If you are thinking about training, or already a member of an academy, here is your Beginner Guide to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or in general to martial arts training. This is my personal take on it, based on years of experience in martial arts and in sports in general.
I’ll get right to the point, and I’ll try to elaborate later.
- Join today, sign up for a trial today, don’t put it until tomorrow, or next week, or next month.
- Don’t miss classes. It’s extremely important for a beginner to attend as many classes as possible within first 6 months.
- Do not try to learn everything at once; do not chase that higher belt; do not chase the ranking – enjoy the path, it will come, if you’re persistent.
- Respect the mats, your instructor and your partners. Stay safe, enjoy, have fun!
OK, stop reading and give us a call, come over check out our gym and let’s train. Easy said than done, eh?
Before I go into details, I want to say this – it doesn’t matter what shape you’re in, what age you are, male or female, adult or teenager, you have self esteem or control issues, discipline problems – it really does not matter, you need to join and start training. You will get one of the best workouts, period; you will get in 100 times better shape; you will learn how to control yourself; you will improve your self esteem; you will become a better person. I promise this to you!
(if you’re already a member, skip to Step 2). You think you’re ready to join. You watched TV, some UFC, some wrestling, Fight Network is on your cable, maybe you practiced some art in the past – whatever your situation is, it always comes to the step one – you want to start training martial arts and now time to choose where.
Do a bit of research. Like everyone says, and it’s one of the most common phrases in our days – Google it! Find location that suits you best, geographical position and convenience getting there is very important. Public transit, or driving; how much time you’ll spend on it; free or paid parking (final bill at the end of each month). Think about all that before choosing a dojo. Extra 10 minutes of commute every day might be a showbreaker for you.
Then check the schedule and programs offered. Most of the time, students practice one martial art. Of course there are exceptions and there are some hardcore guys that train kickboxing, muay thai, BJJ, wrestling – all at once. But for most, it’s pretty much impossible. We have families, schools, jobs, kids with JKs and lunches to prepare. See if schedule fits your needs and fits within your every day schedule.
Then check the instructors. These days, if you choose BJJ, in a major cities you better get a school with a legit black belt teaching. Don’t be shy asking who awarded the black belt if it’s not clear on a web site. If the answer is shady, sketchy, not clear – RED FLAG – do not join that club. Every real black belt is able to give you the whole story about his/her path to it, no exceptions.
In a smaller towns, outside of central locations, you won’t find as many black belts (at least in Canada) teaching. That should not stop you from joining. Most of these schools are affiliated with a black belt, who is “two-hour-drive-away” and comes to teach special seminars on average couple of times a year. Schools like this usually have brown, or purple belt for an instructor. Again, do not let it stop you from joining, this purple belt will give you tons of knowledge and most of the time will wipe mats with you at sparring times. Remember, you’re beginner and these guys been practicing the art for many years. Like I say – purple belt is a black belt without experience. You’ll understand this phrase when time comes.
Budget. Be prepared to meet the price tag (in Canada) around $150/month. That’s an average number. 12 months contracts in most places, but month-to-month, shorter contracts – all possible, but price goes up for shorter periods. Some places are higher, much higher; some places are lower – most of the time there is a reason for it. In States, the price is much higher. Respect the price and do not bargain. What you get for this price is worth every penny. Most of the gyms won’t give you the price online or over the phone. We want you to visit us. If you’re serious about joining, come by, check out the facility, meet your future instructors, sit in the class and watch even. It’s in your best interest. Now put money aside for equipment. Kimono or Gi will run anywhere from $100-300. One is usually enough to start (if you have a washing machine at home), 2 suits are always better. Striking equipment will run on average $200-300 which includes gloves and protection gear.
Trial periods. 99% of schools offer trial periods. 7 days, 30 days, 3 days – depends on academy. Try every class possible, see what you might like, or might not. You will not get a perfect feel for the art during shorter trial, but it’ll give you an idea. Longer trial, of course will paint much better picture for you of what you’re getting into. Speak to students, ask questions, be social, do not be shy.
Step 1 is done – Join, sign up for a trial.
Step 2 – Train, don’t skip classes.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of consistency and quantity of training at your first 6-12 months. Like many things in life, when you learn something new requires repetition and muscle memory development. Martial arts are no different. The art of jiu jitsu is learned by drilling the same thing over and over again. Judo, boxing, muay thai, wrestling, karate, jiu jitsu etc. – all the same in its approach, repetition, repetition, repetition. You have seen that armbar on tv performed by a pro fighter. Looks easy enough, what’s there to do? legs over the body, grab the arm and pull…sounds easy, looks easy, right? I’ll prove you wrong.
2-3 times per week is a minimum requirement for beginners. If you’re planning to train once per week – thank you for your support, or just give me $20 and go home and watch TV, don’t waste your or academy’s time. I personally say 3 times per week is optimal for any beginner. Gives you enough rest in between, your mind & body remember what you learned in your previous class, and you’re getting used the grind. And yes, grind. It’s a full workout and full contact sparring in BJJ, extremely humbling, safe and satisfying experience.
Further in your training, you’ll figure out whether you want to train less or more, or if you want to compete. On that, later.
Step 3 – Do not try learning all at once.
Many of my students, and not just mine, after training for 3-6 months tell me that they don’t know anything, or “Maaan, I suck!” Well, I say back – “Remember what you knew at your first class, and what you know now.”
