BJJ Lessons: Kevin Burns Explains the Triangle Choke

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Lessons is a FanHouse feature in which we ask someone in the MMA world to teach us about one aspect of Brazilian jiu jitsu. Today UFC fighter Kevin Burns tells us about the triangle choke

In the summer of 2008, Kevin Burns was working a day job and doing a little MMA fighting on the side, until he got his big break when the UFC offered him an opportunity to fight Roan Carneiro at UFC 85. Carneiro is a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt, but Burns shocked everyone by submitting him with a triangle choke. In an interview with FanHouse, Burns told me how the triangle choke works and what makes it effective.

Michael David Smith: Why did the triangle choke work for you against Roan Carneiro?
Kevin Burns: The way Carneiro passes guard, he leaves himself pretty open for up kicks. I watched a lot of video of him in the week before our fight, and I noticed that the way he passes guard could play right into my hands because if I could hit him with an up kick, he'd pretty much fall right into position for a triangle. So I tried that a couple times during the fight, and I knew that as the fight wore on, he'd be more susceptible to it as he got more tired. So I stuck to that game plan: If I was on my back I was going for an up kick, and if he fell down I'd go for a triangle.

So in the second round, it worked. I hit him with the up kick, he dropped down, and I got him in the triangle and got it locked down. At that point I just needed to keep landing elbows and that would position his head in the right place to where I could get him to tap. It worked out real well. The triangle is one of my better submissions. I feel like I have a good repertoire off my back, but the triangle I think is particularly good because I have good leg strength, and once I have it locked up nobody's going to get out.

Could you explain what the steps are to applying a triangle choke?
The first thing you need to do is clear one of the arms, so you can secure one arm in and one arm out. Once you've done that, you have to spin perpendicular to your opponent's ear, and then you want to have your hamstring on his carotid artery. Then you kick to the sky and slam your leg down, so that you're latching your hamstring onto the back of his neck. That pretty much guarantees there won't be any space between your leg and his carotid artery on that side. Your other leg can either post off the ground or off his hip, and then slide it up behind his deltoid so you can lock the triangle. And that way you can use your other thigh to push the shoulder into the carotid artery. That way even if your opponent gets his arm around your back, you can still finish the choke. That's something a lot of people miss, getting the thigh to the deltoid.

You've used the triangle choke to win two fights by submission in your career, right?
Yeah, and another time I had the triangle pretty much locked up, but my opponent completely straightened his arm in the triangle, so I switched to an arm bar, and he still didn't tap. So it was a bad day for him.

So did you break his arm?
I did. I actually asked him if he was going to tap, because I really don't like to do that. I'm in this to compete, and I want to get a tap, not hurt my opponent. But I had the triangle, and then I switched to the arm bar and had it totally locked out. I looked at the ref, and then I looked at my opponent, and I was like, "Dude, are you going to tap or am I going to break your arm?" And he gave me this weird look, and then I looked at the ref and I was like, "OK, I guess I'm going to have to snap his arm." And I did. So then he's lying there on his belly and I was like, "Dude, you did not have to go through this." But he thought he could just be like, "I'm never going to tap." And that's just stupid. I'm sure for the next 12 months he woke up every single day thinking, "Why didn't I tap?"

That was in a small show in Iowa in 2006 against Matt Delanoit. Have you talked to him since then?
Yes, and I think that was kind of his wake-up call that he didn't have to have that attitude in the cage. That was a hard way to learn that lesson, I think.

Is part of what makes the triangle effective the ability to transition into an arm bar?
Yes. There's a connection between the two. Sometimes I'll have a guy in an arm bar and he'll pull his arm away and lo and behold, I've got him in a triangle. It's kind of like a 1-2 punch. You can go back and forth between one and the other.

But to be honest, even though most of my wins are by submission, I prefer to stand up. I think that makes me a lot like my next opponent, Chris Lytle: He's really good on the ground but prefers to stand up, too. We both prefer to stand and trade with somebody. That's why I'm looking forward to our stylistic match-up. I think the fans are really going to enjoy our fight on Saturday night.

The second part of my interview with Kevin Burns, which covers more on the start of his UFC career and Saturday night's fight with Chris Lytle on Spike TV, is here

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