Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Beginners Guide: How to Start & What to Know
If you are new to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) or looking for a BJJ gym, this is the guide for you. There are a number of important topics to cover, and you may have already done research. If you need to jump to a specific section, click on one of the numbered linked below. If you have any additional questions or want to address something that was missed, please leave a comment or send us a message.
1. How to find a BJJ gym in your local area
When BJJ first started gaining traction in the US, practitioners would drive hours just to learn from a blue belt. Nowadays, finding a BJJ gym that is both near you and offers black belt instruction is easier than ever. You may still have to do some driving if you live in a rural area, but you may be surprised by how far you’re willing to drive once you get started. For those living in or around a city, you should have multiple gyms to choose from.
Search for “bjj near me” in Google Maps or Bing Maps
Find a gym that is close to your home or work, so that you can easily attend class on a schedule that works for you. When you first start BJJ, you will probably be borderline addicted, and you will want to be on the mats as often as possible. As the novelty wears off and your training starts to turn into more of a grind, you might become tempted to stay home. There will be nights, mornings, or weekends when you will feel as though you don’t have the energy to make it to class.
By selecting a gym that is close to you, you can eliminate one of the many ways you will try to justify staying home. If possible, find a gym that is within 15-20 minutes of your home or work. Anything farther away than that, and you might be tempted to stay home when lacking motivation.
Search for “bjj + your city + your state” in your favorite search engine
While Google Maps, Bing Maps, and others like them are important to find a gym near you, not all businesses will claim, manage, and update their profiles on these platforms. Additionally, Google and other search engines will automatically add businesses they find on the web to their map platforms, even if the business no longer exists. Keep that in mind when looking for a BJJ gym; just because you find it on Google Maps doesn’t mean they are still in business. In addition to looking for gyms on a map platform, also do research on your favorite search engine to see which gyms have up-to-date websites and social media profiles.
Look for a website with images, location, and schedule
Once you have found a gym with an online presence, you can begin to scrutinize the key details. Where are they located in relation to your house and your workplace? What do their images look like? Is it a nice-looking facility? Do they have a schedule with class days and times? Do they offer classes at times that work for you? Make sure that you find a gym you will feel comfortable at, can easily get to, and aligns with your weekly routine.
Look for current reviews and testimonials
Another key element to choosing a gym is to find multiple online reviews that are current and appear sincere. Google Maps or Facebook will probably be your best bet for finding real and relevant reviews.
When reading reviews, look for specific details about the culture, the people, and the facility. It’s not uncommon for a gym to grow very large with multiple top-level instructors, only for one of the instructors split off and form their own gym. This can happen amicably or with a lot of fallout, so look for reviews that might indicate if something like this has happened recently. If you see reviews that indicate a recent split, you might want to try avoiding that gym for the time being. Especially as a beginner, you will probably want to look for reviews that talk about how welcoming, technical, and knowledgeable the instructors are.
2. The 15 questions to ask before signing up for a BJJ gym
There are a number of important factors that go into picking a good gym, though not all of them will apply to your specific search. If you find yourself overwhelmed by this list, keep in mind that you don’t need to know the answer to every question. The purpose of this list is to get you thinking before you jump into a situation that is not right for you. Read through the questions, make note of what seems important to you, and take the time to think about questions you may not have considered.
The following list is categorized by a mixture of priority and difficulty; you may not know the answer to some questions until you've spent time training at the gym. If you aren’t interested in getting granular when picking a gym, then just take a look at the first few items in the priority list. If you are the kind of person that wants to be as prepared as possible, then read each question, and try to think of additional questions that may have been missing from this list.
#1 - Is the gym beginner friendly?
Are there beginner classes available on the class schedule?
Does the gym require you to attend special classes as a beginner?
When looking at the schedule, see if any of the classes specifically state that they are for beginners. The classes might be called, “Beginner BJJ,” “Intro to BJJ,” “BJJ 101,” or something along those lines. Depending on the size of the gym, you may find that these classes are indeed for only beginners, or they may be filled with a mix of beginner and advanced students. Regardless, finding a gym that includes classes with the word “beginner” may indicate that they are more friendly toward beginning students.
You should also ask whether you will be required to attend beginner classes or private lessons before attending other classes. Some gyms may want to introduce you to the sport in a very specific way, and other gyms may want to get you into the general population as quickly as possible. Neither way is right or wrong, but it is good to understand that different gyms have different approaches. Additionally, if you are looking to ease into the sport, you may want to select a gym with a mandatory beginner course.
Conclusion: Find a gym that offers classes for beginners.
#2 - Are there female members?
How many female members typically attend the BJJ classes?
Are there any female BJJ instructors at the gym?
If you are a female looking for a gym, these are important questions to ask. If you are a male, you may be tempted to gloss over this section of questions, but you shouldn’t. I would highly recommend that you take this section just as seriously as a female who is looking for a gym. The number of female students and/or instructors can often be indicative of the culture at the gym.
Generally speaking, if the gym is filled with meatheads and inappropriate behavior, women won’t be sticking around. Contrarily, if there is a healthy mix of female and male grapplers, it is likely a better culture. That being said, understand that there will probably be fewer females overall who participate in the sport, so that percentage will vary. If you are a female and looking to primarily train with females, look for an all-women gym. They do exist, even if there are not that many of them just yet.
Conclusion: Female members can indicate a healthy culture.
#3 - How much money will it cost?
How much are the membership dues?
Are there any other fees at signup, such as an initiation fee?
Do the monthly dues include a limited number of classes per month?
