Purple Haze: Your First BJJ Class (and Beyond!)

Thank you so much for your patience! A few things have happened since my last post, most importantly, I’m engaged! To hear about what kept me from posting here on the blog as well as me take a few asides from the topic of the post, tune in here to the podcast. If not, no worries, I hope you enjoy the content below!

~Tom

So, the New Year is upon us and you’ve decided to give Jiu-jitsu a try in 2022. Maybe you’re a wrestler, maybe you’ve done another martial art, maybe you don’t know what you don’t know about any martial art whatsoever and you threw a dart at a board with all these weird names to try and you landed on Jiu-jitsu.

Whatever. We’re still glad you decided to come!

So, now what?

Well, you definitely need to start by contacting a school and setting up a trial class. You may even want to just see about sitting in and watching how the class operates, what the vibe is, how the students and teacher interact, etc., before you step on the mats.

But let’s say you’ve done this part, or you just decided to sign up and do a trial class, site unseen. Cool. Let’s get in to the meat of this, then.

1. What to Bring – The Necessary Accoutrements of Ze-Jitz

  • Cleanliness: Cleanliness, as the saying goes, is next to Godliness. And on the mats, being clean is extremely important. You’re already going to be sweating and breathing heavy as you roll around on the mat, so we don’t need to add to the misery with stinky bodies and stinky breath. Any Academy owner with a modicum of self respect is doing their due diligence to use a solid cleaner on the mats regularly, so here is what you can do to help reduce the amount of potential bacteria No makeup, no showering in cologne or Axe spray before you get there. Just come clean. Make sure your nails are trimmed and clean, you’ll be grabbing and gripping things, or at least attempting to and unkempt or long nails can get in the way. Put some deodorant on before you go. It’s pretty simple.
  • Footwear: Sandals, Flip flops, Slides… whatever you want to call them, just bring them for when you are not on the mat. Feet carry enough germs by themselves and we don’t want you bringing extra germs on the mat from walking barefoot where the shod foot traffic is. Es No Bueno.
  • Appropriate Clothing: If you are attending a Gi-based class, speak to the head Coach/Professor about whether or not they have a Loaner Gi or the ability to rent a Gi. If the answer is no, usually they will tell you to wear workout clothes. You’re going to be barefoot and flopping around on a mat for about an hour, so keep that in mind. Clean joggers or sweat pants that have the legitimate ability to be cinched with a drawstring are preferable, again, you’ll be on the floor and you don’t want a wardrobe malfunction. Wear a clean t-shirt, I’d recommend a dark color for either gender because you will sweat. Leggings and tights, for the most part, are permissible for the ladies, I’d just make sure they aren’t cheap ones that are see-through as soon as you squat or bend over. I’d also recommend an actual sports bra under your top. If you bought a cute little outfit to wear for your first sesh at the Jiu-jitsu Academy, make sure to wash it first. Cloth dye can bleed and I’ve seen colors start to come off outfits and onto our white mats and Gis onces the sweating begins. If you have any doubts, just ask the person you are scheduling your trial class with, or it is an automated process via their website, call or email them as a follow up to the reservation. Some schools put these things on their websites, too, so keep that in mind.
  • Water Bottle: You’re going to sweat and you’re going to get thirsty. Keep this in mind, I’d recommend at least twenty ounces or more.
  • Jewelry: Don’t bring this. Please make sure you remove all jewelry as it can get caught on material or worse and injure yourself or your training partner. If you are married and insist on wearing a ring, I highly recommend wearing a silicon band for training. Trust me.

2. Formalities, Etiquette, Protocol and Minding your P’s & Q’s

A lot of this can be settled by just asking the Academy you’re attending and taking a look at their website as some are thorough enough to include this kind of information there, but here is an overview of what you may encounter.

  • Bowing: Most schools have some form of rules regarding respect towards each other, senior students, the instructor, etc. Some are heavy on tradition and ritual, some are not, many are somewhere on the scale in between. In my TKD days, I was bowing multiple times to get on the mat: once to the flag, once to the instructor, once for whoever was on the mat and once to the school. I think there was a point where we even bowed when we came in the door. In some BJJ schools, you bow to get on the mat, bow to the dead guy with a famous last name and all the instructor pictures in the lineage, greet and bow every high rank, bow in for class, bow out for class, etc. For some, its barely a bow on the mat or none at all. Some places you have to practically worship the higher belts, never asking them for help, never asking them to roll, and always roll if they ask. Some don’t follow this in the slightest.

