What to Expect at 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.
Pre-Class BJJ Hygiene
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 BJJ 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.
Changing Into Your BJJ 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.
What the Average BJJ Class Looks Like
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.
Staying After the BJJ Class is Over
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.
Post-Class BJJ Hygiene
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.
Post-Class Recovery and Rest
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.
Did you Find This Helpful?
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, leave a comment below or send us a message.