Starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be very exciting and very intimidating.  Exciting because you are new and intimidating for the same reason.  Knowing what to expect can help a lot of people overcome the intimidating factor with starting Brazilian jiu jitsu.  Brazilian jiu jitsu is quickly becoming extremely popular here in the United States.  With the explosion of the UFC, more and more people are flocking to their local MMA gym to sign up.  However, many individuals are not aware of how to get started, how to pick the right academy, how to take care of their body, or how to get promoted.  In my brief time with the sport, I have seen many people wash out due to either the intensity of the classes, the injuries they sustain, and the frustration of losing.  Not just once, but repeatedly, for months.  What I want to do is help people gain the courage and self discipline necessary to know what to expect when they start out on their journey with Brazilian jiu jitsu. 

What to expect when starting Brazilian jiu jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not easy.  By far, one of the most physically and mentally challenging hobbies I have ever done.  And it can be expensive.  An individual will easily spend over $100 a month for the membership, then there is the gi/s, the cup, mouth piece, and head gear.  You will go to the doctor at some point for an injury and you will get injured.  Rarely do I make it a week without a bruise, scratch, or a sore bone/muscle.  Either way, it is as hard as it is equally expensive.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is much like life.  Some days are good, some days are bad, and some days are exceptional.  As long as you keep fighting, you will make it to the end.  The ultimate goal for many practitioners is gaining their Black Belt which will take roughly 8 – 14 years to attain.  Jiu Jitsu takes time, patience, and commitment.  The same as with life.

Think you can earn your Black Belt faster?  Check out this list of the top 10 fastest black belt promotions in brazilian jiu jitsu history

How to get in shape when starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Kron Gracie tells his students that they should do no weight lifting when they begin jiu jitsu.  His reasoing is if you are strong, you will use strength over technique. 

Here is a great interview of his with Joe Rogan explaining why training for strength can hinder ones technique.

As he states in the video, Kron believes one should only train jiu jitsu at first.  Then incorporate strength training in later after you are a brown belt or black belt .  From my past experience starting Brazilian jiu jitsu, I agree.  When I started, I relied way too much on strength.  Not on technique.  One of the biggest struggles for many practitioners of jiu jitsu is letting go of their strength and focusing on technique.  I still struggle with that after 3 1/2 years of training.  Especially, when I get tired.  

Riding a bike, running, and hot bikram yoga are great ways to increase your cardio and stamina.  Nothing you will do can ever simulate jiu jitsu other than jiu jitsu.  Improving on your cardio can help you get into a place where you are more comfortable with your body.  Something vital to your success in Brazilian jiu jitsu.

Picking the right Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Acadamy

There are two main types of academies to consider when starting Brazilian jiu jitsu: 

Academy #1

They want you to compete, take private lessons, show up to tournaments to support your teammates, and, of course, show up to class regularly.  3-4 times a week.  Jiu Jitsu is their life and it will be your life as well.

Academy #2

They understand that you have a life outside of Jiu Jitsu and simply expects you to show up regularly.  However, still has all of the seriousness of Academy 1.  If you don’t compete, however, you can still get promoted regularly, it just will take some time. 

Picking your teacher: 

Your instructors of jiu jitsu are imperative for your success.  They will set the habits and expectations that will carry you throughout your jiu jitsu life.  However, not all instructors are created equal. Doing some basic research on the instructor and who he/she trained under is a great way to start.

For me, I got lucky and started out at El Nino Training Center in San Francisco.  My instructor there was Moses Baca, who trained under Cesar Gracie.  He came up the ranks of jiu jitsu training next to big names like Jake Shields, Gilbert Melendez, and the Diaz Brothers: Nick and Nate Diaz.  A great teacher and demands the best out of his students.  Although I never made it to a Blue Belt under him, his training and mentorship with Jiu Jitsu has helped me exponentially.  He is an amazing student and teacher of jiu jitsu.  I highly recommend anyone to train under him.  Eventually, I had to move to another school due to commute. 

My second academy is Belmont Boxing.  There I train under Brian “Hulk” Henandez who trained under Ralph Gracie.  Great instructor and has helped me take my jiu jitsu to the next level.  Very technical instructor who wants you to show up and train.  He is not your mother.  If you don’t show up, then you won’t get promoted.  Great instructor and has a great group of people who train there.  Structured classes and is willing to stay after to answer questions.

How will you pick your jiu jitsu instructor, you will have to try out the classes to know.  Do a little research on your instructor and academy.  Think about picking an instructor that is a good fit for you.  Think to yourself, what do I want to do with jiu jitsu?