BJJ dues are typically not cheap, but some gyms are simply overpriced. Know your budget, and don’t get pressured into signing up at a gym that you can’t afford. You should expect to pay around $25-$50 per month on the cheap end, $100-$125 for your average gym, and around $175-$200 for the high end. Of course, you’ll get what you pay for, but you don’t need to train with the best in the world when you’re first starting. Consider trying out the sport at a more relaxed, less expensive gym, and just make sure that you even like it.
There are many people who train for six months or a year and decide they would like to move on. Other grapplers just want to have a side hobby and don’t train very seriously. Whatever you decide, make sure it’s the right decision for you. Once you have been training for some time, and you decide you want to take your game to the next level, then you may want to seek out a better gym that is likely more expensive. When you first start training, however, you don’t need to learn from the most decorated competitor who is charging premium rates.
Conclusion: Don’t start out at the most expensive gym.
#4 - What are the people like?
If you talked to anyone on the phone, how friendly were they?
Did they seem excited for you to come visit?
If you left a message, did they call you back?
It doesn’t matter if you train with the best BJJ practitioner in the world, if they are hard to communicate with or talk down to you, the training will likely be a negative experience. While some grapplers may prefer a tough style of coaching, there is a difference between tough love and abusive behavior. Furthermore, most people who train will be participating as a hobbyist, and it’s not worth it to train a few days a week if it’s going to be miserable. You don’t necessarily need to find people who are overly friendly, but finding professional training partners will go a long way.
This is an important step in finding a gym, but it can be difficult to gauge the behavior of gym coaches and members until you've spent time training with them. The sooner you can discover the type of people you're training with, the better, but keep in mind that it could take some time. In the meantime, be friendly and positive, but keep a healthy distance and don't be overly trusting. This step is listed above signing a contract, in hopes that you will be able to learn more about the people you're training with before committing to a contractual obligation.
Conclusion: Know the difference between tough love and abusive behavior.
#5 - What kind of contracts do they offer?
Can you pay month-to-month or does it have to be a long-term contract?
Do you save money by signing up for a long-term contract?
What is the cancellation policy?
Do you have the options to purchase a lifetime membership?
When first starting out, be wary of gyms that only offer long-term contracts. Look for gyms that offer a free class, week, or month or training before you have to sign up. Always try the free class before signing a contract. I would highly recommend training multiple classes at multiple gyms before you decide to sign a contract anywhere. After a few classes, you should have a good feel for the gym and whether it is a good fit for what you’re looking for.
When you are ready to sign up, make sure you ask about the cancellation policy. If things get awkward when you start asking questions, this might be a red flag. Also, ask if the gym offers the ability to purchase a lifetime membership. This will likely be expensive, probably in the thousands of dollars. Even if you aren’t interested in purchasing one, it can be an indication that the owner plans on keeping the gym open for as long as possible.
Conclusion: Avoid signing a long-term contract when starting out.
#6 - Are specific uniforms required?
Does the gym offer classes for Gi, No Gi, or both?
Does your membership signup come with a uniform?
Are you required to wear only your gym’s uniform?
Traditionally, BJJ is performed in the Gi, which includes a jacket, pants, and belt. Some gyms also offer No Gi classes, more commonly found in gyms that also offer Wrestling or MMA classes. The No Gi class may even be labeled as a Wrestling class or Competition Class. If you think you’ll want to compete, see if you can find a gym that offers both Gi and No Gi classes. That way, when you decide to start competing, you will have more competition options.
Some gyms will require you to purchase a Gi with their specific branding on it. The branding typically comes in the form of a “patch” that is sewn onto the back of the Gi. In these instances, it may be disrespectful to wear a Gi with a different branding on it. Make sure you clarify whether you are allowed to wear a generic Gi. You will likely want multiple uniforms, and generic brands are often much less expensive to purchase.
You will probably find that most gyms do not require their specific branding, and some gyms will even throw in a free Gi when you sign a contract with them. The more laid back the culture is, the more likely the gym is to allow any Gi. That being said, some of the best competitors in the world train at strict gyms. They can be a great place to become a world-class competitor. However, they may not be the best place to start out, and they are less like to be the best choice for the beginner or hobbyist.
Conclusion: Start out at a laid-back gym with no required uniform branding.
#7 - Do students and instructors compete?
Does the gym offer Wrestling, Judo, or Competition classes?
Does the gym have members that compete regularly?
Do any of the instructors compete regularly?
In most cases, you will find that gym owners or head coaches at BJJ gyms compete or have competed at tournaments locally, nationally, or even internationally. While this isn’t the be-all and end-all, it should be a key factor in making a decision. One of the critical components of the BJJ philosophy is to test your game against resisting opponents. While it’s not necessary for every student to compete, those who go into teaching and coaching should probably have competed at least once. Whether they are winning competitors isn’t even necessarily important; it’s about whether they have been willing to test their game and risk a public loss.
If you think you’ll want to compete down the road, look for a gym with coaches who regularly enter competitions. Not only will they be able to get you ready for the competition mentally and physically, but these coaches will often show up for your competition, help you warm up, and coach you from the sidelines during your matches. It can be a daunting experience to compete. It is a lot easier when you have a coach who is willing to help you prepare and cheer you on during your matches.
Conclusion: If you want to compete, find coaches who actively compete.
#8 - Is cross training allowed?
Is cross-training at other gyms allowed?
Does the gym offer an open mat to the public?
Do any of the members regularly attend open mats in the area?
