Tips on what to expect from that dreaded first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class...
Some say the biggest step in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is stepping onto the mats for the first time, mainly because it can be such a terrifying experience. Arriving at any sports academy or martial arts dojo with little to no relevant experience can be a daunting proposition for anybody, but to take part in your first jiu jitsu class comes with a whole other level of etiquette anxieties and practical pitfalls. But, at New School BJJ Edinburgh we're here to ease your minds. All those questions about what to expect, what to wear, how to act, how not to act and so on will be answered in this guide to surviving your first ever BJJ class:
No gi, no problem
One of the most intimidating things about starting BJJ, or any traditional martial art for that matter, is the uniform. As if being a newcomer awkwardly standing at the doorway waiting to be ushered onto the mat isn't uncomfortable enough, but being the only person not wearing a fancy kimono with branding and embroidery plastered all over them like a Nascar driver is enough to make anyone cripplingly self conscious. However, fret not, wearing comfortable sportswear for your first class or two is absolutely fine. Tracksuit bottoms (preferable without zips!) or yoga pants and a t-shirt will do, however if you're a guy and you're planning on wearing loose shorts, just make sure you don't wear baggy boxers underneath – keeping all your bits safely contained is a must!
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is for many people, but it isn't for people who can't handle contact. This is pretty much as close a contact sport as it gets, so it goes without saying that hygiene and cleanliness are vital. You don't necessarily need to scrub yourself down before every session, but make sure you're not carrying in any dirt or smells from the day, especially on your feet. And talking of feet, trim your nails – both toe and finger. People expect to take away the odd bump or bruise from a training session but scratches from flailing first-timer talons won't go down very well at all.
Read the room
After meeting the instructor and having been given the usual introduction about what to expect from the class etc, you'll most likely be left to get acquainted with the room and wait for the class to start. The class will begin with a warm up, so no need to rigorously shadow box in the corner in order to break a sweat – that would just look weird. Instead, use these precious minutes before class to watch what others are doing. Most likely they're either stretching a little or rolling about a bit on the mats to limber up. Don't try to copy them just yet, just make a mental note of their movements. When the warm up starts, go through the motions and try to do what everyone else is doing as best you can. If you find some of the movements difficult or they're causing you some pain, don't hesitate to ask the instructor for a quick demonstration of how to do it properly and safely. After all, the more you get out of the first class the more likely you are to come back!
Find a friend
Depending whether you're invited to join a class specifically for beginners or a mixed class of all levels, you may be in for a slightly different experience. If it's a beginners class and you're not the only newbie there, then you're in luck. You'll most likely be partnered with an equally inadequate participant with a complete lack of technical knowledge or functional skills. You can immediately relax in the knowledge that you can't be much worse than they are and you might even strike up a rapport over your shared distress of not knowing what the hell you're doing. If the class is more of a mixed bag of hardened grapplers, find the closest thing to a clueless, uncoordinated beginner as you can. Look for anyone wearing an ill-fitting gi that looks barely worn and a pristine white belt that hangs down to their knees and you may have just found your new best friend!
Do you have to spar?
Initially no, eventually yes. For your first class or two, just starting to understand the basic principles of jiu jitsu's many unusual movements and positions is a lot to absorb in itself without the pressure of immediately having to impose the little you've learned on a resisting body. So, if you'd rather spectate the sparring action for a couple of classes, that's no problem. But, you'll soon be expected to (and hopefully want to) put the theory into practice. Live sparring, or 'rolling' as we call it, is a very big part of BJJ, so much so that you can't really progress without doing it. As a highly functional martial art and sport, with very little traditional 'theory', live sparring lies at the heart of developing and honing our skills in BJJ. All the mental benefits, physical attributes and unadulterated fun is born out of regular rolling.
Speed up recovery
There's only so much you can do to prepare for how your body will feel the day after your first lesson. If you're not used to repetitively being thrown to the ground only to flap around on your back while another person tries to squash you, then you're most likely going to wake up feeling like you've spent the night sleeping on bag of bowling balls. Muscles that you didn't even know you had will ache and your whole body will only move in slow motion. But, need not call an ambulance and cancel your membership, you can speed up the recovery by icing any particularly sore spots as well as taking a hot salt bath or contrast (hot and cold) shower. Soon enough your body will become accustomed to the punishments of the dojo floor and you'll be waking up raring to roll.
The correct mindset
Finally, when you commit to learning BJJ you'll be introduced to a whole world of physical abilities and effective techniques that will change your body and mind for the rest of your days. However, you'll also be introduced to a whole culture of seemingly strange behaviour and conduct. Moving from one end of a room to another by doing a series of forward rolls may seem weird and pointless at first, as well as falling over and standing up twenty times in a row, but you'll soon discover how certain movements become both freeing and functional. Names of techniques and positions will sound completely foreign at first – probably as they literally will be, as many are in Portuguese and Japanese – but soon you'll be spouting BJJ vernacular like a native speaker. When you finally start trying to apply these techniques in live sparring, you'll quickly learn how difficult it is. Jiu Jitsu can sometimes be a bottomless pit of painful problem solving, but if you just tackle learning one technique at a time and simply aim to make the version of you ending each class that little bit fitter and more equipped than the version of you that started it, then your jiu jitsu journey will be long and fulfilling.
See you on the mats!
Words by Si Tutton