Your decision to start training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu deserves congratulations from all of us here at MTG. However, congratulations alone will not prepare you for what´s ahead. As with any new venture, you are probably excited, nervous and have tons of questions. That´s why we came up with a list of 11 tips to help you get through the initial stages of your training. Here. We. Go!
1. Become addicted to the fundamentals
Every master in every discipline will tell you one thing in the beginning of your journey: Focus on the fundamentals. This is especially true for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu since most techniques can be traced back to a few basic concepts. For example, once you master the closed guard you will understand why, how and when you can attack from this position.
As we go from absolute beginner to first and second stripe white belt our focus tends to shift away from hip escapes and bridges to fancier techniques. Because let’s face it, we not only want to submit our opponent, but also make it look good. This is absolutely normal, since we all want to explore new possibilities in the things we are passionate about.
Even though this shift away from the basics will allow you to get some new insights, it will also leave you more vulnerable than you were before. That is why 3rd degree black belt and multiple world champion Bernardo Faria recommends to `get addicted to the fundamentals` in the following video.
As shown in the video, Bernardo states the importance of the basic concepts of BJJ. If you didn`t have time to watch the video, here`s the essence:
Focus on the closed guard and learn two basic submissions and two basic sweeps from this position.
- Always pay attention to your posture when in closed guard.
- Learn how to open closed guard and how to do the stack pass and toreando pass.
- Always keep your elbows close to your ribs.
- Learn how to hip escape.
Even though Bernardo admits to not being a fan of drills, he is able to recognize the tremendous impact they had on his game when he was starting out. Once you build the fundamentals, everything else will become much easier.
It takes many years of practice and dedication to become a master. So, be patient and become addicted to the fundamentals.
2. Leave your ego at the door
A big part of what I like about Jiu-Jitsu are the people that practise it. You will never find a more relaxed, balanced and good-spirited group of people. There are a couple of reasons for that.
First, you have to defend yourself against another person, who is trying to choke you out and break your arms. Your nervous system responds by flooding your body with adrenaline and dopamine to make sure you survive. Your brain doesn´t know that this is not actually a life and death situation. Those chemicals make all of us feel good.
The second reason, I think why BJJ folks are so chill, is because our ego gets destroyed every single class. Don´t get me wrong, I think having a healthy ego is very important, especially if you plan on competing in tournaments. I am talking about the kind of ego, that makes you angry when you get submitted over and over again. It´s natural to get frustrated but don´t let anger command your behavior. Leave your ego at the door.
3. Supplement your training
I see this time and time again. New guy starts BJJ. Gets obsessed. Trains six days a week. Three weeks go by. He´s injured, has to pause and doesn´t understand why.
Training BJJ takes a toll on your body. Your upper back muscles tense up, your shoulders start rolling forward, you lower back always hurts, your hips are tight, knees are constantly inflamed and so on, to name just a few common phenomena.
If you are like most BJJ players, you probably want to train until you´re 90 years old. Well, I am not a fortune teller but if you only do BJJ, without implementing some non-sport-specific routines into your life, you are not likely going to be a badass BJJ grandpa / grandma.
Try introducing one bodyweight workout and one HIIT workout per week to your training and see how you feel after a month. I guarantee you, that you will be faster, stronger and have better endurance. Your BJJ game will improve because of your athleticism and all the little muscle aches, that come from one-sided physical stress, will slowly start to fade away.
There is a reason why BJJ is often referred to as a lifestyle. It´s because, in order to get the maximum benefit, you need to align other aspects of your life in a way that support your growth in the sport. That means eating clean, sleeping well and balancing they way you train your body.
4. Wash your gi after every training
What seems so obvious to me now, wasn´t at all clear when I started training BJJ. You have to wash your training gear after every single training session. This is common practice in (hopefully) all gyms and if you haven´t been to BJJ class yet, one of your training partners and / or coaches will most likely tell you this.
I remember rolling with a guy who forgot to wash his rashguard. For the entire roll all I could think of was to breathe as little as possible. He was a perfectly nice guy and way more experienced than me but even now, two years later, I still remember him smelling like a sweaty sock you forgot in your sports bag.
Make sure not to imprint yourself in someone else`s memory the way that guy did in mine, by always showing up with clean training gear.
Survival is a key mindset for a BJJ novice. Survive training, survive attacks and most importantly, survive the commands your ego. Survival means being able to show up to next class. Uninjured.
If you haven´t done any grappling or wrestling, chances are your body will not be familiar with the movement patterns used in BJJ. This brings with it a higher potential of injuries for you and your partners if you are not careful. Adapt a survival mindset. This means escaping and defending. Make it your goal to not get submitted, instead of trying to tap someone.
