I remember my first Brazilian jiu jitsu class at Titans Fitness Academy. I was so nervous. I had heard so much about what a competitive team they were and how hard they rolled. I was intimidated.
For months after I started training there, I had to push past the fear of not fitting in order to get myself to class. The little voice in my head said, “I’m so small and so much older than everyone!” Plus, I was the only female. Who would want to be partners with me?
It turned out everyone was willing to roll with me and help me get better at jiu jitsu. Not just a few people – everyone. I’ll never be a 25-year-old guy with endless energy, but there’s definitely a place for me at Titans. And I’m confident there’s a place for you at your local jiu jitsu academy.
People often ask what they can expect at their first class, and based on my experience training at a number of different clubs, I can tell you that beginner classes go through pretty much the same sequence, no matter where they are geographically.
1. The Warm Up
Many academies start with running or footwork drills, arm pummeling, shrimping, sprawls, and other movements used regularly during sparring. Here’s an example from black belt Marcelo Garcia:
After a general warm up, sometimes instructors will have students do technical drills to work frequently used movement patterns. These may include guard passing, back takes, submission chains, and other important skills.
2. Technical Training
This is where you learn the moves people use in live matches. I am an instructor in the women’s class at Titans now, and in my class, I’ll cover the same movements over and over again until they are ingrained into the students’ memories.
“As Bruce Lee said, ‘I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.'”
How many times have I taught the same people armbars and triangles? A lot, but never too many. As Bruce Lee said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
One of our jiu jitsu neighbors, Abhaya Martial Arts in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, has created an amazing video demonstrating some of the submissions you can learn as you progress in your training.
It’s silly to focus only on the moves that will get you the tap, though. Even UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey, who has won eleven MMA fights via armbar can’t finish that armbar without setting it up first. In her book, Winning on the Ground, Ronda’s mother AnnMaria De Mars said:
It seems to have become popular to call someone who repeatedly wins using the same technique, such as an armbar, a ‘one-trick pony.’ That ‘one trick’ has many entries into it. It is not one trick; it is several different tricks.
So in beginner classes, look for instruction that also puts focus on positional techniques such as passing the guard, achieving and solidifying mount, side and back control. These are all positions we need to get to in order to apply our submissions.
This is where we attempt to pull off what we have learned, in real time and against a resisting opponent. This is how we identify our strengths and weaknesses. Some beginner classes don’t ask their students to spar right away, but I suggest that my students try it.
Even a brand-new student can hold guard or sit in mount while a more experienced student tries to escape. And maybe someday you will be kicking butt at a tournament like the phenomenal men and women below, but on your first day, I’d be happy if you simply tried (as would any good instructor).
4. The Line-Up
This doesn’t happen at every BJJ gym, but at the end of class, often students will line up according to rank and bow out.
And that’s it! Are you overwhelmed? Don’t be. If you stick to it, you will wonder how you ever lived life without BJJ.
10 Quick Tips for Surviving Your First BJJ Class
- Bring a friend! Trying something new is less scary with a buddy.
- Clean your person. Brush your teeth. Be odorless.
- Cut your fingernails and toenails. You’ll be in close contact with other people and your nails can cut someone. Open wounds in BJJ could lead to more serious issues if they come into contact with fungus or bacteria.
- Remove all jewelry. Jewelry can be accidentally ripped off or cut your partner.
- Remove all transferable cosmetics. Being pretty isn’t important at jiu jitsu and cosmetics can stain your partner’s clothing.
- Wear comfortable clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Remember, you will be in close contact. Your sweat will get on people, and their sweat will get on you. A clothing barrier is nice.
- Be aware that your instructor is just a person who kept coming back after their first day. Just because he or she is good at jiu jitsu doesn’t mean they know everything about everything and it doesn’t mean they are better than you at anything other than BJJ. So don’t be intimidated.
- Be humble. Be open to learning the lesson your instructor is providing and accept the help of your new teammates. Be kind and respectful to your training partners and do your best to help each other get better at jiu jitsu.
- Don’t take shortcuts. Each movement in a technique is there for a reason. Skilled practitioners can improvise, but it’s important you practice the technique as it is taught.
- Have faith there is a game for you in jiu jitsu. Whether you are overweight, teeny tiny, over forty, or still in junior high, you can do jiu jitsu if you want to. If the techniques you learned on your first day weren’t for you, there will be another new technique tomorrow. It takes most people ten years to get a black belt, so don’t feel discouraged if you aren’t a champ on your first day.
Common New BJJ Student Feedback
The feedback I’ve gotten from new students after their first class has some commonalities. They found the close contact of jiu jitsu a little weird, they were sore from all of the new movements, and they loved it. Of course, I only get feedback from the students who have returned, so it stands to reason they liked it enough to come back again.
If you’re a current student, I’d love to hear about your first impression of BJJ, and what you would suggest to people thinking about trying it for the first time. Feel free to let us know in the comments below.