The Bare Essentials
Often, people ask us what they should do or not do their first class. Usually, we want to talk about jiu-jitsu. You should focus on defense, you should start with mount escapes. Don’t cross your feet from the back, that sort of stuff.
But all of those things come later. No advice you give will make any sense to people on their first day. And really, that’s not what they meant when they asked, “Anything I need to know for tonight?”
What a day-one student is really asking is this: how do I survive these two hours without getting hurt or embarrassing myself? Truthfully, many of our daily habits we learn through years on the mats are subconscious by this point. We know exactly how we like to pack our bag, exactly what time to show up at etc. It can be tough to rewind the clock and remember our first few months, before we had figured out simple quality-of-life solutions to mat problems.
So if you're reading this on or around your first day, we took a ride on the way-back machine to remember what we really needed to survive in the beginning.
It’s the first question we often ask new students, “Do you have your water?”
Surprisingly, they often don’t. Just as surprisingly, first timers don’t always see what the big deal is. I’ll just get water after class, right?
No. You’ll be dead by then.
Okay, maybe we’re exaggerating. But BJJ is pretty high on the level of physical activity, particularly in the beginning. It’s not uncommon to lose up to half a pound of water weight during a particularly intense session. Hopefully, you won’t have anything like that your first day, but you will absolutely need to drink water one or two times in class. And unless you want to heave deep breathes as you guzzle water from a bathroom sink, you need to bring water every night.
If you don’t, it’s a mistake you’ll only make once.
Don’t Wear Too Many Clothes.
It’s something people rarely mention and you won’t think much about after awhile, but the less clothes you wear to BJJ, the better.
Changing rooms can be weird, and some gyms make student’s change in the bathroom. If you show up wearing street clothes, you’ll make it worse. Plus, changing back into jeans, socks, and your polo shirt will be terrible after class when you are drenched with sweat.
So do yourself a favor, show up to class in your gi pants and sandals. Wear a rashguard under your shirt. If you’re a woman, dress just like your going to workout. Yoga pants and a sports bra. That way, you throw on your gi top and belt and you’re ready to roll.
Finally, don’t walk or drive home in the same clothes you trained in. You’ll get the funk on your car seats and you’ll increase your risk of ringworm or staph infections.
Eat After, Not Before
Look, we’re not nutritionists and some people may disagree. But generally speaking, don’t eat anything heavy before jiu-jitsu. The movements in class may make you gassy or upset your stomach. If you have to eat, try and keep it forty-five minutes before class and something light, like toast with peanut butter.
If you have to eat just prior to class, keep in mind that your body won’t have the time to meaningfully process carbs. Your best best is something sugary, like fruit, which can give you a nice boost of energy albeit temporary.
After class, is a different story. You may be dirt tired, but your body will need nutrition after taking a beating. You don’t have to eat a huge meal (and you probably shouldn’t, if you’re going to sleep right after). But you should eat something protein heavy within thirty minutes of the end of class. You’ll feel much better, trust us.
Make A Friend Right Away
Jiu-jitsu can be an intimidating environment only if you let it. BJJ is not like the local gym. Every school has guys or girls that absolutely love mentoring the new person. You just need to help them find you.
If you get to class early (and let’s face it, you probably got there way too early) don’t spend the whole time acting like you’re stretching. Go up and shake hands with the first people you make eye contact with. Ask questions, make them up if you have to. If the first person isn’t talkative, move onto the next.
It’s perfectly fine to latch on to someone early, even a fellow white belt (but take their technical advice with a grain of salt). You can follow them around and partner up with them. Remember, you are not a nuisance, BJJ people fully expect you to have no idea what you are doing. Having a friend early on will help tremendously.
A caveat, don’t make the instructor your early buddy. They will often be too busy managing the class to look after you every moment.
Better to Be Too Docile Than Too Aggressive
Odds are, you may not know your own nature of physicality in a contact sport. Some people are entirely too submissive, and coaches have to coax a little assertiveness out of them. Others need to chill out, and are fighting too hard.
But think about this, the latter people can be dangerous, the former can not. So to the degree that you have control over your fight or flight, try to dial it way back when it comes to sparring and drilling. If you are submissive, people will roll way easier with you and you can slowly dial it up.
But if your wildly thrashing about, you’ll simply be requiring your opponent to use even more force to subdue you, which they absolutely will. And if they can’t, the coach will find someone who can. It won’t be fun for you, especially if you get a reputation that attracts other tough guys to you.
Ultimately, remember that you’re trying to practice jiu-jitsu for years, not weeks or months. The pride of coming home sore, hurt, and dead tired will go away and then it will just suck. Do everything you can to start of the right foot and before you know it, you’ll love the gentle art so much you’ll be converting people yourself.