Everyone has a first day. The first day you walk into REV can be a life-changing experience, as it was for the rest of the other people on the mat. They had a first day that became their introduction to their jiu-jitsu obsession. Some people are confident and cannot wait to get on the mat. Others are scared, nervous, and unsure of what to expect. Regardless of how you feel at first, your feelings will likely change both during and after your first class.
As someone who has trained BJJ since 2001, it is difficult to remember what it was like to be new. Sometimes I ask our new students what they wish they’d known when they started BJJ. Some of the questions below are from students who have been training less than a month. Others are from those with a little more experience.
What Is the Practical Application of the Warm Up?
Before this question can be answered, we must define what exercises are included in the warm up. This can vary depending on the class but we will use what is typical of most BJJ fundamentals classes.
Most warm-up sessions include BJJ animal movements, such as shrimps, kangaroos, chickens, crocodiles, forward rolls and backward rolls. There is often a movement drill with a partner, like practicing a submission, escape or transition.
Warm-up drills serve two purposes:
They prepare the body for the specific movement patterns of BJJ. One of the hardest things for new students is learning how to use their body as one unit.
Warm-up movements are the foundation for technical work. An example is the "upa" (pronounced oo-pa) which is a hip bridge. The upa is used to remove someone from the mount but it can also be used to sweep from the half guard. The grips and technical detail are different for the mount escape and the half guard sweep, but the upa is involved in both.
Grappling also requires specific conditioning that can only be gained by grappling. Running develops muscular endurance for running, but not for BJJ. Drills are a great way to condition the body in the specific movement patterns of BJJ. And don’t worry - it is normal to feel tired during this part of class. It happens to everyone, including myself.
"For the first few months, everything is going to seem difficult and frustrating. Then, one day, things start to click."
I remember my first few classes - I was gassed just from the warm up. I thought to myself, “But I am in good shape. I trained in various martial arts, played soccer three times per week and surf daily.” But I struggled just like everyone else on the first day. I wish someone had told me how cardio-intense BJJ is and I wish I had a fundamentals class to attend that makes it a little easier to get in the game.
How Important is Every Detail of a Technique?
This question can have many answers since every instructor may have his or her own opinion. In my opinion, every detail is important but when you first start, there is so much going on that trying to remember every detail is going to be difficult.
If you are having a hard time learning techniques, start by getting the positioning down and a sense of how your body should feel in that position. For example, new students frequently struggle with the armbar from the guard. Often, this is because of the hip movement involved with getting into the proper position. So, a good place to start would be to focus on getting in the proper position first. Then, all the little details that follow will become easier.
How Often Should I Train?
When you’re new and excited about doing something new, it’s common to want to train every day, sometimes multiple times a day. We think doing so will get us better faster. Unfortunately, that type of thinking can manifest in the opposite result. BJJ is a marathon, not a sprint.
Training frequency has to be specific for each student’s needs and goals. Training too often is not good, but training too little is not productive either. An optimal training frequency is one that can be maintained for a long time - and that may be different for each athlete.
The best way to determine the best frequency for you is to focus on your recovery. Ask yourself how many days a week you can train while fully recovering after each session. It is better to train three days a week for a year, than five days a week for a few months. The goal is to train for life. BJJ is not one of those disciplines where we get better at in just a few months. It takes years of training.
Everyone who trains Brazilian jiu jitsu has overcome the jitters and nervousness that come with the first day. For some, that same feeling may continue on for longer. It is important to know these feelings are normal. For the first few months, everything is going to seem difficult and frustrating. Then, one day, things start to click. Sometimes this moment happens when you see another new student walk in and see the struggles he or she is going though - and realize you have come a long way. If you are already an experienced practitioner, remember what it was like at the beginning. It is up to those of us with experience to welcome new students to the team and make them feel comfortable.