Five Tips for the Beginning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Practitioner
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of the most humbling, yet rewarding, things I've ever done. It has made me stronger, not just physically - but mentally, too, with an increased ability to hang on through very uncomfortable moments.
It has made me more flexible, both in the reach of my muscles and the relaxation in my demeanor, from having to constantly re-evaluate and re-adjust my game plan (and leg elasticity) against someone else's. Somewhere after months of not being sure if I could hack it, I was bitten by the grappling bug and I became addicted.
As in, I felt weird if I didn't go to class, addicted. I go for the underhook when I hug grandma, addicted. And, I think if you are patient in the beginning, you will be addicted, too.
Here are my five tips to get you through the first few months of training.
Tips for the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Newbie
1. Don't go every single day
Sure, you just signed up and you feel resolute that if you're paying money each month, you’ll go every day. Or, you just discovered this new cool thing and want to be the next grappling superstar by the end of the year. Either way, you may feel determined to go balls to the wall.
But, I'm here to say, don't. Take your balls off the wall, and put them right back in your compression shorts, where they belong. Just like the "New Year’s resolutioners" flood the gyms in January and quit before March, you, too, will exhaust your body and fizzle out.
Instead, go two to three times a week at first. Get used to the structure of class, as well as the constant aches and confusion that come with your first few months of BJJ. It's not a sprint to black belt, it’s a marathon. (Really, it's a marathon to blue belt, but I digress.) Pace yourself.
2. Don't plan to understand it for a while
Wouldn't it be cool if we lived in the Matrix and we could download every slick move, then pull away from our head jack and smugly say "I know Jiu-jitsu"? Well, we don't, and we can't.
Try as we might to listen intently, or drill a move with ultimate precision, we still don't always get it in a practical manner, right off the bat. It's like trying to take on a whole semester of Physics in an hour and a half, then deftly demonstrating it with your body, while people choke you.
The best thing you can do at first, is trying to think about the steps, feel them with your body, and wait for a few months, when those movements will finally make sense and become available to you. And I promise they will.
3. Check your ego at the door
This notion builds on one and two, but adds one more nuance - it's okay to lose. If something hurts, you tap. If you get flipped and choked, you tap. If you're having an anxiety attack, you tap.
Oftentimes, fresh white belts are so scared of losing, they lock up, grip their opponent to death, and waste all their oxygen in panic mode. They flail and fight like someone just jumped them in the alley.
This doesn't get you anywhere. If you don't know what to do, tell your partner and ask for help. Most upper belts have learned how to handle this and are happy to flow roll or help you drill, rather than get scratched up or kicked in the head by a petrified “spaz.”
The good news is you will learn one day, but until then, just take the armbars and the chokes. You're not supposed to win, yet, and you actually learn a lot by losing.
4. There will be blood
...And bruises, and scratches, and mat burn. Your family will be concerned for your health and safety. They may suspect your significant other of abuse or wonder if you're getting your lunch money stolen by bullies.
The good news is a lot of these minor contusions and injuries lessen over time, and the ones that don't? You get used to them.
Have an ice pack at home, as well as a heat pack. Band-Aids can be helpful for some cuts, but they usually fly off with the first wick of sweat during practice. Get athletic tape instead. Not only does it wrap wounds well, but it also bolsters your fingers as they get used to gripping collars and sleeves. It's necessary and versatile.
One last tip - shower immediately after class and clean out all your wounds. Wash your gear after every use. No one wants staph or some other creepy bacterial infection. Most gyms are clean, but I don't recommend taking chances with exposed abrasions.
5. Give the gym vibe a chance
Some academies are very open and friendly from day one, but some may feel a little clique-ish to the newcomer. Relax and give it some time. With white belts, there is a high turnover.
I can't count the number of people who have walked in and said they were coming back, but never did. It makes the umpteenth experience a little more subdued.
Jiu-Jitsu is an intimate sport and based on trust. If you don't trust your partner, you could get hurt. Most of the people in there know each other well, know each other's style and game and have a good rapport. It's not usually that anyone sees you as a waste of time, it’s just that they don't know you yet and you could be gone tomorrow.
After a while, you should be stretching and chatting with the crew before and after class. If this is not the case, and no one has even bothered to acknowledge you after a few weeks, or you feel they're rough and uninviting, look for another gym.
Just as you wouldn't helicopter drop into your first ski lesson, or dive into the deep end of the pool before you've learned to doggy paddle, do not think you are going to go in 110% to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and dominate.
This sport has a way of chewing people up and spitting them out if they think it's going to be easy. There are a lot of barstool UFC fighters out there who plunk their money down with daydreams of beating everyone up at the dojo, then have to find out the hard way they can't even hang through the first three minutes of warm up.
They go back to their barstools and brag to their friends about that one class they took. Don't be that guy/girl. Be humble, and be persistent, and Jiu Jitsu will start to open up to you. Take it in slowly, at first, and you will be rewarded. Let me know when you're addicted.