Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the best self-defensive techniques in the history of combat sports. If you have decided to put on a fresh new gi and step on the mats, we must say that you’ve made a great choice! Jiu-jitsu can be very beneficial for both the physical and mental health of any person. What’s more, BJJ classes are fun, dynamic and full of positive atmosphere.
The beginnings of Jiu Jitsu are the hardest ones compared with other martial arts. For every beginner, the opening classes are the roller coaster ride of emotions and pain. But, if your body and ego survive the first couple of months, you will live and breathe BJJ until the rest of your life! To make things easier for you, we’ve decided to bring you the ultimate step by step guide of what you may expect at the beginnings. What’s more, we’ve some great tips and tricks as well!
A brief history
The establishment of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu came with the arrival of famous Japanese Judoka Mitsuyo Maeda on Brazilian soil in 1914. The legendary Maeda expanded his knowledge of Judo (Kano Jiu-Jitsu) on the Gracie family. Brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie shifted the emphasis of Judo from grappling to ground fighting and have started to apply various joint locks and chokes as a way to defeat the opponent. As a result, the birth of BJJ as a technique on its own came early in the 1920s.
The Gracie family undertook everything in their power to prove the effectiveness of BJJ and popularize the sport worldwide. Their famous “Gracie Challenge” and the constant rivalry with Luta Livre would help the sport grow in the following decades. However, the rise of the BJJ skyrocketed with the birth of MMA during the 1990s. With Royce Gracie dominating over the jacked UFC giants inside the Octagon, BJJ became recognized as the most effective fighting style.
Today, it represents one of the most popular martial arts among the young generations and a must-have skill of every MMA fighter.
The basics Jiu-Jitsu
Jiu-Jitsu is a ground-based martial art that incorporates various joint locks and chokes as a way to defeat the opponent. If you have experience in wrestling or judo, you will instantly realize that Jiu-Jitsu is a different challenge.
Before getting the chance to place the submissions, you have to take the opponent to the mat. This is where the emphasis of Judo comes to work, and its various throws and takedown techniques. On the feet, you will spend most of the time practicing throws, trips, and wrestling techniques. Although the standing aspect is important, the focus of BJJ classes is on ground fighting. The main goal is to adapt effective scrambles and get into a dominant position from which you can apply various finishing techniques.
Also, like true art, Jiu-Jitsu is based on tradition, honor, and respect. If you want to attend the classes, you will have to leave the ego and overconfident behavior at home. The only right way to overcome hard beginnings is to stay humble and listen to the coaches. More experienced teammates can give you great advice as well.
Getting ready for the first BJJ class
We can all recall that unpleasant feeling of walking through the Academy doors for the first time. The butterflies in the stomach and sweaty hands may remind you of the time you went on a first date. To be honest, it’s the same but the relationship with jiu jitsu will have a happy ending! What’s more, you don’t have to wear elegant clothes and put liters of perfume.
Wearing a gi is not mandatory at the first Jiu Jitsu classes. Many people need a couple of training sessions before realizing if they like or not. In case you do, buying a gi is one of the easiest tasks for a beginner. For now, you can train in sweatpants and an old t-shirt. Be sure not to wear some branded clothing or anything expensive. The rolling sessions will certainly destroy your favorite t-shirt. Also, “No Shoes on the mats!” is a standardized rule in Academies all over the world and a pair of flip flops are a must.
So, let’s create a quick checklist:
- Flip flops
- A bottle of water or other drink
- An old T-shirt (but clean) or rashguard
- A gumshield (optional)
- A lot of will!
What you can expect in the first training sessions?
Every training session begins with the lineup. However, this is not a classic lineup like in kickboxing classes. The groups are split by belts and level of experience. Considering you don’t have either of the two, you will stand in a beginners group, all the way back at the end of the line.
The warm-up sessions are like in any other sport out there. But, if the conditioning is not your stronger side, don’t rush and try to keep your energy levels for what’s coming after. As a beginner, you’ll spend most of the time watching the instructor showing basic techniques and explaining the logic behind them. At first, the students will learn the following positions on the ground and their meaning:
- Guard (closed, open and half guard positions)
- Side control
- Full mount
- Back Mount
Usually, you will learn a single position per training session. Once you become familiar with how to pull the guard or pass into the side control, you will proceed to learn one of many sweeps and submissions to get a tap. BJJ includes many finishing techniques and students can execute them in two different ways:
- Chokes – the key is to cut the opponents blood circling to the brain by applying strong pressure on their neck (rear-naked choke, arm triangle, guillotine, etc.)
- Joint locks – this time, a person is applying the pressure on the opponent’s joints (armbar, kneebar, heel hook, etc.)
Remember, Jiu Jitsu is all about positions before submissions! After learning how to position yourself on the mat and execute basic attacking moves, you will apply the acquired knowledge in situational sparring with your partner. Of course, this is under the close eye of the instructor. While sitting in the dominant position, one person practices the finish moves while the partner is trying to escape from the bottom by using sweeps. The focus of this aspect is not on performing the techniques hard or fast but to do it the right way.