    With the Academy I attend, we have a sort of old-meets-new approach: we bow getting on and off the mat, and at the beginning and end of class. Anyone can roll with anyone and we encourage lower belts and higher belts to work with each other. That’s it. Before class and at the end, we greet every teammate. Our emphasis is on teamwork, comraderie, respect and hard work. We don’t say “Oss”, we embody it: together we strive/push.

    The only deference paid higher belts is giving the “right of way” during rolls. Meaning if your sparring is coming dangerously close to another pair sparring, and at least one of them has a higher belt than you or your partner, you move out of the way.

    That’s it. Pretty simple stuff. You’ll more than likely see something that falls in between the descriptions I’ve given.
  • Titles:
    • Professor: that’s the lady or gentleman who is wearing a black belt around their waist and usually running the Academy.
    • Coach: this ranges from Purple to Black belt.
    • Sensei (rare): Occasionally, you may run into an Academy going old school, giving a nod to our Japanese origin and calling the instructor. But to my limited understanding, that’s rare.
    • Given Name: Many newer, more laid back schools just want you to call their instructors by their name. We do use titles at ours, but I’m still a bit bashful of being called Coach so I default to just Tom. On the mats, we call the Black Belt in the room, Professor. Outside the Academy, it’s just Shane. Pretty simple. You won’t see our students calling him Professor out on the street or anything. I haven’t seen it myself in BJJ, but I’ve heard of it. However, I did know a guy in my TKD days who wanted his students to formally address him on the street… that’s not culty at all…
  • Questions: Hopefully you are paired up with a student who has put some time in and knows their way around a bit. They’ll be able to answer some basic questions around how the technique is applied correctly and after the Professor has instructed, they’ll be able take you step by step through the technique you are learning, maybe even peppering in some context of why.

    Too many questions, too many what-if’s can just derail and frustrate your first day of training. “What if my opponent does this? Well, what if they do that?” Those are good questions, but you are always going to have those questions, and they are going to be running through your mind since you have really no reference point. It’s best to keep the questions simple to what you are doing now and build on that foundation. “Rest, Neo, answers are coming…
  • Prior Experience: Unless your martial art background is a bonafide grappling art like Judo, Sambo, Wrestling – it matters very, very little in the grand scheme of the actual ground game. It’s best to be humble and come with an empty cup mentality and absorb what you are being taught. Hours of watching fight sports online or via PPV doesn’t count as experience either. Just stay humble.
  • Self Defense: Many who come to the martial arts have self-defense in mind when starting out. This is good. Believe it or not, our Ego can get in our way, even when we are coming from a position of wanting to understand how to better defend ourselves. We want to “fight like we train” and we want to execute a move while our partner is caught off-guard and not expecting it. In short, we want to do the move after only doing it a few times, with the pressure of a live roll. Easy there, Scrappy-Do. Crawl. Walk. Run. In that order. Get the mechanics down, and try to understand on a basic level what makes the particular move effective and then begin adding levels of stress (speed, pressure, etc.) The sparring portion of class is coming, so focus on executing the technique as many times as we can before then.

3. Surviving your first class, or twenty

  • Most places do not follow the final rule (of the Club we don’t talk about): “If it’s your first time… you have to fight.” So don’t worry too much.

    You are going to do a lot of things that are, by and large, counter-intuitive to what your body and mind think they should be doing and adding the element of going live on your first day can be a bit tricky. So sticking with the more experienced partner you were paired up with or sitting near the head coach or professor on the sidelines will be key. Observe what is going on, ask questions, try to see if anyone is hitting the technique that you learned that night, etc.
  • IF you are invited to participate in the live roll part of class and you decide to, then these guidelines will help you have a good time, not die and not injur someone or yourself:
    • Focus on trying to execute what you learned during class.
    • Go easy: Unless you have a Judo, Sambo, Wrestling experience, don’t try much else as you could hurt yourself or your training partner and even then, make sure to go easy. Trust me.
    • Go easy, seriously: If you have experience, be mindful and go easy. They are similar beasts but not identical. Most guys and gals who’ve come in with prior experience have usually been out of the game for a few months or years and the mind will want you to do things your body isn’t ready for. With or without experience I always encourage the rookies I onboard to go about 20-30% regarding strength and intensity. Rarely do people actually do that, but for moral, ethical and legal reasons – despite you signing a waiver – I’ll tell you anyways: Go easy.
    • Don’t forget to breathe – regardless of exposure to training or not. Breathe. Control your breathing, this will help you control your mind.
    • Don’t Spazz: freaking out, trying to go beast mode, blindly doing stuff, trying to emulate a UFC title match. Basically being a bull in a china shop. Just… don’t. You’re going to have a bad day. Someone will get hurt.
    • Keep your ego in check. As a white belt, you are supposed to lose, get tapped, etc. Shake it off. Don’t take yourself too seriously here. Nobody cares. Everyone else who has been on the mat longer than you knows you are supposed to suck for awhile.
    • Keep your ego in check, seriously. Tap early, tap often. You may feel you are stronger, but it is far better to be careful and tap. It doesn’t take much for a tedon or ligament to tear or pop… or to be put to sleep. If you’ve got experience, now isn’t the time to try and smash everyone, you’ll more than likely be put in check and you’re going to have a bad time.
    • Have Fun! Seriously, there is a lot to take in, so laugh at your awkwardness and just enjoy the learning process.
    • A lot of these prior points for the live rolling are applicable to the entire class: breathing, ego, having fun, going easy, focusing on the reps being taught, etc.

