WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOUR FIRST BJJ CLASS
By Averi Clements
Whether you’ve finally pursued the results of a Google search after a long time of wanting to try jiu-jitsu, or you’re considering caving into your friend’s request to just come try a class, you’re probably feeling a lot of emotions about trying your first-ever BJJ class.
Starting something new almost always comes with a mixture of excitement and nervousness, and this is especially true for combat sports. Whether you’re most apprehensive about the nature of jiu-jitsu itself or you’re simply worried about being in an unfamiliar environment with a lot of people, here are some things to know and expect in your first-ever class:
- There’s a lot of close contact.
Jiu-jitsu isn’t a striking-based martial art, so don’t worry — you won’t be getting punched in the face. An over-simplified description that many BJJ athletes use when describing it to their confused relatives and coworkers is, “It’s like wrestling, but with chokes and joint locks.” So, yes, you’re going to be in close contact with other people, and you’ll often have to deal with some positions that are strange, awkward, and physically uncomfortable.
Oftentimes, a bit of practice is all it takes to get used to being underneath someone you’ve only just met. But if you have a history of trauma or abuse, you may want to bring this up to the coach before class starts. Some people find these positions triggering, while others aren’t fazed by them at all. If you do decide you need a break, politely excuse yourself from the mats until you’re ready to come back.
- Hygiene and safety are paramount.
Make sure your nails are trimmed short (you shouldn’t be able to see any of the white bit over your fingertips), you’re wearing deodorant (freshen up before class just to be safe), and you’re wearing clean clothes before class starts. While you probably won’t be expected to wear any sport-specific clothing for your first class, make sure you’re at least wearing appropriate clothes for the activity. In other words, no sleeveless shirts, no shirts or shorts with zippers or buttons, and nothing that’s so loose that you run the risk of fingers or toes getting caught. A tight-ish athletic shirt and leggings (make sure they’re not see-through!) or athletic shorts will usually be fine to wear on your first day. If you decide you want to continue, you’ll also want to invest in a mouthguard to protect your teeth.
- There’s a hierarchy.
There are five main belt levels in Brazilian jiu-jitsu: white, blue, purple, brown, and black. Depending on the gym you go to, there will likely be various ways in which this belt hierarchy will be recognized in class. For many gyms, this will be simply reflected in the lineup before class, with white belts on one side and black belts on the other. In other academies, lower belts are discouraged from asking upper belts to roll. If you’re unsure, it’s best to ask the coach or another member of the team — members of any gym with a healthy environment will be happy to help so you don’t feel awkward.
- It’s ok to feel overwhelmed.
There’s a lot to learn in jiu-jitsu, and it’s no surprise that it can take ten years or more to earn a black belt. Most of the movements we learn in BJJ are very specific, and you may have never moved your body in such a way before. The good news is that everyone feels that way in their first class (and many subsequent classes). Even though the other people you see on the mats will likely be more experienced than you, they’ll remember what it feels like to feel overwhelmed, lost, and very confused on their first day. In a good academy, you’ll have people around you who will be willing to help you better understand the techniques being taught.
- The investment is worth it.
Some people balk at the monthly membership cost of BJJ, but trust us: it’s worth it. Yes, it’s often more expensive than a “traditional” gym, but remember that you’re also getting instruction in a specialized martial art. That said, if you’re not completely sold on the academy you visited, shop around! Check out a few gyms in your area, and see what they offer for the price. While you shouldn’t pick a home gym solely based on price, it never hurts to try out different gyms and see if you like the instruction, schedule, or overall “vibe” more. Ask the other students what they believe the pros and cons are to training at their home gym, and make the decision that’s best for you.
Your first jiu-jitsu class is the first step to an amazing journey! Every black belt was once a day-one white belt, and one day, you’ll be able to help new students on their first day as well.
Averi is the managing editor for the Jiu-Jitsu Times. She’s a brown belt under Nick Hughes of Trinity MMA and an ambassador for Grapple Apparel.