When I first started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I didn’t know what to expect and it made me a bit nervous. I’ve been training in BJJ for a few years now and know what to expect in many training environments, so let’s go over what you can expect at your first BJJ class so that you can walk in with more knowledge and confidence than I did.
A typical BJJ class begins with warm-up exercises and stretching. Instructors then demonstrate the techniques of the day and students will then be paired up to drill that technique. At the end of class sparring or positional drilling occurs between students.
Read on for some specifics about what to do before, during, and after your first jiu-jitsu class that will demystify some of the experience and helps you make the most out of it.
What Types of Techniques are Covered in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu covers grappling techniques that range from takedowns to sweeps and submissions. Most of BJJ revolves around either passing your opponent’s guard or retaining your guard while looking for submission opportunities or opportunities to improve your position in the match.
There are many hybridized martial arts systems and combat systems that include principles that are covered in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but nothing has full carryover into skills on the BJJ mats.
I’ve made friends with many Marines over the course of my training and have been interested to see what actually carries over from MCMAP training onto the mats. I go over both the helpfulness and limitations in my post Does the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) Help BJJ?
What Should I Wear to My First BJJ Class?
If you are like many other first-time jiu-jitsu practitioners you most likely don’t own a BJJ gi. This is perfectly acceptable and any school worth their salt will be flexible in your first class at the school. In some instances, a school might have a loaner gi for new members.
If you are somebody who needs vision correction and usually wears glasses I recommend that you check out my other post Can You Wear Glasses While Doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
Wear Athletic Wear to BJJ Class
Most commonly you will simply wear normal activewear clothing that you might wear to the gym or to play sports outside. It is important to wear clothing in which you can move well in all directions. Wearing a rash guard or Under Armour style top is ideal but any t-shirt without pockets will do.
If you own athletic shorts without pockets use that since fingers and toes can sometimes get caught in pockets. However, if your athletic shorts have pockets do not let that stop you. You will likely be paired with somebody who will be aware enough of the situation to keep something like this from occurring in your first few classes.
You won’t need to wear shoes, and if you are coming from a wrestling background and you have wrestling shoes you can leave them at home unless you have a foot/ankle injury.
I wrote this post about using shoes in BJJ and I recommend you check it out if you want to understand the etiquette as well as the pros and cons of wearing shoes on the mats.
Wearing the Loaner Gi
Sometimes a BJJ school will have a loaner gi that new students can use during their first few training sessions. Wear a rash guard or athletic clothing under this borrowed gi so that you can move around easily during class.
You can’t count on having a loaner gi since it is not an extremely common practice. If you are certain that you want to start BJJ you can purchase a gi prior to class. If your school sells gis you will definitely get some bonus points purchasing a gi through them, but you can buy affordable gis at various online stores.
Bring Flip-Flops to Your BJJ Class
If you have the ability to bring or wear flip-flops to class you should do so. This is important because it limits the transfer of dirt and germs from the floor onto the mats with which everybody comes into contact.
It is even more important to wear flip-flops when you go to use the bathroom at the school because nobody wants the germs or small amounts of urine splashed onto the bathroom floor getting transferred onto the mats.
If you forget flip-flops try to use some hand sanitizer on your feet or try to clean them in some way before you get back onto the mats after a bathroom visit, your teammates will appreciate it.
How Do I Handle Personal Hygiene Before My Class?
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is by nature a close contact sport. Since we are grappling and in very close contact with our training partners, we need to be very mindful of personal hygiene before we take our first step onto the mat.
Some important hygiene tips you should implement prior to going onto the mats are below.
- Trim your nails: it is very important to keep your fingernails and toenails trimmed short. You want the meat of your finger or toe to contact before the nail does, which will look a little different on every person. This is important for any martial art but is doubly important in jiu-jitsu where you will face frequent live sparring situations. Nobody wants to leave the mats looking like they went three rounds with an angry cat, so try to keep your nails trimmed.
- Control your body odor: be courteous to your training partners and make sure that you take a quick shower if you smell bad. Nobody wants to be near somebody who has a strong body odor. You don’t have to shower immediately before class, but use some common sense and make sure you don’t stink so everybody can have a good experience.
