BJJ Beginner's Guide - 18 Top Tips

Carlos SolisMay 24, '20

BJJ Beginners Guide - 18 Top Tips

When you first start training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), it may all seem a little overwhelming. From learning technique, to the class structure, gym culture and social dynamics it can feel like a whole new world. 

Not everything is explained, and sometimes you cross a line you didn’t even know existed. Those trial-by-fire lessons can be tough, but hopefully this list will enlighten you and save you the pain of learning things the hard way.

#1 - Train Consistently  

Ideally you should be training 2-3 times per week.Consistency is key to make steady progress. Ultimately, you should train as much as you can fit into your schedule. If you can only train once a week, and your schedule allows zero wiggle room--then do that.

However, there are always other ways to get in more training.

  • Stay after class to get in extra rolls.
  • Do solo drills at home.
  • Attend open mats.
  • Coordinate with teammates to train even when the gym isn’t open.


#2 - Practice Good Hygiene 

First and foremost - ALWAYS wear a clean uniform (Gi or No Gi). This cannot be stressed enough. Even if you don’t sweat during class, you should still wash your gym clothes. The human body is covered in bacteria, and so is the mat.

Your clothes will pick up a lot of bacteria as you roll around on it, even if you aren’t sweating. If you don’t wash your uniform, it will start to smell horrible. And even without smelling tragically bad, a dirty uniform will greatly increase the risk of infecting yourself and your teammates with mat funk.

It sucks to end up with a ringworm infection, athlete’s foot, or some other type of infection. Do your part to battle the spread of infectious mat funk by keeping yourself (and your uniform) clean.

Shower after every class. Not every gym will have on-site showers, and not everyone will have the opportunity to use the shower even if there is one. Just make sure you take a shower sometime after class, whether it’s at the gym or at home.

#3 - Treat your classmates with respect. 

Dedicating yourself to training means your classmates will soon become your Jiu Jitsu Family. It's important to be courteous and friendly, and an active part of the team. 

Introduce yourself to the Professors and students. As your training progresses and you become more comfortable in the fold of things, never forget to take the initiative to introduce yourself to new students and make them feel welcome.   


#4 - Keep your toenails and fingernails short

If you have long nails, you run the risk of cutting your training partners while drilling or during live training. You may think that this is a gross exaggeration, but you might be surprised at how much damage you can do with just a fingernail or toenail. There are many people who have the scars to prove it.

There is a lot of bacteria under the fingernails, causing these cuts to get infected. Trim your nails before class to avoid slicing open your friends. It takes very little time and is an important habit to get into.


#5 - Drilling and Training are just as important. 

If you feel that drilling is just not as fun as live training, you’re not alone. Especially when you first start training, you might find the endless drilling to be tedious, boring, and repetitive. By contrast, live training is often fast and exciting, and you may find yourself wishing you could spend more time live training and less time drilling.

Even though you may feel this way, understand that drilling is essential to your long-term success as a Jiu Jitsu practitioner. Don’t just drill the move-of-the-day and forget about it; see if you can hit it during live training. You may ultimately decide that this move isn’t for you, but make sure you can execute it during live training before making that decision.


#6 - Ask questions, but focus on your training. 

It’s okay to ask questions, and should be encouraged at most BJJ gyms. Don't be shy if there's something essential that you want to understand. That being said, don’t let an overabundance of questions get in the way of drilling and learning the technique. At some point, you do need to stop talking about it and just drill it.

Focus on getting in as may repetitions as you can, while still executing the technique correctly. Don’t let yourself get sucked down a rabbit hole of what-if scenarios until you have mastered the basics. Still, make sure you are asking the right questions about specific problems as they come up while you rep the technique.


#7 - Be patient, learning will take time.

It's important to accept that you won't understand everything, nor will it come all at once. When learning a new technique, it will probably be taught to you in an isolated environment without the context of how you got there (or what you should do with it). It is important for you to know that in these situations, you can’t understand everything, and there simply isn’t enough time to have it all explained to you during class.

As you progress, you will undoubtedly pick up the whole myriad of situational and contextual details that accompany each technique. Until then, focus on learning as many new techniques as you can and refine the techniques you know.


#8 - Roll after class. 

Especially when you’re new and still figuring things out, you need to put in time on the mats. Any time you can, drill your technique and get in rolls. If you have the energy and you’re healthy enough to do so, stick around after class and get in some extra rolls.

Even if it’s a couple extra five minute rolls, that extra time on the mat can start to add up for your game. If you can stick around for an extra hour, that could be the equivalent as getting in an extra class.