If you watch any team sports, you will notice that teams, who perform well over a long period of time, aren´t the ones who score and concede a lot of goals. It is the ones who make it hard for others to score against them, that end up at the top after the season is over. They are comfortable launching attacks because they can rely on their defense.
Of course, once you`re in the sport for some time, this will become a balancing act between defending and attacking. Adapting a survival mindset will lay a solid foundation for your offensive game and make you a better, well rounded Jiu-Jitsu player.
As a beginner, you will very likely exhibit behavior that is commonly referred to as ‘spazzing out’. This will manifest in bursts of random, uncontrolled, explosive movements that WILL NOT elevate your game and DEFINITELY WILL upset your sparring partner.
Although spazzing out is natural to beginners, you should aim not to listen to the impulses your brain is sending, because it wants to get out of a bad spot.
Relax, focus on your breathing and if you can´t do anything, with the tools that you have, just tap.
7. Take care of your personal hygiene
In BJJ you will sweat a lot and you will be incredibly close to your training partners. You want to be tapping to armbars and chokes and not someone`s disgusting body odor. After a certain point in training, we are all smelly wet rats but there´s that kind of smelly, and there is the worked-all-day-in-blistering-sun kind of smelly.
If you were outside all day during a hot summer day, you will most likely have accumulated a layer of dirt and dried sweat on your skin. Do your training partners a favor and hop in the shower before training.
Another important part of your personal hygiene are your fingernails and toenails. There are few things as annoying as getting scratched during rolls. Make sure to cut your fingernails and toenails before they grow too long. There is one guy I know, who is a guitar player and has to keep his fingernails long on one hand, to be able to pick the strings. For his BJJ training, he wears a glove and everyone appreciates that.
8. Tap and learn
“You either win or you learn” is probably the most overused but underrated piece of advice there is in BJJ. Winning, of course, is a lot more fun than losing. That´s why we want to win as much as we can. The problem with this attitude is that, even though your confidence might go up, your skillset is not improving.
You are using the same sweep, to get to the same position, to set up the same attack. This is a perfect game plan for competition, but when you´re rolling in your gym, try focusing on what you can learn. This mindset takes away the notion that you have to prove something. Instead, try working with clean technique and if your partner ends up submitting you, you can always explain your thought process and see how they anticipated it.
This way you will get a lot more out of your rolls and you´ll end up engaging in a lot of valuable conversations about techniques and concepts with your training partners. Tapping and trying to understand why you tapped will make your BJJ knowledge grow a lot faster, thus making you a better practitioner.
9. Ask questions and apply the answers
As a beginner it can be intimidating to even look at a brown or black belt, let alone bother them with your questions. However, you have to remember that those guys and girls were once just like you. They all started, wearing a brand new white belt, not knowing how to shrimp.
It is natural for masters, and experienced practitioners, of any discipline, to want to pass on what they learned. From my personal experience, all brown and black belts I ever asked about a technique, took the time to explain things in great detail to me. Not because they felt like they had to. They did it because they are enthusiastic about the sport and are excited to see new faces come up through the ranks.
So, don´t worry, good Jiu-Jitsu players want you to become good as well and are therefore happy to share their wisdom with you. The crucial part is, as Bruce Lee once said, to apply what you learned, because just knowing is not enough.
10. Don’t compare yourself to others
This is sound advice for most areas of our life. As mentioned previously, I do think that you should bring a healthy dose of competitive spirit to the table. Just try to avoid the trap of constantly trying to be better than someone else. This ultra-competitiveness might be a good short term strategy, to get some motivation but it will surely take the fun out of the sport in the long run.
Our progress in BJJ is individual to all of us. Some learn quickly and invest a lot of time in training, while others are happy to show up to class twice a week. Both are valid and both are infinitely better than not training at all. A worthwhile goal is to focus on improving your skillset.
American president Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy” and boy, was he right. Don’t let no one steal your joy, especially not you. Be excited about training and don’t compare yourself to others.
11. Create a powerful habit
It is said, that a black belt is a white belt, who never quit. The only real way to keep growing in the sport and reach your goals, is by showing up. Make going to BJJ class and training a habit.
Once you create a routine that works for you, you will not care if you feel like training or not. It won´t matter because it will be a part of what you do. It´s kind of like brushing your teeth. You don´t think about whether you should do it or not. You just do it. A positive habit is a powerful system. Be consistent and focus on the process.
There you have it. 11 tips that will help you in your development from an absolute beginner to a confident BJJ player. We love Jiu Jitsu and would like to know if you found any value in this article. If you want to tell us your thoughts or have advice to share, feel free to leave a message in the comment section below.