5 Tips for Your First Week In Jiu-Jitsu

Two students of Jiu-Jitsu beginning to roll from guard position.

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and begin Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Fantastic! In making this decision, you have already shown more guts than most of the population ever will. Maybe you decided to start your Jiu-Journey because you read my previous Post. Maybe you have a friend or family member that can’t stop talking about BJJ. Or maybe you just thought it might something fun to do on a Monday evening until the next season of the Bachelor begins. No matter what your reason is, you have made the decision. Now what? How do you get started in Jiu-Jitsu?

If you haven’t already done some research, now is probably a good time so that you know what to expect. I’ve put together a Glossary of Terms that will help you learn the lingo, and you can review my Positions and Submissions pages if you want to cover all of your bases. Ok, that’s enough shameless website plugging. On to the good stuff!

1. Choose the right gym.

This is, by far, the most important decision you’ll make in becoming a Student of BJJ. It’s not my job to tell you what schools are the best. Instead, you should think about–and be able to answer–the following questions before making the choice.

    1. Are the mats clean? Dirty mats are a health hazard. By the end of the day, every gym’s mats will have some dust and some trash. That’s normal. What isn’t normal is for the mats to remain dirty week after week. Mats need to be cleaned AND sanitized often to keep harmful bacteria (like Staph) or fungi (like ringworm) from growing on them. Make sure you ask about this and make sure you inspect the mats for yourself.

      A jiu-jitsu gym with clean mats to exercise on
      My home away from home with mats so clean you can see your reflection in them!
    2. Are the instructors right for your learning style? This can be difficult to answer. I recommend giving several gyms in your area a try. Do two or three trial classes at each and see who feels right for you. I recommend that you don’t sign the contract on the first day since classes can vary over time. Remember that you’re starting a long term relationship when you sign up with a gym, so make sure you know who you are signing up with.

      A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt watches students of BJJ free roll on clean mats in the gym.
      A watchful brown belt instructor tries to untangle the mysteries of the white belt mind.
    3. Are you comfortable there? There is an “aha” moment when you step foot into the right gym. You’ll know when you are home. Don’t sign up at a gym where you aren’t comfortable. I recommend talking to various students at the gym about their experience. An instructor usually has a financial responsibility to get you to sign up so you’ll usually get more accurate feedback from the students.

      Students of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu take a break on the mats in the gym.
      It doesn’t get much more comfortable than this.

2. Get a gi.

A gi is the totally sweet outfit that Students of BJJ wear. It is comprised of long pants, a long-sleeved shirt that is open down the front, and a belt to tie it all together. Many people will wear a t-shirt or rash guard under the gi top for modesty or comfort. The gi fabric is super thick and durable. Don’t settle for a low-quality gi or a kimono from another sport. They won’t hold up for more than a couple of classes and you’ll be throwing money away. Most gyms will have extra gis to loan out to prospective students for their first few classes. However, there is something empowering about owning your own gi, so I recommend just biting the bullet and getting your own as soon as you can. There are several sizing guides on the internet, but the best thing to do is try on the loaners at your gym and let the coach recommend the size that fits you best. Once you have that info, you would be able to correctly order the size you need online.

Gis aren’t designed to be ultra form-fitting, so getting the size you need is easy. The pants will have a huge amount of adjustability in the waist, and the top doesn’t have any buttons or fasteners so your body shape isn’t that important to the fit. As long as the length is what you need, the rest of the gi will probably fit you just fine.

As long as the length is what you need, the rest of the gi will probably fit you just fine.

I don’t have any gi sponsorships, so my brand recommendations are honestly what I have owned, used, and loved. I’ve included a few of my favorites below. Note that if you do purchase these from my link, I will receive a small commission from Amazon at no additional cost to you. Also, you’ll need to buy the belt separately. Many gyms will give you your first belt for free, so verify that before you spend good money on one.

Fuji BJJ Uniform –

I’ve had this gi (in white) for over three years. I’ve used it hard both in class and in tournaments. It still looks brand new with no signs of wear or shrinkage. It isn’t as stylish as some other gis that I own, but for the price, I think it’s hard to find a better value. I can think of two black belts that I’ve trained with that have used this gi in class and in tournaments. This is my top recommendation for anybody who wants to get started in the sport.

 

Gameness Air Gi

I’ve had a gameness gi for about two years. It is the gi that my gym recommends to new students. I don’t wear it as often as some of my other gis, but this is only because I don’t think it is quite as stylish. From a fit and function point of view, I think this is a great purchase.