For many people, jumping right into the situational sparring is a very interesting experience. For example, in boxing or kickboxing, you have to spend months punching the bag before moving to the sparring sessions.
Maintain a positive physical presentation of yourself
In jiu jitsu, there are a lot of close rolling sessions so it’s essential to keep hygiene as much as possible. We know that “keeping hygiene” sounds formal, but the lack of it can cause serious illnesses!
Whether it’s a curse or not, every gym has the “Stinky-gi guy” This person washes the gi once a year and represents a walking infection. Considering the gi is made of thick cotton, it’s crucial to wash it regularly. If not, you will become a “stinky-gi guy” after a couple of sessions. Also, cutting nails is one of the most important things. They can produce severe, unpleasant cuts on the partner’s face and body. The same stands for removing all jewelry and other unnecessary things.
Although physical injuries are inevitable at some point, the lack of hygiene can lead to many terrible consequences. During the sessions, the skin is constantly rubbing on the mat and it can result in first degree burns known as “Mat Burn” The combination of stinky-gi and mat burns is a great developing ground for various infections like MSRA (antibacterial resistant Staph germs) which can lead to fatal illnesses.
The lack of hygiene will prevent you from learning and moving forward. Everybody avoids the stinky guys and would rather sit beside the mat than rolling with the one!
In the beginning, it’s all about showing the discipline to the instructors and more experienced training partners. Washing your body, wearing a nice smelling gi and taking care of your partner will speak a lot about your culture and approach to the sport.
Keep your cool and be a good training partner
In addition to keeping the hygiene, it’s important to learn some rules on how to become a great training partner. Regardless of the differences in skills between you and your teammate, behaving in a proper way will make every session useful and productive. The goal is to enter the gym with a smile and leave with the one.
The truth is, Jiu Jitsu doesn’t recognize any sorts of aggressive and overconfident behavior. If you’re looking for a brawl or to prove something to somebody, you’re knocking at the wrong doors. Jiu Jitsu is all about a positive atmosphere, respect, and good laughs.
It’s important to keep everything light and under control to avoid any injuries from happening. Rolling on the mat can lead to many unpleasant situations for a beginner. That said, the mind can easily enter the panic mode and your body will do whatever it takes to escape. However, this is a proven recipe for disaster. With the lack of control over the actions, one can easily hurt himself or a training partner. The only right decision you can make is to tap! No matter how big is the problem, tapping always sorts the issues and keeps everyone healthy. After a couple of taps, you will become more relaxed during uncomfortable situations and focused on learning rather than panicking.
Also, some people want to prove their toughness by holding for dear life into the submission. The only reasonable explanation for this is they have never experienced or saw the consequences.
It’s all about surviving the first month
As you have probably realized thus far, the first month of your Jiu Jitsu experience will be hard, painful and humbling. Being submitted over and over again is just a learning process. However, it can also wake up various emotions and intense feelings. At the end of the day, nobody likes to lose all the time. This often represents a breaking point in which you either go through the pain or leave the mats without coming back.
We know that it’s the hardest pill to swallow, but your biggest enemy is your ego, not the teammates! Accept that you are a beginner who simply doesn’t know anything yet. Being dominated is a regular process of learning and we’ve all been there. Once the anxiety and frustration kick in, try to relax by taking a couple of deep breaths and reminding yourself that this is a learning stage and that your time will come soon. A positive and calm mind will allow you to overcome all the difficulties both in the gym and in life.
Focus on your weaknesses
Continuously evaluating the training session will boost your progress and confidence. After every session, take a few minutes to recall all the things you went through and focus on the areas that seek enhancements.
Every person will feel comfortable in different aspects of Jiu-Jitsu. Some people are enjoying being on the bottom while others prefer a more dominant position. Although you may enjoy some initial successes, the lack of rounded game will cost you later at the more advanced stages. Improving the weaknesses will probably need twice as much effort and time, but this can prove essential in the long-term perspective.
What’s more, evaluating the sessions will enable you to memorize things and step on the right track from the beginning. Many people have a hard time breaking bad habits and getting back to the fundamentals of Jiu-Jitsu after many years of training.
Be productive outside the gym
During the opening months, the instructors will bombard you with millions of information. Just as you become familiar with one move, the instructor will start explaining two more or giving you many suggestions on the earlier ones. Although you’re putting much effort into every session, your BJJ dream gets more and more confusing. The truth is, like life itself, Jiu-Jitsu is a constant learning experience.
For a beginner, it’s normal to forget things and have many questions unanswered. Just 25 years ago, you had to book a ticket to Brazil to discover your answers. However, in the modern world, opening the web browser will do the job just as good. There are plenty of high-quality instructional videos online you can watch for free or buy some DVD’s dedicated to beginners. Watching these instructional videos after every session is a routine of every jiu-jitsu practitioner and you can always ask your teammate or instructor for a recommendation.
This will significantly improve your progress and help to memorize all those confusing moves. In the next class, instead of spending the time repeating the moves from the previous session, you will come prepared and ready for learning new techniques.