help ensure your pass off of the escape.
Finally, this escape works very well against a mount triangle where your opponent rolls off to the side to finish the submission. This roll works in your favor if you are applying this particular late stage escape.
An interesting aspect of these escapes is the common focus on rotation of your body to eliminate the elements your opponent needs. At the earliest stage, you are rotating your body backwards to keep your posture. If your opponent locks up a little more triangle so that rotating up isn’t an option, you can rotate horizontally, parallel to the floor to break their ideal angle. Late stage rotation is in line with your body, and once again, the rotation eliminates the angles your opponent needs to finish the triangle.
There a lots of other triangle escapes, but these rotational styles are probably the easiest for a fundamentals student, and they cover the major stages of a triangle attack. Especially practice the late stage escape, since it’s the most likely scenario you’ll encounter against upper belts.