At some BJJ gyms, they discourage their students from training elsewhere or attending open mats at other gyms. The reason for this philosophy will vary from gym-to-gym, though the purpose is typically to hide their specific curriculum so that it can’t be replicated easily. This usually stems from an old-school martial arts mentality based on secrecy and spoon-feeding students a small amount of information at a time. While the internet has made it nearly impossible to stop the spread of information, you will still find that some BJJ gyms or instructors intentionally withhold information in an attempt to keep students keep coming back.
Conclusion: Find a gym that encourages cross-training at other gyms.
#9 - What is their schedule?
Morning classes and/ or evening classes?
How long are the classes?
Do classes include rolling or sparring?
Is there an option to roll or spar after?
There are many different ways to structure a schedule, but you will likely find that weekday classes in the evening are most common. If you don’t work a traditional 9-5 schedule, you will want to find a gym that offers morning classes, but this might be harder to find. Most gyms will offer weekend classes, so this can also be a good option if you can’t make evening classes. Additionally, it never hurts to inquire if anyone trains outside of the schedule. You might find that some people come in on a regular outside of normal hours, and this can be a great way to get in extra training.
When it comes to how the classes are structured, some gyms will offer one-hour classes with optional sparring after. Other gyms will include sparring in the class length and offer longer classes. When possible, there are usually students that stay after class for more rolling. If you are only training a few times per week, it can be very beneficial to find a gym that has long classes and will allow you to stay after and train. The general recommendation is to attend 3-4 classes per week in order to make progress. However, if you can only make 2 classes per week, but you are able to attend longer classes and stay after, this can help make up for that.
Conclusion: Find a gym with a schedule that allows you to train as much as possible.
#10 - How difficult is the commute?
How close is the gym to your home?
How close is the gym to your work?
Is it close, but hard to get to?
How difficult your commute will be is one of those things that might seem unimportant when you first start training, but it will eventually become a huge hassle for you if it’s a long drive. If you end up becoming a BJJ addict, you might not even find a long drive all that bad. However, consider that if you have a family or significant other in the mix, a long drive might mean the difference between them being awake or asleep when you get home.
Some practitioners like to go straight from work to the gym. They might have a couple evenings during the week that they set aside to train, and so they prioritize the gym being located closer to work than home. This can end up being a long day, and it requires lots of preparation ahead of time. To start out with, it might be better to find a gym near your home. This will make it easier to space out your classes throughout the weekdays and weekend.
Additionally, if the gym is technically nearby, but it’s impossible to get to during rush hour traffic, this can be an additional headache you probably don’t need to deal with. Granted, not everyone will have the luxury of being picky on these points. If you live in a rural area, you will be lucky to have one gym within a 30-45 minute drive.
Conclusion: Find a gym that is close to your home and easy to get to.
#11 - Is the neighborhood safe?
What does the neighborhood near the gym look like?
Would you feel safe leaving the gym late at night?
Are you comfortable leaving your car for hours at a time?
If you plan on attending evening classes, consider the surrounding neighborhood. If the gym does not have a parking lot and you have to find street parking, consider whether it’s on a well-lit street or in a sketchy area. If parking is difficult to find in the area, you might have to walk a significant distance alone in the dark. If you stay after class to get in that extra training, you could easily be walking back to your car fairly late. Make sure you consider your safety when deciding which gym to sign up at.
Conclusion: Make sure you would feel safe walking to your car late at night.
#12 - What are people saying?
What are people saying about this gym?
Are there online reviews, and are they positive?
People are getting more and more comfortable submitting reviews for businesses they are passionate about, and BJJ practitioners are often extremely passionate about the sport. If you are unable to find reviews through Facebook or Google Maps (also known as Google My Business), this likely indicates a very small gym. That is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you live in a rural area. However, if you live in the city, you should expect most reputable gyms to have glowing reviews. There are rare occasions in which a gym owner was unfairly targeted, and it resulted in tons of negative reviews. To be safe, you should probably make sure your first BJJ gym is a business with a strong online review presence with mostly positive reviews.
Conclusion: If you live in the city, your gym should have good reviews.
#13 - What are the facilities like?
Does the gym have a run-down look to it?
Are there separate changing rooms for men and women?
Are there restrooms?
Are there showers?
Is there a drinking fountain?
Are the mats in good condition?
The condition of the facilities and the amenities provided will be more important to some people than others. If this is your first gym, though, you should know that there are places that offer showers, changing rooms, bathrooms, drinking fountains, and mats with good conditions. They do exist, so don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that training out of some guy’s garage is going to be a more legitimate experience. There’s no point in training BJJ if you’re going to spend most of your time off the mats recovering from a ringworm or staph infection.
Conclusion: Look for a gym with clean facilities (and hopefully a shower).
#14 - Do they have an online presence?
Does this gym have a website?
Are they active on social media?
Does it have an active Facebook profile or group?
When looking for reviews for your gym, you may have come across their website, Facebook profile, or other social media accounts. You probably shouldn’t expect your gym’s site to be the epitome of modern website design, but they should at least have their current contact information, hours of operation, and schedule. You can even look for a private Facebook group that gyms will often have, which allow their members to easily communicate with one another. A gym with no online presence might not be a deal breaker, but it will add a huge level of convenience if they do. For example, even if all they do is post Facebook updates regarding holiday hours or whenever a coach is running late, it has the potential to be very beneficial to you.
Conclusion: A current online presence can save you a lot of hassle.
#15 - How does the gym track membership?
Does the gym have a computer system or a card system?
How does the gym track membership?
Do you have to check in before class?