#9 - Tap early.....before you feel pain

Hopefully, this is something that each gym is clearly explaining to each newcomer, but make sure you don’t wait too long before you tap to a submission. Do not wait until you hear a pop. Do not wait until you feel pain. Tap when a submission is applied.

As you progress in Jiu Jitsu, you will learn ways to stay safe and escape submissions. However, when you are first starting out, it is not necessary to fight every submission attempt to the bitter end. The goal is to learn. Leave your ego at the door, tap early, and train often.


#10 - Don’t flail or spaz out during training

You may not be savvy to this yet, but spazzy white belts are a bit of a meme within BJJ culture. If this is news to you, well I have news for you: you are the spazzy white belt. It’s understandable; you simply don’t have that level of control over your body yet.

Don’t worry, you will develop it in time, and your more experienced training partners will (sometimes begrudgingly) take elbows and knees to the face while you get up to speed. In the meantime, do your best to not freak out like a wacky, waving, inflatable, arm-flailing tube-man.


#11 - Experiment new techniques on lower belts

As a new BJJ practitioner, you may not get an opportunity to roll with a less-experienced grappler for a long time. However, at some point, you will realize that your one stripe actually does mean something when compared to someone fresh off the street.

When the time comes, don’t simply demolish those that are less skilled than you. Sure, you will enjoy crushing newbies from time-to-time, but don’t let that be the only way you roll with newer folks. Use this opportunity as a way to build up weaker parts of your game or try out new technique.


#12 - Sharpen good techniques on upper belts

Remember how on #11, I suggested you try not to simply crush lower belts? Well with upper belts, do the opposite. This is the time to try to crush your opponent. Bust out your A+ game and go to town!!

The more experienced the grappler, the better they should be at keeping you both safe, mitigating your attacks, and executing their own attacks. This is the perfect opportunity to sharpen your game by learning what works and what doesn’t.


#13 - Take notes during or after class

Taking notes can be a useful tool as you will need to remember techniques to utilize them. Whether it's taking notes during class or making the time to write it down after class. This can make learning new techniques much easier. The sooner you can write it down, the better. Make the time. 

Another strategy that can help you retain new information is to go over your notes before bed and visualize performing the technique. Talk to your friends about what you learned it as if you were teaching the class. It will force you to break the information down into simple steps. Additionally, see if you can visualize the technique as you’re discussing it out loud. 


#14 - Be patient with your progress

You may feel that even after months of training, you haven’t made any progress. Don’t worry, you are indeed making progress, even if you can’t see it yet. Depending on how often you train, it can take years to become even barely competent in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, so don’t be dissuaded by the journey--embrace it.

A promotion is not the destination, it’s another starting point. In fact, there is no destination; BJJ is a lifelong endeavor. If you want to keep getting better, the most important thing you can do is to keep showing up. Train as often as you can, leave your ego at the door, and enjoy the process.


#15 - Be a BJJ advocate

Encourage your family and friends to start training. Share your knowledge and the many benefits of training. Additionally, the more training partners you have the better you will be.

Be aware that you're representing your sport and your school in your everyday life, on social media and at social event. Make Jiu Jitsu your life. 


#16 - Prioritize your nutrition 

As you are training your body is going to be challenged in new ways and have a need for a more balanced and health focused nutrition plan. Good nutrition is incredibly important and should not be overlooked. 

If one of the reasons you staring training in the first place was to lose weight, or get in shape - It's important to understand that health is 20% exercise and 80% nutrition. Read that again. 

Keeping your nutrition on point will make you a stronger, faster and better equip practitioner.  

Respect your body and your sport. Don't go out drinking on a Friday night and show up to train on a Saturday with a hangover. Your body will be angry and so will your Professor. 


#17 - Don't break your toys. 

Your partners and teammates should be family. Treat them as such. There should be no competition in the academy, that's what tournaments are for. With that in mind, tap if you have to so you don't spend 6 months recovering from an injury that could have been prevented because of ego. 


#18 - It’s not about who is the BEST -  it's about improving and learning

It's important to realize that getting tapped out doesn’t invalidate what you know. Likewise, tapping someone out won’t validate what you do know. Staying healthy, continuing to learn, and having an open mind will make you better.

Obviously, you should train hard, try to tap out your opponents, and continue to improve. But don’t risk injury for the sake of proving a point. If you don’t tap to an arm-lock from a lower belt, does it prove that you’re better than them? Maybe. But is it worth injury?

Don't measure yourself against someone with years more of experience. It's about your own personal improvement, not being better than someone else. 

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