In jiu-jitsu, we can choose to attack head-on or cut angles around our opponent’s defenses, attacking the flanks. When our direct attacks aren’t working, the correct answer is usually not doing them faster or with more aggression. We have to be aware of and respect our opponent’s grips and position when they prevent our attacks from working, and find a follow-up that forces them to defend in a different way. A lot of the time, this new defensive structure creates an opening for your original attack. This is called creating dilemmas in BJJ.

Dilemma: a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally undesirable ones.

Oxford Dictionary

Creating Dilemmas Makes You Unpredictable and Improves Your Overall Game

In BJJ, the ability to create dilemmas for your opponent is a valuable skill that can elevate your game to new heights. Once we have a large variety of attacks in our arsenal that we can link together, we can begin figuring out how to transition between them, and this makes our opponent’s job of defending nearly impossible. By mastering these sorts of transitions you will become much harder to predict, and this will keep your opponents on their toes – constantly questioning your next move.

Once you learn how to link together a variety of attacks in a way your opponent is unfamiliar with, their ability to anticipate and move into the appropriate defensive position or counter will be much more difficult. Developing this skill will also help to build your timing and anticipation. You will begin to see the right time to bail on your current attack, and better anticipate a higher percentage move to transition to based on your opponent’s position. Lastly, your movement will become more fluid, and by following the path of least resistance and choosing the right move at the right time, you will waste a lot less energy during your rolls.

In conclusion, respecting our opponent’s grips and position is paramount. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their defensive structure allows us to identify the vulnerabilities and exploit them. This is where the concept of creating dilemmas comes into play. To create dilemmas for your opponent, you need to develop a diverse arsenal of attacks that can be seamlessly linked together. The key is to transition fluidly between different attacks, forcing your opponent to constantly adjust their defense. By keeping them off-balance and unable to anticipate your next move, you greatly increase your chances of success.

Read on to learn some ways you can begin creating dilemmas in BJJ…

I Don’t Know Enough Jiu-Jitsu to Create Dilemmas

So you understand (and maybe have experienced) dilemmas in BJJ and want to add them to your game, but feel like you don’t know enough counters and follow-ups to create any effective dilemmas. This is a normal, and it’s a good that you’re thinking about it now. Creating difficult dilemmas for your opponent is an advanced skill that takes years to master, but it’s never too early to consider adding it as part of your game – even as a new white belt.

How to Begin Creating Dilemmas in BJJ

One effective strategy is to establish a strong positional control and then launch attacks from multiple angles. For example, if you have successfully secured the mount position, one classic dilemma here is to attack the armbar and the choke at the same time (either the cross collar choke in the gi or the no-gi Ezekiel). Defending the choke usually causes them to begin exposing their arms, and then if they bring their arms back down, you can re-attack the neck. You can also create a similar dilemma once you’ve secured or while you’re securing the back take. Obviously, the go-to submission from the back is the rear-naked choke, or collar chokes in the gi, but often times, your opponent will bring their arms up high to keep their neck safe. Or perhaps you’ve only secured one hook from the back, and they have their arm up high to block the second hook. You can continue your chain of attacks by attacking the armbar when this happens. Often times, they will bring their arms down in response, and this will create a moment of opportunity to re-attack the neck. The more submissions and/or positional threats we can link together with follow-ups, the more effective and efficient our jiu-jitsu will become.

As mentioned, this is an advanced skill, so if you’re armbar or choke from mount isn’t very strong, you will struggle to make your opponent to put up real defenses to your threat. Don’t be too hesitant to begin threatening the armbar if you don’t feel you can really finish it. You don’t need to have a strong armbar finish, you just need to make the entry feel strong enough to generate a reaction. You’ll find that your training partners will still react as if the threat is real, but eventually they will call your bluff once they learn the limits of your armbar. In time and with practice, you will develop stronger threats but learning to transition well between threats (even weak ones) will help grow your jiu-jitsu. I’d rather have the perfect transition between an okay armbar and cross-choke than just have a great armbar or a great cross-choke, because the proper defenses to those will nullify them. But if I can keep switching between them perfectly, I will be able to find the timing that creates the perfect submission.

On the defensive side of things, let’s say you’re stuck in bottom half-guard, with tight head and arm control. It’s not a great position to be, but even from here we can begin creating dilemmas with our opponent’s balance in order to either sweep or at least recover to a more offensive position. If my opponent has a tight underhook, then we can trap that arm and use a John Wayne or lever sweep towards that side, since we can block their base on that side. This can result in one of three things:

  1. They let go of the cross-face and underhook to preserve their base, which frees you from that control, letting you get your frames back
  2. They keep the cross-face and underhook and shift their hips in order to regain balance, which gives you room to insert a knee-shield or butterfly hook
  3. They hold on, do nothing, and get swept into bottom half guard.

Obviously, there are other possibilities here and if we shoot a poorly timed or highly telegraphed lever sweep, then it’s possible that our opponent can read that and use it against us to start a pass. We have to know the right move for the right time, but dilemmas can come into play from the bottom as well as the top position, defensively or offensively. Generally, however, it will be more effective to find dilemmas in offensive positions, since we can better restrict our opponent’s movement as well as lessen the number of potential counters our opponent can choose from.