If you have had a regular gym membership at a place like 24 Hour Fitness, you know that they expect you to sign in to verify your membership before you can work out. Many BJJ gyms operate quite differently and do not require members to check in before class. This is indicative of a very tight group of people where everyone is recognized on sight. Even large gyms can be extremely close-knit, especially if they offer many classes throughout the day. The gym may even officially state that they require check-in, but ask if it is usually enforced. Either way, it may not seem like a big deal to you, but some people prefer to train in a smaller community that will know them by sight.
Conclusion: If you prefer a small community, avoid gyms that require check-in.
3. Signing a contract at your BJJ gym
You asked questions, did your research, and picked a gym to sign up at. Congratulations! This is a great first step, and you should be feeling excited to go to your first class. Before you can jump on the mats, though, there are a number of things you will need to do.
Call ahead before you show up to your first class
Call ahead and make sure there is someone available to sign you up for a new membership. Some gyms have a very small staff, and there may not always be someone at the front desk who can sign you up. Even if the gym is open and is running a class when you show up, the instructors don’t always have access to the membership system. Additionally, some gyms may require that you do a private lesson or special class before you can join the general student population. By calling ahead, you can avoid a situation where you show up ready to train only to find out that you have to wait.
Arrive early if you are signing up before class
In the event that you are able to start training with the other students immediately, make sure you aren’t late to your first class by showing up 15-20 minutes early. This should give you enough time to sign paperwork, get added to their system, pay your membership dues, and get changed, and get on the mats. Your first class is likely to be overwhelming, and you don’t want to add to that by being late.
You have to sign a waiver before you can train
Before you can get on the mats, the gym will require you to sign a waiver. This is a standard procedure at BJJ gyms, and it waives them from any liability if you get injured during training. If you are concerned about getting injured, don’t let it prevent you from trying out BJJ--even if it’s just once. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is actually a relatively gentle grappling art, and there are ways to train safely and minimize the risk of injury. If you are feeling unsure about your safety, be sure to express your concerns to your instructor, and they should help find a solution. If they don’t, it might be a good indication to find a different gym.
Try a free class before signing a contract
Most gyms have some form of contact, even if it’s just month-to-month, but some gyms will require a one-year or two-year contract. Other gyms will allow you to purchase a set number of classes via a punch card, which can be a great way to try out a new gym before committing to a contract.
If you plan on signing a long-term contract, make sure you have spent extra time researching the gym, and you are extremely confident in your decision to sign up with them. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is typically not a cheap sport to participate in, and it would be a shame to sign a long-term contract only to decide to quit a few months into it. Especially when you are first starting BJJ, it may be in your best interest to find a gym that offers a month-to-month contract or a punch card.
Look out for surprise fees when you pay
When it comes time to pay, hopefully, you won’t be made aware of any surprise last-minute charges. In some cases, gyms will have an initiation fee of some kind. Ideally, you’ve done your research ahead of time, and you know exactly how much you will need to pay when signing up. An initiation fee isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as this fee will often be a commission for the front desk person. The main issue is when it seems like the gym is trying to sneak in a last-minute fee. Make sure you ask about any signup fees when doing your research so that you can budget accordingly in advance.
To pay, most gyms will take your card information and charge you at the beginning or middle of each month. They may not ask you what date you prefer to be billed, but don’t be afraid to request a specific date. Most payment systems should be able to accommodate a specific billing date, but not all gyms will be able to accommodate this request. If you don’t want to use a card or don’t want recurring monthly charges, you can typically purchase a punch card with cash or a one-time card payment.
4. What gear you need to get started in BJJ
If you stick with BJJ long enough, you’ll realize that you spend nearly as much time doing laundry and organizing your workout gear as you do actually training. It is not necessary for you to purchase every item on the following list when you first start BJJ, but you will likely find that each component becomes necessary as time goes on.
Laundry Wash Bag
Mobile Hygiene Bag
When choosing a gym bag, you will want something that is easy to wipe down, has many pockets, and you can sling over your shoulder. If you acquire enough gear, you’ll eventually want a bag with separate places to put your Gi, flip-flops, water bottle, towel, and hygiene bag.
Additionally, you will want a separate laundry wash bag to place your Gi into after class. Not only will this help you keep your main gym bag clean, but it will also make it easier to wash your Gi. If you have an agitator in your washing machine, a laundry wash bag will also keep your belt, Gi pant drawstrings, or rashguard from getting wrapped up in the agitator.
Wrestling Shoes (Optional)
Flip-flops are critical for every BJJ practitioner to own. When you enter the gym, there will be a point when you need to remove your shoes. This might be right at the entrance, or it might be before you walk to the changing room. Most gyms will post some kind of sign to indicate where you should remove your shoes. If you’re unsure, ask the front desk or a member who appears to know what they are doing.
You choosing a pair of flip-flops, pick a brand that is comfortable and will last you a long time. This pair of flip-flops should probably only be used at the gym, and you will want to take them with you to every class. Ideally, you have a gym bag that allows you to easily slip your flip-flops into a side pocket. By bringing them to every class, you can freely walk around the changing room, bathroom, and any other floored areas without picking up bacteria on your feet and bringing it onto the mat.
If you wrestled in high school or college and prefer to use wrestling shoes, check with a gym employee before wearing them onto the mats. Some gyms will allow them and some will not, but you will likely find that most MMA-focused gyms will allow them. Even if you weren’t a wrestler, you may consider trying out wrestling shoes if you have issues with your toes. Some people’s feet, toes, or ankles get easily injured, and wrestling shoes can be a great way to stabilize that area. You can also try wrapping these areas in tape as an alternative to shoes.
