Distilling Technique Down to Concepts

All triangle choke entries involve one of two mechanics: You either pin the arm close to the body to enter the triangle position, or you extend the arm away from the body so that you can thread your leg out of the gap and over the shoulder.

For the hundreds of possible triangle choke entries, that’s it. You pin the arm, or you stretch it out wide.

Yes, there are mountains of details that will go into any potential entry, but my point is not to oversimplify. Instead, if you can see what every entry has in common, you can start to unite all of the muscle memory and troubleshooting you learned for various positions into one bucket. This way, you aren’t learning 10 different ways to execute a triangle choke, but rather 10 ways to get to the same place.

In my mind, it’s a bit like the “All roads lead to Rome” idea. You might be coming back into town from an unfamiliar place or direction, but at a certain point you reach familiar roads. You can turn off the GPS and either cruise on mental auto-pilot or improvise to troubleshoot new problems as they arise (without having to pull out Google Maps and re-plot your trip).

Unfortunately, we tend to redraw the map from scratch when we learn a new technique when we should be taking the time to review the map we already have and figure out how best to connect the new route to what we know.

Returning to our triangle choke entry example, when you can categorize your techniques into similar batches, you can not only simplify the troubleshooting process (since many challenges will have commonalities, entry to entry), but you can start to see opportunities for attacks. For the wrist-pin triangle entry, if your opponent’s hand is close to their body, you can potentially pin it for a triangle. If the hand is far from the body, perhaps posted on the mat, you can loop in for a triangle choke.

In application, this gets pretty creative. Perhaps you are pinning the wrist from the back with seatbelt control to enter a reverse triangle or maybe you are swooping in for a triangle as your opponent fights your whizzer, posting their hand out wide for base but exposing their neck.

The goal of distilling a technique down to these basic pieces is so that you can be learning a new position, see an ingredient for an attack, and ask yourself, “Could I do this technique here?”

Then, as you experiment with the possibility, you can ask yourself follow up questions like, “When I do this technique in other positions, I angle or move my body like this. Can I do that here?”


“Based on how my opponent defends other entries, what can I do to stop or counter similar reactions with this entry?”

When you do these mental exercises frequently, you will find that you instinctively improvise your way into common ground in ways you might not expect. Spending a significant amount of training time identifying the right stimulus or trigger for a technique trains your body to react automatically. If you have trained for even a little bit of time, you have probably had this feeling already. Your arm just found the neck for the choke or perhaps in the fit of a scramble you latched on to an armbar only to later go, “Oh hey, that was neat!”

To do this on your own, work through the following:

  • Simplify a technique down to its most basic steps. Imagine you are explaining it to a five-year-old. What is the bare minimum of explanation you can muster to explain what is happening?
  • How is your opponent positioned that makes this technique possible?
  • What movement do you have to do to execute the technique?
  • How much variation in the movement or position can you have and the technique still work? In other words, what is the smallest window possible and the largest window possible?
  • What does this technique have in common with other techniques you have learned? Are you using movements like shrimping, bridging, standing in base, or framing (even if in small pieces)?
These mental exercises can turn into powerful insights. You may run into dead ends as you experiment and encounter failures, but that’s okay. The more important part is that you are developing a process for thinking about jiu-jitsu and how techniques actually work. That will pay huge dividends later as you become more and more advanced and need to find solutions to new problems.