What to Expect When Starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)

Updated on March 27, 2019
Andy Campbell profile image

I have trained and competed in several martial arts for 29 years, giving me a wealth of experience on this topic to share with others.

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Go Train!

Maybe your favourite MMA fighter is a BJJ guy? Or you’ve heard that a celebrity you admire does it? Or a work colleague? Maybe you just want to feel safer whilst walking down the street?

There are many reasons why people are drawn towards Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but you are still at the questioning stage. Am I too old? Am I going to get beat up? Am I fit enough? Will I feel awkward. My advice to you is to just go!

I spent countless hours putting barriers in my way before finally finding the courage to locate my nearest BJJ School and get on the mat for the first time in April 2018—age 33.

My partner came with me but opted to watch as, unlike me, she had never trained in any other martial arts before and is claustrophobic. After sitting on the sidelines for just two sessions, she began taking part.

We are now approaching the one-year mark and still look forward to every training session. I am going to use my experience as a BJJ beginner to give you an idea of some of the things you can expect to find when starting out.

Find a Friendly Atmosphere

One of the things that struck me on our first visit to class was just how friendly everyone there was. Each member of the team introduced themselves to us before class started. We were made to feel welcome from day one!

Of course, you might say that we were simply lucky to find such a friendly bunch, but in general, BJJ seems to have a good reputation for attracting easy-going types and discouraging hostile ones.

After a few weeks of training, I noticed just how much time and effort my teammates—some of whom had only been training for a few months more—were putting into helping me understand techniques and improve my game.

Selflessness of this kind is rare and, in my experience, not often found in other Martial Arts. If you are unlucky enough to set foot in a BJJ school with a bad atmosphere, where you’re not made to feel welcome, don't hesitate to look elsewhere.

Just Keep Rolling

Rolling is BJJ’s version of free sparring where you get the chance to put your newly learned techniques into practice.

To say that rolling is a humbling experience is an understatement! I’ve had people around half my size bend me into awkward shapes and apply inhuman amounts of pressure on me before making me tap to a submission.

At first, you will be confused with how they are doing what seems to be magic, then you will be frustrated with your hopeless efforts to defend and lastly you will feel exhausted and deflated.

Although this doesn’t sound like much fun, and it isn’t at first, it’s what makes BJJ so authentic. If you stick with it you will begin to find ways to calm your mind, conserve energy, defend your partners attacks and eventually attempt some of your own.

My best piece of advice is not to treat rolling as a “fight to the death” but rather a learning opportunity. The right mindset is everything. If your training partner catches you in a submission just tap and reset.

If you’re anything like me, you will be submitted several times during a six-minute round. Try not to get too frustrated or disheartened by this. Everybody must start somewhere. When starting out, I found the video below, from Gracie Breakdown, very helpful.

Dealing With Soreness

There is no question that BJJ training, particularly rolling, is very tough and takes its toll on your body. It’s common to have a sore neck, knees, back, legs and arms are after a tough session.

You will be using your body in way you’ve probably have never used it before. I thought my fitness for BJJ would be good as I have trained in several other martial arts, but those were striking arts and grappling requires a completely different kind of fitness.

It is important to allow your body enough time to properly recover before your next training session, especially when you are just starting out.

Like with anything else, your body will slowly adapt to the demands of BJJ over time but rushing this process is likely to cause injury. When we first began training, we only went one day per week and slowly built up to two then three.

I have found active recovery including: walking, swimming, stretching, foam rolling and yoga to be useful for allowing my muscles to recover whilst maintaining mobility for BJJ.

You'll Get Mat Burn at First—but It Won't Last Forever

In my first few weeks of BJJ, I came home with annoying blisters on the tops of my feet that were caused by skin rubbing over vinyl mats. These blisters burst open exposing raw, tender skin underneath, making it difficult to get back on the mat.

Each time this happened, I cleaned the blisters, applied some antiseptic cream and covered them with a plaster (band aid).

After a couple of weeks of training, the mat burn stopped and, thankfully, hasn’t returned since. Although off-putting at first, mat burn won’t last forever so stick in there and find ways to work through it.

Beware Busted Fingers

If you are training in the GI, the temptation is to grip your training partner and hang on for dear life! This is not always the best move as I found out to my peril, ending up with a big sausage finger.

It’s sometimes better to intentionally lose the grip which is being put under pressure, quickly re-establishing it rather than holding on too tightly and risking a sprained finger.

You will also see some guys wrapping tape around the joints of their fingers, presumably to prevent injury or give them more grip. This is not something I have felt the need to do so far, but I may experiment with it in the future.

Enjoy the Experience!

I hope my article has given you a better of idea of what you can expect as a BJJ beginner and a few tips on how to get the most out of your training. Please leave a comment to let me know what you think.

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