 

Venum Elite BJJ Gi –

This gi is another of my favorites. I’ve had it for a little over two years and it is holding up great. I’ve recently noticed that it has shrunk a little after having been washed hundreds of times (cold only and ALWAYS hang dry), but after a few minutes of drills, it has stretched back out to its original size. The biggest upgrade between this and the Fuji gi mentioned above is in the drawstring. The Venum gi uses a rope, which feels higher quality and is much easier to tie than the strip of fabric that the Fuji uses.

If you have a favorite gi that you would recommend to the new student of BJJ, comment below!

3. Know the belt ranks.

Most new students ask about what the belt ranks are. From beginner to expert, the colors are:

White -> Blue -> Purple -> Brown -> Black

You’ll probably notice some white strips of tape on the ends of some of the belts. These are called tips, stripes, or degrees, and they designate how far along that person is in mastering the belt. Each belt will have up to four degrees. Rather than achieving the fifth, they are awarded the next belt color during promotions.

A brazilian jiu-jitsu white belt is posing to show off his new belt stripes
A white belt shows off his shiny new stripes.

It is important to understand that there are no formal requirements in BJJ for achieving the next rank, and every school has a different promotion philosophy. I have trained at schools where belt promotions could happen at any time during any class, and I have trained at schools where you register for belt testing weeks or months in advance. Make sure you ask about their promotion philosophy when you are gathering information about which gym to join.

In some martial arts, there are rigid requirements on what it takes to achieve a belt rank. You may have to learn a list of certain movements and maybe break a few boards. If you can do that, you get the promotion. BJJ is much more dynamic and fluid than this. Every body type is different, so every skillset is different. You can’t expect certain body types to be able to accomplish certain positions or movements. Instead, you will be graded on your performance and dedication. If you generally perform well against your own rank and you are presenting a good challenge to the next rank up, then you are probably getting close to being promoted.

Also, a top-quality school won’t give you a timeline of when you’ll be promoted. If they guarantee you a belt promotion every six months, I recommend picking a different school because they are not concerned with the overall quality of the program and are just trying to get people to sign contracts.

A belt should mean something to those that receive it. It should represent sacrifice and dedication. It should not be an expectation, but rather an honor. I was more proud of getting my blue belt in BJJ than I would have been getting a black belt in a lot of other martial arts.

4. Roll on your first day.

What is rolling, you ask? Check out my Glossary of Terms for any questions you might have regarding BJJ lingo.

Rolling is a common slang used in BJJ for sparring with somebody. A lot of new students come to class for the first few nights to dip their toes in the water and see if they like how it feels, but they shy away when it is time to roll with the other students in the class. This is a big mistake in my opinion.

It’s widely regarded as good advice not to look down when you are standing in a high place. Why? Because the act of watching is often scarier than the act of doing, and it can paralyze you with fear.

Don’t sit out because you are afraid you’ll get hurt. Don’t sit out because you don’t know what to do. Don’t sit out for any reason short of being injured or sick. Get on the mats and just see what happens.

If you can, avoid going with another new student. Roll with the highest-ranked belt that you can. By rolling with a high-rank, you will not only get a feel for how effective the sport is. In general, you will also be safer than rolling with a white belt. A high-rank knows just the right amount of pressure it takes to beat somebody without risking injury. An eager white-belt is much more dangerous than a seasoned black belt in terms of risking injury to their partner.

5. Expect a reality check.

Having reasonable expectations is the key to enjoying any adventure that you decide to embark upon. Here’s the deal: you won’t be good in your first weeks. Or months. Or years. In fact, you may never feel that you are good at this sport. It’s part of the journey and it’s what makes the sport so beautiful. There is always some way to improve. I think Jay Gaulard summed it up better in his post than I could. (Note: I’m not affiliated with his blog in any way. I’m just a fan and maybe you will be too.)

Stick with BJJ, and one day you’ll have people telling you how good you are. I can’t tell you how great that feels. Even so, you’ll never feel like you are where you want to be. There is always somebody to look up to. Somebody better. There is always that person that you think you’ll never beat. That’s normal, and I think that’s a good thing. We are all Students of BJJ and will be for life. Learning never stops, not even at the rank of black belt.

Speaking of black belts, there is a quote floating around the internet that goes something like:

“How long does it take for the average person to become a black belt in BJJ? Trick question! The average person will never become a black belt.”

You’re only taking your first steps, but your life may never be average again.

Comment here!