Class Cleanliness, Vibe, and Structure

Great thing about starting Brazilian jiu jitsu is the academies usually let you try a few classes for free.  This is a great opportunity to see if the school is a good fit for you.  You don’t want to pay a lot of money for a school that you do not want to attend. 

What to look for:

Cleanliness:

Do they clean the mats regularly?  Do you see people walking on the mat with the same shoes they wore outside?  or go barefoot from the bathroom to the mat?  Why is this a big issue? Staph Infection.  If you are going to a school, where they never clean the mats or do not remind people to take off their shoes, there could be a good chance that staph infection is a great possibility.  Lucky for me, I have never had staph, but I have seen people who get it.  Trust me, it is gross.  Plus it is hard to cure and could put you out for a week or a few months. 

The Vibe:

Every school is different however I wanted to bring up a good idea of the dynamic that you will be stepping into.  Most of the people you see your first day have been training together for years.  They are close and consider themselves friends. They know each others strengths and weaknesses and they are comfortable rolling with each other.  The reality is that most classmates can’t practice all of their jiu jitsu on their usual classmates because they know each other too well.  Think about fighting the same person every day for years.  Eventually you know what they are going to do before they even do it.  New students provide many veteran students an opportunity to practice their jiu jitsu.  Especially if it is a white belt with 6 months of training under him.  Some of the most intense matches I have seen have been between two white belts fighting it out.  Be aware of this when starting out.

Structure:

Although I have had great experiences in the schools where I have trained, there are some rough schools that include a good amount of people that don’t care if you are new.  Be aware of this and if people are being too rough, sit out or avoid them.  Every class has people who are overly aggressive.  Just remember, Jiu Jitsu will be here long after you will. 

A few questions to ask yourself about your new classmates:

How is everyone in the school?  Are people coming up to you and saying hello or are you having to introduce yourself to everyone. 

I always try to take someone under my wing and show them the ropes and offer encouragement.   Both of the schools I have attended are like that with all of their students.  Plus, we have all been a white belt and understand what starting Brazilian jiu jitsu is like. 

How to behave yourself when starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Something to understand, and that happens at all of the academies I have attended, is that you are new and you need to understand that.  Most injuries come from new students coming in and training with the regular students.  A lot of white belts can be extremely agro and overly aggressive.  I have seen guys slam people to the ground and go way over the top with their physicality and aggression.  It can get ruthless, not from the regular attending students, but from people new to the gym.  When starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu be wary of this.  You don’t want to get into a situation where the higher belts become aware of your over aggression.  Remember, you are walking into a group of friends and demonstrating that you could hurt people.  If this happens, you will be singled out.  The higher belts will roll with you as a way of keeping you in check.  They will pass you off to higher belts and let you go as hard as you want.  The issue is they will go as hard as they want too and you will get tired, they won’t.  When starting Brazilian jiu jitsu, try to understand that you may be training with these people for the next  5 – 10 years.  Make friends, not enemies.  Although this may seem a tad intense, it’s not really.  If you are intense, then your classmates will be intense.  In life, a lot of people carry ego around with them in all things.  I have been a victim of this.  However, Jiu Jitsu, like life, is the destroyer of egos.

Mentorship from classmates

When starting out, ask for help. I love helping people with their jiu jitsu because it helps me better understand jiu jitsu myself.  Some people may be apprehensive when you start out because they want to see if you are willing to stick out the class or not.  Sitting with you everyday, for six months, to help you get better, then you stop going, can be frustrating.  However, stick to it and they will start helping you.  Many people are very passionate about jiu jitsu.  If you show that same passion, you are bound to make some lifelong friends.

Choosing the right Gi and Cup

This is mostly a preference thing.  I prefer Tatami because it is the first, and only, gi I have ever purchased.  Average costs can be any way from $100 to $300.  All depends on what you are looking to get.  

I use a diamond cup because they are specifically built for MMA.  A little more expensive but are very protective. 

Here is a video of an individual testing out a Diamond Cup

I used a regular sports cup but had a lot of issues with it.  Those cups are not built for you to be training jiu jitsu. They are built for you to be running and squatting.  Not grappling.  Others prefer to not wear a cup but I have been rather intrigued by this.  The rational I hear in the gym is,” I wouldn’t be wearing a cup on the street”.  This is more than likely true.  However, if you knew you were going to get into a fight, everyday, on the street, would you wear a cup and a mouth piece?  Ultimately, it is your preference.

