What is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?
BJJ is a grappling Martial Art. It emphasises fighting on the ground, specifically how to reach a controlling position, then finishing with a choke or joint lock (there are no strikes). Sparring is a major part of training, and ranking is normally based on performance. Competitions are a central part of the BJJ scene, however, it is certainly not compulsory:indeed most people choose not to compete.
What should I wear to my first class?
Ideally, you should wear the standard training uniform, referred to as either a ‘gi’ or sometimes, a ‘kimono’. This consists of a jacket and trousers (typically cotton), designed to cope with the strain of being twisted and yanked. It also comes with a belt, to tie the jacket closed: for your first class, this will of course be a white belt.
However, if you don’t have a gi yet, it is normally ok to just wear some loose trousers and a t-shirt, or a t-shirt and shorts. Make sure that there aren’t any zips or pockets, as those could either scratch your training partners, or catch fingers and toes. You can always buy a gi later, once you’ve decided you want to stick with BJJ. Don’t wear jewellery and tie back long hair, girls should consider wearing leggings under their shorts and a rashguard/underarmour under thier t-shirt.
Alternatively, you may decide you’d prefer to go to what’s called a ‘no-gi’ class. As the name suggests, this type of training is done without a gi. That means a t-shirt and shorts is fine, or better, a rash-guard and shorts.
How should I approach class as a beginner?
Here are five tips:
The biggest mistake most new people make is treating every spar as life or death, clinging on desperately trying not to ‘lose’, or using as much muscle as possible so they can ‘win’. Save ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ for competition: in class, just concentrate on improving your technique. It doesn’t matter if you get tapped along the way.
Relaxing also helps to avoid injury, if you’re so focused on ‘not losing’ that you don’t tap, you’re liable to hurt yourself. Relax, tap and start again, instead of holding on until something breaks, putting you out of training for weeks, months or even years.
2. Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to talk to people. If you’re confused by something in drilling, find the instructor and ask them to help you out. Similarly, after sparring, if you don’t understand what you did wrong, ask your partner. They’re in a great position to tell you.
3. Find a good training partner
Following on from the previous point, if you find somebody is particularly helpful in drilling, provides useful advice after sparring, and/or generally stays controlled and technical when rolling etc, stick with them. Good training partners will have a hugely positive effect on your progress.
Of course, a good training partner will normally be more experienced than you. Someone who spouts off without knowing what they’re talking about becomes irritating rather than helpful. Having said that, it is possible to learn from anyone, so don’t be close-minded.
4. Maintain good hygiene
We can’t emphasise this enough. Not only is it extremely skanky to train with an unwashed gi, it’s also dangerous. There are lots of nasty bacteria waiting to jump all over your skin in sweaty grappling sports, and infections can even be fatal (MRSA, Staph etc).
Stay safe by taking a shower after training, then wash your Gi once you get home. we would advise owning more than one gi, meaning that you can wash your gi after every session you train. No-one wants to train with the stinky grappler, and if you come in with infections (be that fungal, like ringworm, or the really dangerous stuff mentioned earlier), you’re quickly going to become very unpopular.
Also, be sure to keep your nails short. Otherwise, you’re liable to cut people, which again is not going to impress your training partners.
5. Keep training
BJJ is a difficult sport, and that means there is a high turnover of white belts. Lots of people start, get frustrated, then quit. Accept that the first few months are going to involve a lot of you getting squashed under somebody else. Stay consistent, eventually you’ll get the hang of things.
What happens in the average BJJ class?
Normally running round the room, with variations like knees up, heels up, sprints, circling the arms etc. That will generally be followed by breakfalls and/or shrimping or warm up drilling some basic fundamental technique or movement.
The instructor will normally show between one to three techniques (any more than that and it becomes difficult for students to retain information).
3. Positional sparring
By that, we mean the sparring is started from a particular position, such as from guard, with a predetermined purpose, such as passing the guard or sweeping/submitting, after which the spar restarts. This occasionally goes from standing, so working throws, single leg takedowns etc.
You may be free to pick your own partner, you might be paired up by the instructor, or there may be a ‘king of the hill’ system. That means you line up against the wall, a certain number of people go to the mat, then everyone still by the wall pairs up with them. Whoever achieves their goal (e.g., if it’s from guard, sweeping, passing or submitting) stays on the mat while their partner goes to the back of the line.
4. Free sparring
You normally start on yopur knees, unless you’re doing competition training and keeping things as close to a tournament as possible. That is normally split into five minute rounds, but that can vary. Again, you may get to pick your partner or the instructor may pair you up (this has the advantage that they will normally account for size, skill, strength etc).
5. Warm down
This tends to consist of stretching.
I’d advise bringing along a bottle of water to avoid dehydration. There will generally be points during class at which you can go quickly have a drink, or there may be designated water breaks.