The hardest part about starting something new is just getting started.
This is especially true for something like BJJ. It can be scary, or daunting, especially for someone with zero martial arts experience.
But even after stepping into the gym for the first time, there are likely to be roadblocks. How you approach it as a white belt makes all the difference for how you will progress. There’s no “wrong” way to progress, and everyone learns and moves forward at their own pace. But you can certainly help your journey by training smart.
There are a ton of lessons to be learned, and most of the time you’ll need to learn by experience. However, with our experience going from beginner to novice to experienced in BJJ, hopefully we’ll be able to help cut down on lost time with some key beginner tips.
Day Zero – How to Get Started
First of all… you want to start training BJJ, but you have no idea where to start.
Getting started is a little like learning to swim. You just need to get in the water.
Start by finding a local BJJ gym near you. Something closer and easier to get to is best, as it reduces the friction involved in getting to class and training consistently. Read reviews of the gym if possible, too. The majority of trainers are good people, but there are certainly bad environments out there, which can put you off BJJ in general.
Some gyms might have strict rules and restrictions for beginners, insist on very specific uniform to be worn, perhaps even have some kind of hazing for new students. This is not the gym for you.
Find a gym that is welcoming and open for new students – there are plenty. A good teacher who encourages their new students often makes it so much easier to stick with it through the hard times, rather than (metaphorically) tapping out early.
BJJ Tips and Advice for Beginners
Here are some tips for anyone starting out, or planning to get started, with BJJ.
- Keep an open mind
- Train regularly
- Tap early
- Take care of your hygiene
- Listen and ask questions
- Don’t give up
1. Keep an open mind
The key to learning anything is to approach it with an open mind. Preconceived ideas or biases will make it harder to take on new information and techniques.
Remember that you’re learning from people who have years, even decades plus experience in martial arts. Even upper belts (purple and above) still end up discovering new things along their BJJ journey. The best way to stop progressing is to assume you know everything.
If something sounds strange, don’t be afraid to take it on board. But at the same time, don’t accept everything you hear as fact.
2. Train regularly, but don’t overdo it
If you really want to progress, training once or twice every couple of weeks won’t really do it. It’s better than being on the couch, but you’ll likely have trouble retaining what you learn without regular repetition.
That being said, it’s easy to overtrain. You get into BJJ, love it, and start training every day as if you’re preparing for a UFC fight. The more you train, the better, you might think.
Not really. This is a good way to get burned out. If not mentally, then physically for sure. Jiu jitsu is demanding on the body, and if you don’t give your body enough rest it’s going to break down. Particularly if you’re doing other types of exercise, such as weights or other sports.
You might not notice anything at first, just a steady drop in your energy levels. However it could also result in injuries, which have killed the momentum of many BJJ students throughout time.
Generally I’d advise 2-3 times a week is a good starting point. That gives you enough mat time and enough rest time. Sticking to this, even if you want to train more, is a good way to stay hungry for more, while allowing your body to adjust to the rigors of BJJ.
After a while, you’ll notice the biggest difference between a beginner and someone more experienced is tension.
It’s easy to be super tense when you first start training, both in drilling and rolling. This results in you getting tired quicker, getting injured more often, and a harder time for your drilling partners.
Whether you’re drilling or rolling, remember that it’s not a fight to the death. Unless your training partners are really bad (in which case, you’ll want to find a new gym), they’re not out to kill you, and there’s nothing wrong with tapping in a roll. So, relax, and instead of focusing on survival at all costs, try and focus on techniques. This will help you learn faster, as well as helping your gas tank last longer.
4. Tap early (and give your opponent time to tap)
Following a similar theme to the last point, tapping is not the end of the world. You’re training, you’re not fighting for gold at the World Champs.
Getting injured is a sure-fire way to halt your progress. Is it worth being unable to train for several months, just to try and “beat” someone in training?
Work your escapes, by all means, but if you feel a submission is in, don’t be afraid to tap. There’s a little more leeway for blood chokes, as getting put to sleep is generally not very serious. But joint attacks, such as arm locks or leg locks should always be treated with care.
Take the same attitude on the other side, too. If you have a submission in, don’t crank it 100%. There’s nothing to be gained in injuring your training partner, even if it is up to them to tap. It just means one less friend to help you train and progress.
5. Take care of your hygiene
You know what else can knock you out of training, and severely dent your progress? Infections.
BJJ almost always involves a bunch of sweaty people rolling around with each other. A BJJ mat can be a breeding ground for infections, if you’re not careful.
Skin infections are more common in BJJ than we’d like to admit. They range from minor infections that clear up within a week or two, to ringworm or athlete’s foot, to serious things like MRSA and staph, which can be life-threatening.
You need to take steps to take care of your hygiene, to reduce the chance of catching these infections (or passing them to others).
- Wash your gi after training
- Shower directly after training (or at least as soon as possible)
- Use anti-bacterial soap
- Cut your fingernails and toenails
- Stay off the mats if you have an infection
Taking these steps, and generally maintaining good hygiene, will help you stay healthy and stay on the mats.
At the very least, you don’t want to be the person with the stinky gi no one wants to train with.
6. Listen, and ask questions
You’ll learn a lot more, and a lot quicker, if you’re an active learner. This means being proactive about how you’re learning.
You don’t have to take extensive notes on each class (though keeping a BJJ diary helps a lot of people). A simple step is to listen and pay attention to your instructor, and to upper belts. Also, ask questions on things you’re not sure about, or after rolling with higher belts.
7. Don’t give up
There’s a popular saying in BJJ: it’s not about who is best, it’s about who is left.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed early. In fact, it’s normal. If you don’t feel this way, there’s a good chance you think you know more than you do.
It can feel like an overload of information early on in your journey. Armbar, omoplata, triangle, kimura, etc. And it’s normal if it takes several classes for this information to stick.
The upper belts in your school – purple belts, brown belts, even your instructor – have all been through this. But they didn’t give up, which is why they are where they are now.
It takes time to become good at anything. BJJ is no different. It might not be immediately evident that you’re making progress, but stick with it, and before long you’ll realize how far you’ve come.