Using Misdirection to Create Dilemmas in BJJ

Another approach that requires less technical knowledge is to create dilemmas via the use of feints and misdirection. By presenting a threat in one direction, you can prompt your opponent to react and expose openings elsewhere. For example, one effective approach to passing the guard is to utilize feints in different directions. By feinting, we create a false threat in one direction, causing our opponent to react and expose openings elsewhere. By presenting a convincing feint, such as a sudden movement or a change in body position, we provoke a defensive response from our opponent, which momentarily distracts them and creates an opportunity to pass their guard. This keeps our opponent guessing, forcing them to defend multiple angles simultaneously and increasing the likelihood of successfully advancing our position. By incorporating feints and misdirection into our guard passing game, we can add an element of unpredictability and deception that can give us the upper hand in breaking through our opponent’s defense. Similar to the armbar and choke example, we can go left to right, and then left again if they over-commit to the right.

A word of caution about using feints and misdirection: don’t rely on it too much. Using feints and misdirection is useful, but they aren’t the same as the dilemmas described above. A feint is only effective if you can get your opponent to react to it, and someone with experience will quickly learn when to respect or ignore your movements. You may find lots of success against white and blue belts, especially if you are more athletic than average, but even they will eventually catch on to these tricks. Some people find a lot of success with this early on and neglect learning slow and controlled tight-passing. In order to be an effective guard passer at a high-level, you need to be able to switch between tight and loose passing as needed. It should also be noted that this method of passing can be exhausting for the top player as well as the bottom player, and if your feints aren’t very good, then you will probably get tired before the person playing guard does, so use this strategy with care.

Instead, learn the skill of loose passing with feints, and add that to a tight pass like the body-lock or knee-cut pass. And for whoever needs to hear this (you know who you are): the knee-cut is not a loose style pass, please stop doing it like you’re sliding into home base.

When your attack entries become strong enough, the line between feints and and actual threats becomes blurred – your attacks won’t just be bluffs, and this will force your opponent to respect them. Mastering this skill will add another dimension to your BJJ dilemmas game, making you a truly formidable opponent!

Other Ways to Develop Dilemmas in BJJ

Training methods that enhance your ability to create dilemmas can also be incorporated into your practice. Positional sparring, for example, can simulate specific scenarios where you are intentionally limiting your opponent’s options and focusing on specific follow-ups to their counters. This helps develop your problem-solving skills and encourages you to think strategically about the different possibilities within a given position. Having a good instructor that can design great positional sparring scenarios will be critical here, so that you learn a wide variety of submissions or attacks that link together. Furthermore, adding constraints to your training can push you to think creatively and adapt to new situations. By imposing handicaps such as starting from disadvantaged positions or limiting the use of certain techniques, you are forced to explore alternative approaches and develop a deeper understanding of the underlying principles of jiu-jitsu. This not only enhances your ability to create dilemmas but also cultivates a greater sense of adaptability and resilience on the mats.

As a white belt, you will definitely need good guidance to develop this skill, but once you have some jiu-jitsu under your belt (pun intended), you should be developing this skill naturally during your rolls. It helps to have at least 2-3 people that you can beat up pretty easily (but not too easily). You want them to give you some decent resistance, but not to the point where you can’t accomplish whatever you’re working on. Instead of just doing your favorite moves and submitting them, focus on taking advantage of the flaws of their movement and work on your transitions. Eventually, as you become better at this, you’ll see the back take coming, for example, and already be on the rear-naked choke. There aren’t necessarily any rules here and definitely no such thing as an exhaustive list of transitions you can find. It’s up to you to embrace these possibilities and try them out to figure out what works.

The last thing we would suggest to try is adding flow rolling to your practice, especially if you always default back to going hard in the middle of a roll. We believe it’s a good way to change up your perspective on training so that it isn’t always about winning or losing every exchange. Give yourself time to explore and become comfortable with different positions and unconventional attacks or counters. It’s important to feel like you can try new things without worrying about getting crushed or submitted right away. Force yourself to try and find and create as many transitions as possible in 5 minutes.

If you’re struggling to open up during your open mat rolls, and find yourself constantly disengaging, stalling, or only playing your best positions, you are doing yourself a disservice. The whole point of flow rolling is learning how to transition between different attacks and defenses (aka creating dilemmas), and you will never be able to do this if your jiu-jitsu game relies on brute force techniques and running away from your opponents when you’re not in your favorite position.

Note that this advice is for everyday training – in competition, there are many scenarios where we do want to disengage or stall for tactical reasons, but we have to also learn how to switch between competition mode and training to learn BJJ.


Mastering the art of creating dilemmas in BJJ is a powerful tool in your arsenal. By embracing unpredictability and diversifying your attacks, you can keep your opponents off-balance and increase your chances of success, and more importantly, you’ll increase the rate at which you learn jiu-jitsu. The person who can flow through 10 or 15 positions during a 5-6 minute roll is learning a lot more per roll than the person who stubbornly holds a knee-shield for 90% of every match. Through strategic positioning, feints, and innovative training methods, you can develop the ability to create dilemmas that leave your opponents guessing and struggling to defend. So, step onto the mats with an open mind, embrace the concept of unpredictability, and become a true master of creating dilemmas in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

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