Two BJJ athletes stand together

How to Begin Brazilian Jiu Jitsu & What to Expect

How to Begin Brazilian Jiu Jitsu & What to Expect

Do you want to learn how to control and submit larger opponents with technique and leverage? Do you watch the UFC every weekend and scratch your head when a fight ends up on the canvas? Do you want to get in great shape while learning how to defend yourself?

This article will help you understand how to Begin Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and what to expect from a Jiu Jitsu class, setting you up to enjoy this complex and intricate martial art!

What is Jiu Jitsu?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, BJJ, Jiu Jitsu, No Gi, Jitz, however you slice it, is a grappling martial art best known for its Brazilian roots and prowess in the early UFC events. A predominantly ground-based martial art that uses technique and leverage to control and submit an opponent, Jiu Jitsu has Japanese origins with a Brazilian reimagining in the early 20th century.

Training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can benefit anybody, you’ll learn how to solve problems and develop strategy, you’ll become more patient and measured, and you’ll gain strength and resilience. Jiu Jitsu is for everybody, young and old, shy or bold.

A man and a woman, both black belts, are practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

How to find a good Jiu Jitsu gym

20 years ago Jiu Jitsu academies were the needle in a haystack of Karate dojos. Now, fortunately, most towns and cities will have plenty of Jiu Jitsu gyms.

When you’re searching for a gym, first think of convenience. Injuries, fatigue, or general nervousness can deter you from heading to class, so start by determining your maximum travel time and work backward from there. You’re fired up right now, but removing obstacles that may “help” you to skip class will keep you consistent.

You’ll want to make sure the gym’s schedule works for you too - most gyms will have their schedule on their website and socials.

When deciding which gym to join, you must try before you buy. Almost all gyms will offer a trial period, be it a class or a block of classes. The way a Jiu Jitsu gym treats brand-new, or prospective students is a great indication of the quality of the gym, as well as the community within it.

Don’t worry too much about which association, or competition team, the gym affiliates with. All the top gyms (Checkmat, Gracie Barra, Alliance, 10th Planet, and more!) will offer comparable training.

Get in touch with your local gym, and give it a try. They want you there, and should create an environment that makes you want to come back! Ask the gym how you can try a beginner's class, and take the plunge. The first step is the hardest.

Equipment needed for Jiu Jitsu

Depending on the type of class you’re attending, Gi or No-Gi, you’ll need the following:

An appropriately sized and clean gi (referred to sometimes as kimono). The gym will likely have one to lend you if you’re trying your first class, and they’ll know your size too - if you need to pick up a gi, our customer service team can help suggest the right size for you.

A Belt. A nice new shiny white belt. Again, if you’re trying your first class the gym should have one you can borrow. Someone will show you how to tie it.

A Rashguard. Rashguards keep you cool and help you avoid scrapes and scratches. Rashguards are often mandatory under the gi to stop any belly-to-face unpleasantness we all want to avoid.

For No Gi classes, you’ll want a rashguard and fight shorts. Fight shorts are pocketless shorts that have no zippers or sharp parts that could scratch you, your opponent, or the mats. Feel free to get in touch with our customer service team if you need help finding a pair!

Oh, and your mileage may vary, but a mouthpiece is a very inexpensive way of avoiding unexpected dentist visits!

How fit do you need to be to start Jiu Jitsu?

Jiu Jitsu is an intense whole-body workout and even the fittest athletes coming to Jiu Jitsu for the first time will be exhausted from a training session. No matter what shape you are in, you are in the right shape to start. Jiu Jitsu will challenge you,

“I’m older, is Jiu Jitsu still for me?”

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is today. You are not too old to start. The right coach and the right gym will be able to guide you safely, according to your abilities. 

Kids can start training when they’re capable of listening and following directions, which we’ve found usually happens at around 4 or 5 years old.

A lot of what makes Jiu Jitsu unusual to start with is separating fighting and playing. Something kids do quite naturally - you can throw a kid into a Jiu Jitsu class and more often than not, they’ll quite quickly start having fun and thriving. But as adults, putting ourselves in unfamiliar or daunting situations happens less the older we get - and attending your first Jiu Jitsu takes courage.