It takes, on average, 10 years in BJJ to earn the black belt. For some it’s much longer journey, for some it’s slightly shorter. Be patient, be realistic, learn one step at a time. The journey to it is the most important thing. If you take one thing per class home and remember it – imagine what you’ll know after one year of training. And if you’ll try to remember 5 things per class – you won’t remember much at all in a day or two.
Oh Youtube, Youtube … What can you NOT find on Youtube these days. I am not against Youtube, in fact I encourage my student to watch it. There are many sources, and some of them are good, and some of them are crap, and some of them are straight up dangerous especially for beginners. Choose wisely what you’re watching. Stephan Kesting is probably the best source for beginners. And literally, do searches like “beginner bjj”, “fundamentals bjj” or something similar. Also, if you don’t mind spending about $30/m, get a subscription to a paid service by some of the best in the game. Names like Marcelo Garcia, Andre Galvao, Mendes Bros and BJJ Library come to mind. Check them out.
But remember – nothing beats one-on-one with your partner and times on the mats, no youtube or instructional video. You have to be on the mats to get better. Watch that instructional – same day ask your instructor to help you understand that technique better. And don’t be mad, if he/she says NO to you, it’s too early for you, respect this answer. Learn your fundamentals first, then move on to fancy stuff you often encounter watching Youtube.
OK, you’re training now, but it doesn’t happen without next step.
Step 4 – Stay safe and leave your ego at the door!
And I leave this step for the end, for a reason. It’s hard to explain to many until they experience BJJ in its full flesh. It’s close to impossible to make a 200 lbs athletic person who goes to the gym believe that, a little asian dude in the corner, who weighs maybe buck-fourty, will have you for “breakfast” during sparring time for next 6 months day in day out… but that exactly what happens 99% of the time. ALL, and I mean I haven’t seen one person, who was not surprised, how easily a larger person was beaten by a smaller opponent in their first few encounters.
It is in fact one of the most humbling experiences any person can get. Mats don’t lie.
Leave your ego at the door. We’re all equal on the mats, nobody is better, or worse. I always say -“I am a black belt, but it doesn’t mean I am better than you.” This or that guy might have more skill, knows more technique, but it doesn’t mean he or she a better human being.
And of course stay safe, enjoy your time on the mats. Don’t be that guy who cranks the submissions and injures a partner. You only make it worse to yourself. Your partners won’t want to sparr with you, you’ll start feeling isolated and not welcomed – that’s just one example. Do you really want it? I seriously doubt that. Remember, you’re nothing without your partners, you cannot train without your partners.
Safety also means not just working safe with your partner, but also work within your own limitations. If you see other guys doing a somersault, please don’t try it, if you’re not sure. You’ll end up in a hospital. Think before you commit.
Now you know. But here few more things.
Few first classes. “Maaan that was boring, and I have no clue what to do” – heard it many times. Stick to it. For some, few first classes might seem boring, even daunting. Sometimes you end up being in an advance class and you feel completely like fish out of water; sometimes it’s just simply not what you expected – but what you expected most of the time is wrong, because you’ve never done it in real life. Trust me, if you stick to it, you’ll love it.
Injuries. Do not be alarmed, but YOU WILL GET INJURED. I am not talking about serious injuries here. Within first 6 months you get something pulled, twisted maybe even cracked. Finger joints, back pains, knees, ankles, tennis elbow, shoulder pulls – something will be hurt. Why? Well, even though we call it Arte Suave, which means a gentle art, it is a martial art, and you do full contact sparring on daily basis. And as a beginner, often you just don’t know how to move properly, how to escape properly, or simply some of those particular muscles have never worked under such stress in your life. The result – small injury here and there.
Compete or not compete. An important question to many. I strongly recommend to try competing at least once. But for most try competing once or twice a year, and for more serious practitioners – well, you know, compete as much as possible. Competition is an ultimate test of your skill. Maybe you’ve been “killing” at your dojo, but you go to a tournament and get absolutely smashed; or completely opposite – you win with ease. You will never know, until you try. And an actual experience of competing is great, period. I say DO IT, but again, it’s a personal choice.
Weights. “Should I lift?” Absolutely, why not? Don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise. There are many details about lifting smartly, or if you compete and watch your weight, but that’s completely different topic. Yes, go and swing those kettlebells.
Age – Am I too old? No. No such thing. Well, if you 70 y/o and cannot really move, I doubt you’re reading this article. I am in my 40-ies, and know people who started at this age – no problem, only gets better.
Fundamentals and Self-Defence. Ha…this one. Topic on its own. Let’s not forget where BJJ came from. It is Self Defence Based Martial Art, it has basic kicks and punches, stand up game and of course ultimately how to defend yourself taking fight to the ground. Every jiu jitsu player must practice self defence side of the art, it is ultimately most important part of any martial art. Try throwing flying armbar on the street, or pull guard – good luck with it. You think Eddie Bravo invented Twister? Guess again. Sport is sport, but self defence is self defence. And now to fundamentals – you cannot go to “fancy” moves without knowing fundamentals. Your knowledge of base, technical stand up, basic combative stance and hundreds of other fundamental techniques – all are the key to more advance jiu jitsu. In fact, for most, all you need is basic jiu jitsu, and believe me, you can practice it for years and years to come.
Final words …
Nothing bad comes from trying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It changed my life, for sure. For many it becomes a lifestyle, for some it’s a career, but for most – it’s a path to improve themselves, to become a better person, to find new lifetime friends and to live a healthier more fulfilling lives. OOSS.
PS: Pardon the Russian accent.