Even if you drink a lot of water during the day, BJJ is probably going to make you thirsty. It can be a very physically intensive sport, and many people like to take sips throughout class--especially when you’re wearing your Gi on a hot day. Regardless of whether you sip on water throughout the class or chug a bottle afterward, you’re probably going to want to have a reusable water bottle that you keep in your gym bag.
Ideally, you want to shower as soon as possible after class with soap and hot water. Hopefully, you were able to find a gym with on-site showers. If your gym does indeed have showers, you will want to put together a hygiene bag that you can keep in your gym bag. Find a hygiene bag that will fit multiple shower materials, but if you’re having trouble fitting everything in, visit the travel section of your local department store for smaller items.
Most people don’t brush, floss, or use mouthwash before class, but don’t let that keep you from practicing good oral hygiene. Even if you brush and floss in the morning, your breath is probably going to smell pretty bad by the time you attend the evening class. Even if it doesn’t smell that bad, you will be in very close proximity with your fellow grapplers, and they will notice. If you don’t have the opportunity to brush before class, it won’t be the end of the world, but it is a nice thing you can do for your training partners if you have time.
A quality Gi can run you a couple hundred dollars so it might take you a while to put together a few sets. Affordable versions are easy to find online, and you should probably opt for the less expensive option if you are just starting out. A good Gi will last you many years before it starts to wear out or rip. Eventually, you will want to invest in a quality set. Additionally, wear a pair of compression shorts under the pants, as there’s nothing worse than wearing underwear that constantly rides up or bunches. You may also want to wear a rashguard under the jacket, and each gym will have differing opinions on whether that is necessary or not.
Uniform: No Gi
No Gi uniforms can be a lot of fun to put together, because you can find leggings, boardshorts, and rashguards in many different colors and patterns. If you want inspiration, do a search in Google Images for “10th planet bjj” to see just how slick you can end up looking. Additionally, you can put together a very affordable No Gi wardrobe by buying off-brand or from the clearance section. Starting out in No Gi can be a very affordable way to start training, as you won’t need to purchase expensive Gi’s. If you find a gym that offers No Gi classes, start there in case you end up deciding BJJ isn’t for you.
5. What to know before your first BJJ class
Doing anything for the first time can be daunting, and it can be nice to know what to expect ahead of time. Not all gyms are going to be the same, and so the following advice will not always apply. However, this guide should still provide a general idea of how your first day of BJJ will go, as well as some recommendations for how you might want to prepare.
If possible, get clean before class
Ideally, you want to make sure you aren’t a sweaty, smelly mess before you even step on the mats. Whether it’s taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or simply reapplying deodorant, your teammates will thank you. That being said, sometimes you won’t have these options, and that’s fine too.
Take a Shower
If possible, take a shower before class. Especially if you work in a labor-intensive job, you don’t want to show up for class covered in sweat, grime, and dirt. Even for those who work in an office, sometimes you just don’t smell good at the end of the day. If the gym doesn’t have a shower, but you could really use one, use the bathroom sink to wash your hands, arms, and face. While it may not be the ideal situation, it is still better than nothing, and your training partners will be glad you did it.
Whether or not you can shower before class, you can at least apply or reapply deodorant. Get in the habit of carrying an extra bar with you in your gym bag. That way, you aren’t relying on remembering to bring the bar of deodorant from your bathroom. Just don’t forget that some types of deodorant will melt in the heat, so keep that in mind if you leave your gym bag in the car while you’re at work on a hot day.
Brush, Floss, and use Mouthwash
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Are you serious?” Yes, I’m serious. Most of your training partners likely aren’t brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash before they hop on the mats--but wouldn't it be nice if they did? By the end of class, you’re going to be panting and breathing hard right next to your training partner’s face. Do you really want to be self-conscious of that chili dog you had for lunch? Even if all you do is swish some mouthwash before class, it will help a lot.
ArrivE EARLY to Your first class
What you do upon arriving to your first day of class is probably going to widely vary depending on the gym. The most important thing for you to do on your first day is to show up early, check in at the front desk, explain that this is your first day, and let them lead the way from there.
Arrive Early and Introduce Yourself
Especially on your first day, arrive early so that you can sign any necessary paperwork. Even if you have already signed a waiver, they may have you sign another one if you are talking to a different person. Once you’ve introduced yourself to the front desk, they should explain what to do next. Some gyms require you to take a private lesson with an instructor, while some gyms will have you jump into a full class right away. Regardless of what happens, just stay calm, keep an open mind, and try to enjoy yourself.
Show up in Regular Clothes and Shoes
If you have already purchased a Gi, tried it on, and are ready to go, you may be tempted to show up already dressed in your new uniform. You can call ahead to see if this is necessary, but I would suggest waiting until you show up before getting changed. You may have done all the research you can, but until you actually get into the gym and start interacting with people, you don’t always know what you’re getting yourself into. Especially when you’re new, allowing yourself some extra time to get dressed, get a feel for the group dynamic, and get collected can be important to your enjoyment of your first class.
Wear Flip-Flops When Appropriate
You may have been wondering why flip-flops were on the list of items to buy in preparation for your first day. The bottom line is this: when you aren’t wearing shoes, wear flip-flops--but wear neither on the mats. At some point in the gym, there will likely be a “no shoes” area, and this is when you will want to put on your flip-flops. On your first day, you will probably be told when to remove your shoes. However, if no one tells you, you will know by the giant pile of shoes randomly scattered in one area of the gym.