- Brush your teeth: think about how likely you are to stand near somebody in public who has noticeably bad breath. Now bring that person to within 6 inches of your face. BJJ is close contact so having reasonably fresh breath is a bit more important than in many other parts of daily life. If you don’t have time to brush your teeth, you can use a mouthwash, preferably with hydrogen peroxide, to keep your breath decent if you are in a time crunch.
Implementing these simple hygiene tips will help you to get the most out of your time on the mats. People will go out of their way to help a new grappler who is friendly and has good hygiene but might pass you over if you are known to have issues with hygiene.
Remove Jewelry and Cosmetics Before BJJ Class
Most forms of jewelry are risky to keep on in during a BJJ class. Earrings, nose rings, belly rings, watches, and rings on fingers and toes can all potentially cause serious damage to yourself and your partner. You could accidentally rip out jewelry and damage sites of piercings or cut your partner. People have broken fingers when their wedding rings get caught in their training partner’s gi. I always take off my ring and watch before getting on the mats, it is just a good idea to remove that extra possibility of injury.
Ladies (or fellows) make sure that if you wear make-up or cosmetics that can transfer to clothing you thoroughly remove it before you start class. Both your gi and your training partner’s gi can easily be stained by cosmetics. Gis are pretty expensive and you aren’t going to be very popular to roll with if you stain your partners’ gis.
What is the Typical Format of a BJJ Class?
Before the class even begins, shake hands with the school owner and your instructor, then bow towards the mat and shake hands with all of the students on the mat and introduce yourself. If this thought gives you anxiety, at least shake your instructor’s hand before you line up with the other white belts.
While there are some differences between schools, the typical BJJ class format goes as follows.
- The Bow: Students will line up across the mat facing the instructor in lines by belt rank. Black belts, brown belts, purple belts, blue belts, and white belts form horizontal lines facing the instructor in descending order. Since it is your first class you are classified as a white belt so you will need to line up with the other students at the back of the mats.
- The Warm-Up: There is some variability in what can be expected in a warm-up, but you can expect it to last 10-15 minutes. Some schools are very light on calisthenics and do more stretching. Others will have students doing burpees and bear crawls in their warm-up routines. Most likely, unless you are attending a very competition-oriented school, you will do some jiu-jitsu-specific movements like shrimping and baseball slides and primarily spend the warm-up doing stretching to get loose before the techniques are taught. Don’t overthink this or feel ashamed if you have trouble doing the warm-up routine, everybody else has likely been doing this for months or years, and you will get there too.
- Technique of the Day: The instructor will demonstrate a technique on one of the students and share nuggets of wisdom he or she has learned over the years about the technique, pay attention, and don’t talk during instruction. After the demonstration, people may ask questions and the instructor will either pair individuals up specifically or allow upper-ranked students to grab lower-ranked students for technique drilling. Do your best to emulate the technique and get feedback from your training partner and instructor to improve your execution. Instructors will usually walk around and take questions while the students work on the technique during this time.
- Sparring and Rolling: Sparring will usually happen at the end of the class and will give you a chance to beat everybody with the one technique you now know! Jokes aside, in your first class you will likely not even be allowed to do the rolling sessions with all the other students. You might get paired up for more drills or roll with a significantly more experienced grappler. Slow down and ask questions and you will most likely be allowed to work what you know by your training partner if they know it’s your first class. You will find that your best teachers will be your training partners. If for some reason you are doing a live sparring session try to relax and be ready to tap quickly if you don’t feel safe, more on this topic later.
- End of Class Bow: Just like at the beginning of the class you will line up by belt ranks and bow towards the instructor. Often people will shake hands at the end forming a line, but you definitely want to at minimum thank your instructor and anybody you worked with during class at this point if you can.
How Do Instructors Teach BJJ Techniques?
Every instructor will have their preferred methods of building a class curriculum and different ways they like to see their students drill techniques. Two of the most common forms of instruction are single technique instructions and technique chains.
Instructors Teaching a Single BJJ Technique
Stepping into a BJJ fundamentals class really increases the chances you’ll run into single technique instruction. When your instructor simply goes over a single technique from a single position it will make it a bit easier to retain information for novice grapplers.
There are many factors playing out simultaneously when doing a technique and a good instructor will understand that focusing on a single technique from a single position will work best for a complete beginner. It is common that in your first class you might even be taught a technique separately from the rest of the students.