Two athletes are grappling in BJJ, one is tapping out.

What you should expect from a Jiu Jitsu class

Head to the gym with plenty of time to spare. Before you can start training you’ll have to sign some forms, arriving 15 or 20 minutes before class is slated to start is the sweet spot.

Jiu Jitsu classes come in all shapes and sizes, just like those that practice it. But from our experience on the mats, the majority of classes are structured similarly:

10-15 minute specific warm-up

In both fundamentals and advanced classes, there’s almost always a warm-up tailored to get your body moving safely in a similar fashion to the movements performed in live training. When you start, you won’t have any idea what you’re doing and that’s fine. You’ll have your hand held, and be corrected by your partners and instructors along the way.

Shrimps? Breakfalls? These movements become second nature very quickly. See how other people in the class are moving, and do your best to recreate it. Don’t worry, being lost is part of the process, and even World Class Black Belts were lost when they started out.

Technique instruction

After you’ve warmed up, you’ll be shown a technique. Some gyms work through a set curriculum, and some are more ad-hoc, but generally speaking, you’re demonstrated a technique or move, and the instructor explains how it works and what it does. It’ll be demonstrated a few times and you’ll try it yourself.

Watching someone perform a technique can be confusing and trying to recreate that technique definitely doesn’t always go to plan. But give it a try. Your instructor and or partner will be able to help you.

You’ll repeat the move over and over for a set amount of time, then switch so your partner can try the move. Learning a technique doesn’t mean you understand it, so the more repetitions the better. Repeating something, or “drilling” it, is a great way to commit a technique to muscle memory.

Rolling / Live training / Sparring

Depending on the gym, after practicing the technique of the day, the class moves on to live training. Live training is usually 5 minutes of rolling with a minute rest, repeated with different partners until the end of class.

This is Jiu Jitsu. Live, actual Jiu Jitsu, where someone will try and strangle you.

Live training is where we get to impose our techniques over resisting opponents. It’s great fun, fantastic cardio, and one of the main reasons you’re here. Some gyms do not recommend you jump into rolling on day 1. This varies from gym to gym but be prepared for that lost feeling again. If you are not comfortable with rolling right off the bat, maybe sit out for the first few rounds to watch.

If you do decide to dive in, and the instructor allows, slap-bump (a cool pre-roll handshake to indicate the beginning of a round) and get going. A general idea of what to do: if your opponent is on their butt, try and get around their legs (their guard) and end up on top, chest to chest. Or, if you are on your butt, use all your limbs to stop your opponent from getting passed your legs!

Although we are trying to control and submit our training partners, we have a responsibility to keep each other safe. Don’t make sudden erratic moves, and don’t try muscle things if you feel stuck or land in a compromised position. If you feel like you might be near submission, tap. Learn to tap, tap fast, tap often, and then tap some more.

Two men practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, one man is being taken down.

The do’s and don’ts of training

Introduce yourself to the instructor! They want to know if they have a new student in class, and how to address you. They won’t bite, I promise.

Hygiene hygiene hygiene hygiene!

Keep your nails short, with no sharp edges. You have to keep your training partners safe so you have someone to roll with tomorrow!

Treat your Jiu Jitsu gear (Gi, Rashguard, Spats, Shorts) like underwear. Wear them once, and clean them before wearing them again. No exceptions. You’ll be a black belt in laundry long before you are a black belt on the mats.

Do ask questions. Don’t interrupt the instructor, but politely get their attention and ask for some help with techniques you might be struggling with

Don’t train with open wounds. Cover any cuts or blisters with an appropriately sized bandaid.

Pop a mint before class, for your partners’ benefit.

No shoes on the mat. Bring some flip-flops or slippers.

No bare feet anywhere off the mat.

The hardest step is the first. The instructor wants you there, and your training partners need you there. Give it a try - you might surprise yourself!

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