Why you Should Wear Flip-Flops
If you wrestled in high school, you probably know how common ringworm or even staph infections are amongst grapplers. This is usually due to the bacteria commonly found on public restroom floors, all over the human body, and on the mats. Make sure you always wear your flip-flops in the restroom, bathroom, changing rooms, or anywhere you aren’t wearing your shoes. Maintaining proper oral hygiene and keeping yourself safe from infection will be a critical component to your success both on and off the mats.
Don’t Wear Shoes or Flip-Flops on the Mats
As mentioned above, don’t wear your shoes or flip-flops on the mats. The purpose of removing shoes is to prevent bacteria from entering the gym. Similarly, the point of wearing flip-flops is to keep bacteria off of your feet when you walk around the bathroom, changing room, or other no-shoes-allowed areas of the gym. By removing shoes and flip-flops before stepping on the mats, you can limit the risk of an infection.
Wrestling Shoes may be Allowed on the Mats
The one exception to not wearing shoes on the mats may be wrestling shoes but always check with your instructors first. Some gyms discourage the use of wrestling shoes. If you need wrestling shoes, but your gym does not allow them, consider using athletic tape to tape your toes instead. Many BJJ practitioners use tape on their fingers and toes in order to stabilize them and prevent injury.
CHANGE INTO YOUR UNIFORM
If you didn’t participate in wrestling or other locker room sports during middle school or high school, you may feel lost when it comes to what you should know about getting ready for BJJ class. Most gyms are very casual and students leave their belongings strewn around the changing room. Other larger gyms may have lockers, and you might consider bringing a lock to secure your valuables. As always, ask your instructor ahead of time if you are unsure.
Getting Dressed in the Changing Room
Most BJJ gyms won’t have a traditional locker room, though some actually do. Space is expensive, especially in large cities, so the changing room may just end up being a side room. In some cases, there are no changing rooms, and you will need to use a bathroom to put on your uniform. If it is unclear, ask a staff member or another student.
Securing Valuables and Personal Items
If the gym has open lockers for day use, you can bring a lock to temporarily store your personal belongs securely. Whether a gym provides lockers will vary widely on a case-by-case basis, but as a general rule of thumb, you should leave valuables at home. In most cases, BJJ communities are extremely tight-knit, and locker room theft is uncommon. However, is it is a possibility. If you are concerned, speak to the instructor in private and see if you can arrange for your valuables to be stored in a secure area of the gym.
What to do if you Forgot Something
If you realized that you forgot your belt, tape, or some other important item--or if you don’t own something and need it--don’t be afraid to ask a fellow student or the instructor. In most cases, a gym will have extra gear for people who misplaced or doesn’t have something. The gym may also have a store with extra items. If you have to ask for something you don’t own at multiple classes, you should probably buy it from their store. If you can’t afford to make the purchase, talk to your instructor after class. It’s extremely likely they or other students have unused gear at home that they can donate to you.
Give Yourself Enough Time
Give yourself enough time to change before each class. It usually only takes a few minutes, but sometimes you may run into an issue, and it pays to have some extra time to deal with it. Maybe you forgot your belt, or maybe the drawstring on your Gi pants has fallen out again. Either way, make sure you give yourself enough time to comfortably change into your uniform and even chat a bit with your fellow students.
HOW AN AVERAGE BJJ CLASS MIGHT GO
It’s time for your first class. If you end up falling in love with BJJ, this will likely be a moment you look back on with fond memories. During this class, you will probably have no idea what is going on, do a lot of flailing, and end up very exhausted. The specific details of each class vary considerably, but the top-level structure is probably going to include a warmup, drilling one or more techniques, and then some form of sparring with resistance. If you are unsure what any of that means, you are in the right place.
Depending on the gym and/or instructor, you may find that warmups vary quite a lot. Some gyms follow a very specific curriculum and will always start with the same warmup routine. This might be a series of drills or movements, a full-body exercise workout, or a combination of both. By contrast, some gyms or coaches prefer to warm up with light rolling or positional rolling (similar to play wrestling). Additionally, the focus of the class might further dictate the warmup. For example, a class with a takedown focus might employ pummeling (a wrestling drill) as a warmup. Especially on your first day, you should expect to not know what you are doing. Don’t worry about looking silly. Just do the movements as best you can, and keep an open mind.
Technique and Drilling
The technique portion of class is when the instructor shows a technique while the students circle around and watch. The instructor will enact a step-by-step tutorial on a complying partner, and they will typically run through this a few times to make sure everyone has it. As the student, it is your job to remember the steps, and then drill this with a partner. You probably won’t get it right at first, and that’s fine. The coach or an assistant will probably be walking around to answer your questions. Try it out a few times, and then ask for help when you need it. You might even get paired with a partner who already knows the move, and they can help you get through it.
Rolling and Sparring
Rolling is similar to drilling, except you are no longer focusing on the technique-of-the-day, and you are open to freely try to wrestle and submit each other. If this is your first class, the coach may not yet want to try any submissions. If you know nothing about BJJ, you may not even know any submissions--or even know what a submission is. A submission refers to a technique that simulates breaking, tearing, or choking the opponent. The idea is that if you get a hold of a submission, you hold it just before any actual damage is done, and your opponent taps the mat in concession that you got them. This way, you can simulate a fight without actually hurting each other (hopefully). You should expect to be exhausted after your first sparring sessions, but don’t worry, it will get easier.
SOME PEOPLE STAY AFTER CLASS TO STRETCH OR ROLL
Depending on the structure of the class or the gym’s schedule, you may have the option to stick around for extra rolling, or you may need to clear off the mats and make way for the next class. If you just finished your very first BJJ class, you’re probably ready for a shower, dinner, and sleep.