4. Fitness Level

You do not need to “get in shape” to do Jiu-jitsu.

Jiu-jitsu to a large degree, is scalable based on your ability, fitness and mobility levels. You will sweat and breathe hard for a long time in Jiu-jitsu. Just come in and get on the mat, do the work, let us help you scale it to your current fitness level, mobility, etc., and the work will help you improve and get in shape over time. It’s one of the best full-body workouts you’ll ever do and it’s always challenging!

That’s pretty much it. I hope your first class (of many) was an amazing experience, regardless of the Academy you go to.

Until next time.

I’ll see you on the mats.

5 thoughts on “Purple Haze: Your First BJJ Class (and Beyond!)

  1. “bow to the dead guy with a famous last name” haha! “Some places you have to practically worship the higher belts, never asking them for help, never asking them to roll, and always roll if they ask.” Yikes! That sounds awful. My place is so chill compared to all this. And no bowing at all. (My TKD is big on the bowing, the “yes, sirs,” etc.)

    We don’t say “Oss”–no idea what that means.

    “Everyone else who has been on the mat longer than you knows you are supposed to suck for awhile.” This part remind me of commenting to my instructor, “This is fun, even though I suck at it.” He didn’t say, “Nah, you don’t suck.” He said, “Well, you’re a beginner.” That kind of cracked me up. I am not remotely prideful about this. I did get a “really nice job, Betsy,” today, which was nice. 🙂

    1. Glad to hear they are fairly chill, that’s good!

      “We don’t say “Oss”–no idea what that means.” most people who say it don’t, haha. Japanese origin, Osu is the original spelling if memory serves, same pronunciation more or less. It means “together we push/strive” it got highjacked awhile back and changed to Oss.

      I’m glad nobody is saying “you suck, Betsy!” Haha. I’m the context there many rookies get frustrated because “man, I suck!” And, well, it’s a continual journey of sucking less.

      Keep up the training, it’s a fun journey!

      1. Yeah, fairly chill is my speed, so I’m glad.

        Thanks for the Oss 411. 🙂

        I may have said this to you before, but starting TKD first helped me be okay with my JJ suckiness. When learning a new belt form, I remember first thinking, “This is too hard. I can’t do this. Why am I bothering with this?” But then I would eventually get it and have the muscle memory down. (My instructor even commented after I reviewed white belt form for him, “It’s like breathing isn’t it?”) So, thanks to that experience, I’m bolstered to know I *will* get better at JJ. Plus, like I said, watching the vids really helps. 🙂 And I appreciate your encouragement as well.

        And I forgot to say before: Congrats on getting engaged! That’s exciting. All the best to you both! 🙂

      2. I miss doing the forms, that was fun. Definitely hardwired in to my brain and muscle memory lol, can still do the majority of them – not well – but I remember the moves mostly.

        Muscle memory goes a long way, even in JJ. Glad TKD has helped!

        Thanks for the congrats on the engagement, pretty excited about it!

  2. Great post! Regarding clothes, I’d also appreciate people who join no-gi classes to wear tighter clothes, lol. The amount of times I’ve snagged my fingers on loose tees or basketball shorts…

    The etiquette thing is still a weird one for me. I love travelling for open mats, and custom can vary wildly from place to place. To stay safe, I ask the first person I see if there are any customs I should follow. Here in Malaysia, we have everything from ‘no water breaks unless I tell you and face the wall when you tie your belt’ to ‘do whatever the heck you want just don’t piss off the instructors’.

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