Cauliflower Ear

You will see this happen in any gym.  cauliflower ear is what happens to your ears when you train jiu jitsu/wrestle and you don’t use headgear.  In jiu jitsu, you will get your ears banged up.  People are grabbing and pulling on you and you will have your ears smashed up here and there.  Long term effects of cauliflower ear is that you will have difficulty hearing.  There is pain and swelling that comes along with it as well.  However, they make you look tough and can demonstrate to the world that you fight.  Some people will try to get cauliflower ear, others wear a headgear.  I prefer to wear a headgear and use Asics Headgear.  They are a well known brand and I know a lot of wrestlers use them.  Try them out for yourself.  I recently purchased the Old School Headgear from them.  I had a foam based version before and the foam started disintegrating from all of the sweat.  If you don’t use headgear, cauliflower ear could adversely affect your career.  During an interview, your ears may come off in a negative light during an interview.  You never know how a potential employer may view the fact that you fight, which is the general perception of those NOT familiar with Jiu Jitsu and MMA.  

Taking care of your self with diet and rest

Jiu Jitsu is a very difficult sport.  It demands a lot out of you both mentally and physically.  You can also get hooked on Jiu Jitsu and it will be all you want to do.  Injuries are a big issue that many people will go through in their time on the mat.  Letting your body rest from those injuries is imperative for you to continue training.  No matter what, Jiu jitsu will be here when you are not.  Not allowing your body to rest after an injury can easily lead to a more serious injury down the road.  What would you rather do?  Take a week or two off or be out for 6 months?  Your diet is also incredibly important.  Pushing your body to the extreme demands you to supply your body the right nutrients.  Eating a low carb diet is good route.  Last thing you want to do is eat a huge sandwich an hour before training.  As the saying goes, “ you are what you eat”.  Of course, if you are able to eat whatever you want and train jiu jitsu at a high level then I am jealous of you.  To truly take your Jiu Jitsu to the next level, you will have to focus on eating a healthy diet.  Try it out and see if it helps you improve. 

Gi and no Gi, what are the differences?

All academies are different.  Some make you have to train in Gi for 6 months to a year before you can train no Gi, others only train no Gi.  For me, I recommend waiting 6 months to a year before you start no Gi.  Most of the injuries I have sustained were from my first 6 months of training no Gi, unless it is a school known for grappling like 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu.  They have very structured classes for beginners. 

No Gi is much faster and there isn’t anything to hold on to to slow down your opponent.  If you are not sure how to defend certain arm bars or ankle locks, you can quickly have a serious injury.  A Gi gives you a chance to slow down your opponent and not get injured.   Make sure to ask your instructor and see what they recommend.  Many schools offer beginning classes where only white belts are allowed entry.  There are some no Gi schools that really structure the development of their students.  These schools could be a great option as well.

How to get promoted in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Best thing to do is go as often as your body, and schedule, allow.  Tournaments help as well.  Ask for help, watch youtube videos, and try to become a student of the martial art.  Ask questions whenever possible and drill, drill, drill.  Drilling is often over looked.  Everyone wants to roll but to get better drilling specific techniques is critical to continue to grow with the sport.  Every class has the, “move of the day”.  The “move of the day” is the specific technique the instructor wants to demonstrate to the class.  You will then practice those techniques with a partner.  Focus on this just as much as rolling.  It will make you a better student.

Here are how the belts work out with timelines:

Hierarchy of Class.

White Belt: 0 – 2 years

Blue Belt:  2 – 4 years

Purple Belt:  4 – 6 years

Brown Belt:  6 – 8 years

Black Belt:  8+ years

Whenever there is an opportunity to stand up together in a line against the wall, this will be in order of belt.  When new, always try to get a higher belt to help you.  It is easier to start out with another white belt but don’t be afraid to ask a blue belt for help. 

Tournaments, what to expect

Tournaments are great.  I have competed in a few.  They will help you with your jiu jitsu. However, be prepared to wait.  You can sit there for 3-4 hours waiting for your match to start.  People tend to be way more intense.  The tournaments are broken out between age and belt.  It can easily be an all day event.  The more tournaments you are in, usually, the faster you can get promoted. 

How does jiu jitsu help you with life?

Life is hard, there is no question about it.  Jiu jitsu plays out the very same way.  Jiu Jitsu humbles you.  Helps you deal with anger, frustration, disappointment, and helps you re-evaluate yourself through the honesty of your abilities.  You are not allowed to be dishonest.  If someone takes your back and catches you with a rear naked choke, you have to be honest with yourself on why that happen.  If not, you will always be a white belt.  Jiu Jitsu is a high risk chess game where you use your body.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t realize that I have to work on something new.  Thus is life.  

See you on the mat.

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