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Starting Jiu-Jitsu? Here’s What You Need To Know

Black-Belt Advice for New BJJ White-Belts

If you’re new to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and you’ve been attending classes for more than a week or so, you may already realize that you are being bombarded with two torrential streams of information.

One encompasses all the physical/technical aspects, including your basic hip escapes, bridges, framing, etc. Right along side of all the technique learning, you will likely have someone in your ear constantly giving you advice about what to do, what not to do, how to think, and so forth.

This advice-giving will come from everywhere and everyone. You’ll get advice from people who have two decades of training behind them, and you’ll get advice from your training partner that started three weeks before you first set foot on the mat. It can all be helpful but can also be a bit too much.

You’ll soon realize that most of us fall into the old CrossFit cliche which can be paraphrased: “How do you know if someone trains in BJJ? They won’t stop talking about it.” We are all guilty on that count.  I know I am.  

That being the case, I feel it is important to take all of this information and distill it down into something that can be helpful as a guide and that hopefully won’t get lost in the noise. What I’ll include here are a few points that are super important to keep in mind as you progress through these early stages. I won’t say that these are the most important things for everyone in every case. However, taken as a general guide, I believe this will help you on your path.

Expect to be humbled.

I always like to say that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the hardest thing I’ve ever done for fun.

It’s harder than all the sports I played back in my school days, and it’s harder than all of the martial arts styles I trained before coming to BJJ. Jiu-Jitsu is difficult in terms of how much there is to learn and in terms of how long it takes to actually get good. People who are naturally good at physical activities often run into a situation that they’ve never before encountered, which is that they are probably going to be bad at Jiu-Jitsu for awhile. I’ll try to avoid the cliched points regarding ego, but here is one to keep in mind: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an ego killer.

In my case, I have never lost so regularly in my entire life. I was getting tapped constantly, over and over again. I started to let that voice in my head tell me that I had picked the wrong sport. This is the only thing I ever thought about quitting, in all honesty. Slowly, though, I began to find the little wins. The person that normally tapped me five times in a round only got me four times in the last round. That’s improvement. All this is to say that you CANNOT get caught up in the wins and the losses. The more you can just let go, have fun, and just enjoy the process, the better off you will be, and, more importantly, the longer you will stick with it. Just have fun.

Embrace discomfort.

Next, I’d like to give some attention to discomfort. Discomfort is a good thing. Your average person is not accustomed to being uncomfortable, and many will go to great lengths to avoid it. One nice thing about sticking with Jiu-Jitsu is that you cannot help but get used to physical discomfort, and some of us even learn to revel in it to some extent. At the beginning, you may feel uncomfortable because you are not in great shape. This will improve with time. Beyond that, you’ll see that it is your partner that is making you uncomfortable with the knee on belly, or that shoulder pressure from side control. You’ll learn to tolerate this and even invite it.

So, don’t be afraid of the discomfort, don’t be afraid of making your partner a little uncomfortable, but most importantly, do not be afraid to communicate. If it’s too much, say so. If it’s not enough, say so. 

Get better one class at a time.

Lastly, there is a statement that you will hear periodically during mat speeches: “A black belt is just a white belt that didn’t stop showing up.” This is as true a statement as you are going to hear. There are the rare few that go on to become world champs or pro fighters, but mostly we are made up of regular people that just keep coming. It’s going to seem that those upper belts have some sort of magic that nullifies all of your techniques. Let me assure you, there is nothing mystical about it.

All it takes is time (and effort). So just keep your head down and your eyes on the next step ahead of you. The next thing you’ll know, ten or so years will have gone by, and someone will be tying a black belt around your waist.

Now, as I look back over the preceding five paragraphs, I realize I failed to keep this as neat and succinct as I initially hoped to. Simultaneously, I feel like there is a lot more that needs to be said here, but that will always be the problem with an essay like this. That being said, I’m going to try to boil this down a bit in keeping with my original idea. If I’m going to give some general advice to a new BJJ white belt, it would read as following.

Every single person had a first day of training. We all felt just as lost as you do sometimes. Just embrace the grind, stay the path, and most of all, remember to just have fun. 

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