Some gyms will offer very short classes that don’t include sparring. This can be popular with newer students who aren’t yet ready to spar, for people with families they need to rush home to, or for older grapplers who don’t want to risk injury. These gyms may offer rolling as its own class on the schedule, which will probably come right after the technique and drilling class. Don’t be afraid of rolling. If you feel significantly under-matched, realize that everyone starts there, and the only way to get better is to keep coming back for more. Just remember to tap early, and you’ll be fine.
Depending on the schedule, there may be another class after the one you are in, and everyone will need to clear off the mats to make way for the next class. Other times, the mats will be open, and students might stick around to keep rolling. You may hear people refer to this as an open mat. It may be on the schedule as an open mat, or it may just be a period of time after class where people stay and get in some extra rolls. After your first class, you might be too exhausted to stick around, which is understandable. Those people who are addicted to BJJ will still be there when you are ready to join them after class.
If you don’t have a stretching routine, you may want to look one up that is right for you when starting BJJ. Especially if you are new to grappling sports, your body is probably going to feel pretty beat up. This will pass, to a certain extent, but it will pay dividends if you invest in restorative practices such as stretching, yoga, and foam rolling (just to name a few). Even just stretching for 10-15 minutes after class will be beneficial. If you notice other students who are performing a post-class recovery activity, ask them if you can join. This will help you make new friends and save you the trouble of looking up your own routine.
For some grapplers, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is life, and they will spend as much time at the gym as possible. If you are looking to make new friends, joining a BJJ gym will likely expedite that process, and sticking around after class to mingle is a great way to do so. However, if you have kids at home and need to rush off the mats after, that’s fine too. There will be people of all ages, backgrounds, and life stages at the gym, and each person brings something unique to the table. If you do have the time to talk after class, it can be a great opportunity to meet many types of people or even network.
MAKE SURE YOU SHOWER AFTER THE CLASS
Cleanliness is an extremely important part of being a BJJ practitioner. When you start BJJ, you will find that you spend a lot of time showering, washing and drying your Gi’s, and organizing your gym wear in preparation for upcoming classes. You will likely end up with multiple outfits, which will result in a lot of laundry.
Even if you are at a small gym, there will likely be a number of people looking to shower after class is over. Before you jump into the shower, ask if there is anyone in line ahead of you. There may be an unofficial line that you weren’t aware of. When it’s your turn, you should be able to shampoo your hair, wash your body, and rinse off in around five minutes. Then, grab your towel, and dry off outside of the shower stall. This will allow the next person to jump into the shower while you get dry, and it will keep the line moving at a quick pace. That being said, if there is no one else in line for the shower, take your time and enjoy.
Wear Your Clothes
After class, don’t leave with your Gi or No Gi uniform still on. Even if you don’t shower until you get home, make sure you put your street clothes back on. This may seem like common sense to those who wrestled in high school, but it’s not actually something your average person may realize. After all, how many times have you walked out of 24 Hour Fitness with your gym clothes on and then showered at home? Unfortunately, the Gi will soak up a lot of your sweat, your partner’s sweat, and all sorts of nasty bacteria from the mat. If you drive home in your dirty Gi, you will have a very difficult time getting that smell out of your car. In an emergency, place down a towel or shirt on your car seat to avoid the sweat and smell soaking in.
Put Dirty Gi in Bag
In addition to changing out of your Gi after class, you should consider a laundry bag that you can place your Gi into. For the same reason you don’t want to wear your dirty Gi in your car, you also don’t want to contaminate the gym bag that you use to pack your clean Gi. By using a laundry bag, you can keep your gym bag clean, throw the laundry bag and Gi right into the washing machine when you get home, and prevent your belt from getting wrapped around the agitator (if your washing machine has one).
Wash Your Gi
This is another item that will likely be common sense to most people, but you need to wash your Gi. Do not reuse your Gi at the next class if you didn’t wash it, even if it doesn’t smell or you didn’t sweat into it that much. Humans have bacteria like staph all over their bodies at all times. When you come into contact with the mats or other people, your Gi has come into contact with all sorts of bacteria, and now that bacteria is on your Gi. Make sure you wash your Gi after every single class to avoid contaminating yourself and your classmates.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AFTER YOUR FIRST CLASS
Once the excitement (and possibly adrenaline) of the class dies down, you may find that you have become quite hungry and tired. How exhausted you are will likely depend on how intense the warm-up was and if you participated in sparring or rolling. Depending on these things, you may find that you are even shaking from exhaustion.
Be Careful on Drive Home
If you are shaky, be extremely careful on your drive home. You may even consider eating dinner or a snack somewhere nearby before driving. If you participated in an evening class, and you rolled hard, it could very well be late at night by the time you head home. Use caution when you are this tired, and take a power nap in your car if you need to. At the very worst, you can always Uber home and pick up your car later.
Depending on your goals and lifestyle, your post-class meal may look much different than the next person’s. However, there are fewer things in life more satisfying than eating a good dinner after a night of hard sparring. Depending on how late you will be getting home, you might want to prepare a meal ahead of time, so that it is ready for you when you arrive. Make sure you communicate how late you will be getting home to your significant other so that they aren’t waiting for you before eating dinner.
You may find that you need more sleep when you start doing BJJ regularly. The sport can end up being equivalent to a full-body workout, and if you are attending class on a regular basis, you are going to be exhausted. If you aren’t sleeping enough, this can easily affect your work life and personal relationships, so make sure you are getting enough rest. Additionally, you find all sorts of aches and pains that can affect your sleep. Once you’ve been training for some time, you may find that a restorative activity like stretching, yoga, or massage is critical to help you get a good night’s sleep.
