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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Do You Even BJJ, Bro? First Class Survival Strategy

So you've been hearing a lot about this 'Jiu Jitsu thing' and you think you want to give it a try. You figured out that it's not MMA/UFC and now you know that you're (usually) not going to get punched in the face; so you're on-board. GREAT! Welcome to the best thing you've ever decided to do. But now that you've decided to do it, and (let's just assume) you've found a gym, what can you expect in your first class and then going forward? In this post we're going to look at what a typical BJJ class is like, what to wear, and how you should conduct yourself in your first class.

If you've never been to a BJJ (or any martial arts) class before, relax. Being nervous is natural, but you'll find that the majority of your training partners are going to be very nice, kind, helpful, and excited at the chance and opportunity to share their knowledge and help with you. Your first day is a big deal, so loosen up and try to enjoy it. Make sure that you arrive to the gym early. If you haven't already, you're going to need to sign some paperwork like 'Hold Harmless' agreements and/or your membership contract. So arrive early enough that you can introduce yourself to the instructor, sign the paperwork, and get changed for class. All of that shouldn't take too much time, but I'd suggest come about 20 minutes prior to the announced class start time. That time will also allow you to get acclimated with any rules the gym may have, get a tour of the facilities,

If you don't already own a gi, that's cool; just show up in sweat pants and a t-shirt. Your school should have a loaner gi and white belt at the school for new guys to use for their first class, but don't bank on that. But most likely you'll wear your sweat pants, t-shirt, and the gi top that the school will loan you for that class. Obviously, it'll be a bad look if you need to borrow that gi top every class, so the sooner you get your own gi/belt combo, the better. Check out for good (daily) deals on all sorts of BJJ gear--they usually sell a few gis a few times a week. But if you're training no gi, just show up in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. You'll eventually want bottoms without pockets, so get on the ball to secure those. That way your partner isn't breaking off fingers/toes in your pockets.

Once the papers are signed and your changed into your new uniform of awesomeness, it'll be time to get class going. Prior to warm ups, it'll be common for your new best friends to be hanging out on the mats waiting for class to start. Don't worry, we'll recognize you as new, but introduce yourself. You're probably going to work with a higher rank, and of about equal size, so that'll be a good place to start making friends. Just say "Hi" and smile. Soon enough warm ups will start. That will vary from school-to-school, but generally expect some form of standard calisthenics and stretching. After about 10-minutes of that, you'll move on to "Line Drills." Line Drills are your basic fundamental ground movements of Jiu Jitsu. The class will form a couple of single-file lines, then replicate the  instructed movement down the mat (SO PAY ATTENTION). Here you'll learn some basic body movement and mechanics that will help you out down the line. You can expect a handful of drills that will teach you--and your body--how to roll, fall, and wiggle out of situations all while continuing to limber up. 

After that you'll move on to the actual 'class' part of class where your instructor will teach technique. You'll partner up with someone your size; it's likely that your instructor will do that for you though, and select someone to partner up with you for the night. Once that's established, you'll watch your instructor demonstrate a technique and explain what they're doing to the other person (SO PAY ATTENTION). Generally they'll show it broadly once, go into a little more detail the second time they show it, and show it a last time more dynamically, but with less detail on the third time; then tell you to go give it a try. Your partner will usually go first since they're more experienced with everything and and help you out. Generally, you'll switch off every three repetitions. That process is called "Drilling." After some time passes, your instructor will call everyone's attention back to them where they can demonstrate another technique. The process will repeat itself from there one, or maybe two, more times that night until you learn/drill a few new moves/techniques. During the drilling process, it's important to remember to be aware of what you're doing. Try to replicate the instruction perfectly as possible, but also remember that you're just drilling and not trying to kill your partner. Also, if you're drilling any kind of submission (be it a choke, strangle, or joint lock) remember to tap out when it gets uncomfortable. You can submit and let your partner know you've had enough, and want out, by: Tapping them with your hand (anywhere (that's not too odd/weird)) on their body until they let go, Tapping on the mat with your hand or foot (make sure you do that hard, and loud), or by verbally tapping out by literally saying "TAP," which usually comes out as "taptaptaptaptap!" When any of that happens, a good training partner will recognize that and let go immediately.  After you've drilled your techniques for the night, the last 15-20 minutes of class usually consist of a sparring session that's generally called "Rolling."

Some schools will ask the new white belt to sit out the first time, watch how the roll goes, then ask them if they'd like to hop in on the second one. Some schools won't let new guys roll on the first night at all; while still others let the new guy hop right in there and go. There's no wrong approach to that, but expect to roll on your first night. Jiu Jitsu is a sport that the more you do it (mat time) and apply what you know, the better you get and the faster you get better, I won't sugar-coat this, you're going to get smashed your first time--unless you're some All-State wrestling champion or something. In most cases, your sparring partner will know you're new and won't twist you up too bad, but in that same hand, we're not doing you any favors by taking it easy on you either. A good training partner will know when to push you and when to let off. There are times when you need to turn up the intensity, times to dial it back, and times not to be intense at all. When you dial it up all the time, and use your muscles to get out, you're "spazzing." All white belts spaz, that's just how it goes. Until you know more technique than you know muscle, you're going to spaz. The goal is to use your smarts and know-how via technique to conquer and not your muscle. Think of a wolf caught in a trap: the wolf gnawing off his own let to get out is "spazzy," where if the wolf pulled out a headlamp and tool kit to disassemble the trap, that's technique. The trouble to that is, you don't have a lot of technique right now. But don't worry about that, it'll come with time. In the meantime, though, just try not to elbow anyone as you flail about, relax, learn, and try to have fun. After the rolling is over, your instructor will call an end to class where you will line up, get some encouraging words, then do a bow-out of class. If you're a new white belt, line up in the back. Don't line up in front of a higher rank, ever. Be respectful. Then, when the instructor calls the end (usually in their own personal way) everyone will bow and that will conclude class. At that point I like to go back to my training partners from the night, shake hands, say "thank you." That is also a good time to shake your instructors hand as well and thank them for their help and assistance.
You've made a great decision in starting to train Jiu Jitsu. There will be benefits upon benefits to your mind, body, and soul that you won't believe. Yours will be your own, and at the same time mirror many of ours as well. Be patient. Listen to everyone's advice. Remember to breathe. Have fun! Laugh at yourself. Be respectful. If you feel like you should bow, bow. And if worse comes to worse, just watch what everyone else does--fake it till ya make it, homies!

Special Thanks this week to: The Paleo Coffee Company

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