Instructors Teaching BJJ Technique Chains
As people progress in their jiu-jitsu skills they will start learning technique chains. This is the natural progression of BJJ since when grappling you will often be dealing with multiple likely scenarios branching off of each technique.
This methodology is effective but might be a bit overwhelming to a brand new jiu-jitsu practitioner in their first class. Don’t worry about it and just do the best you can to learn the individual components of the movement sets. People will understand that you are new and have all been in that exact same spot before. This type of instruction will start to feel more natural in future classes when your grappling knowledge base grows.
What Is Tapping in BJJ and When Should I Do It?
When you tap out you are submitting to your training partner. You do this by flattening your hand and loudly tapping the mat or tapping your training partner somewhere on their body to indicate that they have submitted you.
Tapping, or tapping out is a very common situation in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, especially at the beginning of learning BJJ. There isn’t any reason to feel shame or failure if you have to tap out for any reason, it is simply part of the process.
Common reasons you should be tapping out are listed below:
- Your opponent is applying a submission and you are starting to feel discomfort or pressure.
- You feel sharp pain anywhere on your body.
- You have any intuition or feeling that you are in danger of physical harm.
- You feel like you might pass out
- You feel like you might throw up
- You need to reset for any other reason.
There is a common saying among wiser grapplers that have been training in submission grappling or jiu-jitsu: tap early and tap often. It is essential to your health and to your long-term experience with the sport that you take those words to heart.
How Should I Handle Sparring or Rolling in My First BJJ Class?
As a brand new grappler, you are not always expected to participate in live rolling. In fact, you might not even be allowed to do so in your first class.
Before you start rolling, I would recommend at a minimum, using a mouthguard as protective gear. I chipped a tooth in my first week of jiu-jitsu and regret not investing in a simple mouthguard.
If you do, there are a few actions listed below that you should take to make sure you have a productive experience with your first live grapples.
- Slow Down: This is your first class, you have very little experience at this point and you don’t have the muscle memory to rely upon to drive your movements accurately with speed. This means you should slow down your movements enough to understand what is going on in your grapple. This will also help your training partner point out things that you can improve and keep both of you safe.
- Use Less Strength: When you are in an unfamiliar environment and in a simulated fight it is easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and use too much strength to try to jockey for position in the roll. At this point in your training using strength at the wrong time might put yourself and your training partner at risk. Also, you are going to get tired very quickly if you use too much muscle power.
- Relax and Breathe: Keeping your mind in a relaxed state and taking deliberate breaths will greatly increase your staying power in rolling sessions. Also having a relaxed mind will really help you to learn what is going on in your grapple. Take measured breaths to make sure you don’t let your adrenaline overwhelm you and make you too tired to keep rolling.
- Work Techniques You Know: It’s your first class. If you see an opportunity to work on the technique you learned in class go for it. Do it deliberately and your partner might let you work that technique with a bit of resistance for realism. The last thing you want to do in your first class is to slap on a technique you saw on YouTube or make something up and accidentally hurt yourself or your training partner.
- Ask Questions if You Can: Depending on your training partner they may be willing to field questions and go over techniques and ideas that they think might be useful for you. These other students are a great resource for you, if you can do this it will do two things. First, you will get to learn something that they feel competent enough to talk about. Second, they will be talking to you instead of submitting you! Some training partners will want to stay active and keep working and not talk. Just do your best with the first four steps and maybe your partner will answer some questions after the grapple.
How you handle rolling in jiu-jitsu is a fun balancing act you will tune differently for every training partner you have in the future. Relax, have fun, and realize you will be getting tired and getting submitted throughout your BJJ journey and there is nothing wrong with it.
What Should I Do at the End of My First BJJ Class?
After the end of the class, I would recommend at minimum shaking your instructor’s hand. Depending on your school environment there will be different options for activities directly after class.
Rolling After BJJ Class Ends
Depending on your school you may have the opportunity to do sparring practice after class ends. Instructors will vary their policies with newer students concerning rolling but if you have the opportunity to do so there is no reason you can’t participate so long as you stick to the tips mentioned earlier concerning how to handle rolling as a new student. If you are intimidated by the prospect or are simply too tired and sore after class you can always skip it until you are ready to participate.
Talk to Your Teammates After BJJ Class
BJJ is an intimate sport and you have great opportunities to make deep friendships with your classmates and instructors. Some of my favorite conversations about life and of course jiu-jitsu have happened after class talking to teammates at my BJJ school.