6. What to expect the day after your first BJJ class
The following days after your first BJJ class might be an interesting mix of soreness and excitement. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, drinking a lot of fluids, and getting in some stretching when you can. You will also probably be feeling excited about this new romance with BJJ. Do your best to not shout your love from the rooftops. Good luck.
YOU WILL BE EXCITED TO START SOMETHING NEW
Now that you have seen the light, you may be tempted to tell everyone about it. Remember that most people don’t know what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is, nor do they likely care about its effectiveness in the street. All snark aside, you might be tempted to tell everyone about your newfound passion, and just do your best to reign it in. It may take a few years. Eventually, you’ll stop talking about how great it is, and simply be living the BJJ lifestyle.
BJJ CAN BE AN EXHAUSTING SPORT
Especially if you rolled hard at your first class, you might find it difficult to focus at work the next day. Make sure you are drinking lots of fluids to rehydrate, but you might also find it worthwhile to have an extra cup of coffee. This will largely depend on how active you were prior to trying BJJ. Some people will be energized the next day, while others will feel sluggish. Sparring is a full-body workout that often involves high-intensity, explosive body movements, so you should expect to feel drained after those intense sparring sessions. If you work in an office, you may want to go on a walk during your lunch break to stretch out and get the blood flowing.
YOU WILL PROBABLY BE SORE
Even if you lifted weights or did other physical activities before trying jiu jitsu, there are areas of the body that aren’t usually targeted in other sports (outside of Wrestling and Judo). This might leads to unusual aches and pains. For example, your ribs might be extremely sore to the touch. Some people refer to this as “jits ribs,” and it is common for newer grapplers. It’s also possible you might feel great. Maybe you wrestled in college, and your body has missed being on the mats. Or, perhaps your first class was fairly light, and you didn’t participate in sparring. Either way, the aches and pains will likely catch up to you eventually. Practice good restorative activities and take care of your body. You will be thankful you did in the long run.
7. How BJJ will affect your personal life
You will probably get addicted to this sport, and you will likely never shut up about great BJJ is to your friends and family. This is only kind of a joke. In reality, this happens quite frequently. It really goes to show how much of a positive impact this sport can have on people’s lives. Just keep in mind that from the outsiders perspective, it may look closer to a cult than enlightenment. The tone of this section is going to border on snark, but you need to hear the truth.
You are probably going to drive your friends insane when you first start BJJ. For a while, everything that isn’t Brazilian Jiu Jitsu might seem a bit boring, or just not as fun as it once was. Even when you are having fun doing something else, you may still find yourself fantasizing about pulling off that new submission or sweep you’ve been working on. Do your best to not be too obnoxious, and keep in mind that your friends probably don’t want to listen to you talk non-stop about BJJ or come with you to your next class. Let them know how great you think it is, invite them to join you, and then drop it. If they ask about it after that, answer any questions, but keep it short. Additionally, don’t be that friend that tries to solve every problem by offering a wrestling challenge. Does the group have differing opinions on where to eat dinner? This is not the time to challenge them to a grappling match. Keep in mind that I am offering this advice because I’ve been there. I’ve been that friend, but you don’t have to make the same mistakes.
While your friends can easily avoid you by ignoring your calls and texts, your family won’t be so lucky. Due to this, be extra careful not to inundate them with lengthy stories of that epic 10-minute sparring session you had last night. Additionally, if you do end up dragging your kids to BJJ, remember that they might not be as interested in the technical aspects of the belly-down armbar variation as you are. That being said, kid’s classes are often an exciting, fun-filled hour of mania that includes lots of exercise, games, and some BJJ technique. If you want to enjoy BJJ with your children, consider volunteering as an assistant at your gym’s kid’s class. It can be a fantastic way to connect with your child and share the joys of BJJ with them, without making it entirely about you.
Of all the people to be most careful around, it is critical that you don’t overwhelm your significant other with your tales from the mats. The reason for this is that they are probably the person who is most likely to actually sit there and listen to you for a long period of time. Eventually, however, their patience will wear thin, and you will lose all talking privileges. In some rare instances, they may accompany you to the gym. In even rarer circumstances, they may get addicted themselves. I would not recommend holding your breath for them to jump on the BJJ bandwagon, though, and don’t let that impact your relationship. Remember that BJJ is not the only expression of art and exercise in this world, and different people find joy in different things, and that’s okay. You can still love them, even if they don’t think that Berimbolo into Omoplata is the epitome of high art.
Repeat slowly after me, “My workplace is not a recruiting ground for BJJ.” Very good. I think you have what it takes, kid. You’re gonna do great out there. In all seriousness, just be sensitive to the dynamic of your workplace and your colleagues when it comes to talking about BJJ. That’s probably a good rule of thumb when talking to anyone about anything in your personal life, but especially true for work. Depending on how formal your work is, you may want to not use terms like “positional dominance” or “submitting from bottom.” That can easily result in a quick trip to HR, and it might be harder to explain the context than you think. On the other hand, some workplaces are open and candid, and you would never have to worry about getting in trouble for discussing personal topics. In fact, some workplaces may even have colleagues who train BJJ together. I’ve heard of some places where people train on their lunch break. Simply be aware of your surroundings, understand the boundaries of where you work, and as always--don’t overwhelm everyone around you with BJJ talk.
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If you are new to BJJ, I hope this helped you get a better idea of what to expect. If you think of something that wasn't covered or would like to know more about a specific detail, send us a message.