Making an effort to start up these friendships will create an opportunity to make some life-long friends. If that isn’t enough for you, you will have a nice secondary benefit in that if you have a friendly relationship with your teammates they will feel more inclined to help you grow your BJJ skills.
Stretch After BJJ Class is Over
If you have a few minutes of time after class it would be extremely beneficial to do a post-class set of stretching and recovery work. You can do a yoga routine, foam rolling, or simple static stretching. If you see somebody doing a cool-down routine ask if you can join in, you could make a friend and you know that the routine is likely good for BJJ.
Doing a stretching routine while your muscles are warm will decrease your soreness the next day. If you don’t have any routine in mind you could consider doing the stretching you did during the warm-up section of the class.
Actions to Take Before Leaving the Building After Your First BJJ Class
Talk to your instructor if you want to sign up for additional classes or sign up for a membership. This is the time to confirm that their scheduled classes that are compatible with your life schedule are actually available to you as a new white belt student.
Ask about expectations regarding acquiring a gi and belt. Some schools have rules where you need to wear specific gi sold by their school or specific colors depending on their traditions. Make sure you are clear on the expectations of your school for your uniform. Remember, you might get some bonus points if you buy your gi through them. You don’t need to do it if you are concerned about cost or quality, but it should at least be considered.
Best Practices for Post BJJ Personal Hygiene
In order to stay healthy, it is important that you follow a few simple rules to avoid common mat diseases that happen in all types of practical martial arts including jiu-jitsu.
- Shower As Soon As Possible: When you get on the jiu-jitsu mats you are exposed to germs from all the other grapplers since the mats have been cleaned. There are many common mat diseases that can affect the health of your skin that are easily preventable by taking a simple shower as soon after grappling as possible. Seriously, get that shower in ASAP.
- Use Alcohol Wipes If You Can’t Shower Right Away: If you are squeezing in a session during your lunch break at work or you have a long drive home you should consider using alcohol wipes on all the skin that was directly exposed to the mat and other people. You are somewhat protected by your clothing so wiping every part of your body down is not completely necessary. Showers are better, but this will help if that is not an option.
- Wash Your Gi and Other Clothing: Wash all your clothing that was worn on the mats or after you got off the mats. This means your gi and whatever change of clothes you put on after you took off your gi. This includes your belt if you have one. I was horrified to find out that some people don’t wash their belts out of tradition. You really need to wash that belt alongside your gi as soon as possible or you are needlessly increasing your risk of skin disease.
If you want to maximize the life of your gi and provide the best possible care for your uniform and keep everything sanitary check out my post on how to care for your gi.
Following those simple steps will ensure you keep healthy and don’t have to take mandatory time off the mats.
Recovering After Your First BJJ Class
Jiu-jitsu is a highly active sport and you are leaving the school with the equivalent of a full-body HIIT workout at the gym. When you ask this much of your body you need to give your body some care in return in order to properly recover after class.
Eat After BJJ Class
People have different goals regarding nutrition, diet restrictions, and body composition so I won’t tell you what to eat to recover from BJJ here since it is not one size fits all. What I can tell you is that you should definitely be eating something with some protein and you should not run too large of a calorie deficit while your body is adapting to BJJ or your body will take longer to recover and be slightly more prone to injury.
Stretch After You Get Back From BJJ Class
If you didn’t stretch immediately after class you should consider doing some light stretching at home before you go to bed. This will help bring things back into alignment and help your muscles and tendons recover a bit more quickly. It will also help to alleviate any muscle cramps that might have happened during class.
Get Extra Rest After BJJ Class
Jiu-jitsu is hard work, especially while your body is getting used to this form of exercise. Give back to your body by allowing yourself some extra time to sleep or even just spend extra time laying down somewhere comfortable to rest. Extra sleep will help your body recover.
Nothing is going to take away the normal nervous energy you get when you are starting something new, but I hope that by shedding some light on how to effectively attend your first BJJ class has been helpful.
Jiu-jitsu is a complex sport where you can make deep connections to people and achieve great individual physical and mental growth. Now go out there and attend your first BJJ class.
If you are concerned about whether you should start BJJ while still being overweight or unfit check out my post about whether or not to lose weight first to find out more.