Attending your first jiu jitsu class is an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. Some of you will be completely new to martial arts and have no idea what to expect. There is obviously considerable variation in the structure of classes between different academies; however, there are many common themes. Hopefully, this article will give you a feel for what will happen and some ideas on how to best prepare.
Preparing for your first class
Before attending any class, it is important to reach out and contact the academy to let them know you are planning to try out a class. Not only is it courteous, but it may also save you a wasted journey, as some academies will require you to book or attend a specific class that is suitable for beginners.
You will need to put together a gym bag with a few essential items for the class. Make sure you have some loose-fitting gym clothes to wear; shorts or sweatpants and a t-shirt will be ideal in most cases. Don’t wear rings, jewellery, or anything with zips or cords with metal tips, as these can injure your training partners, causing cuts or eye injuries. Also, don’t wear anything with extra pockets or belt loops, as fingers or toes can get caught up in them and get injured.
It is advisable to take some flip-flops that you can wear from the changing rooms to the mats and always wear them if you are heading to the bathroom or restroom or anywhere you aren’t wearing shoes. This will help you keep yourself and others training in the class safe from infections such as staph and ringworm. It is also advisable to pack some water to drink during the class, as you will be sweating a lot and maintaining good hydration is very important.
Hygiene is taken very seriously at jiu jitsu academies, and it is very important to arrive clean. You may want to consider taking a shower before the class as a courtesy to your training partners. Make sure you also have trimmed fingernails and toenails. Long, sharp nails are highly likely to cut your opponent when training, and it is easy for these sorts of wounds to get infected.
Arriving at the venue
Make sure you allow plenty of time to get to the venue and arrive at least 15-20 minutes before the class to give yourself enough time to get changed, introduce yourself to the instructor and sign any necessary paperwork or waivers.
There will usually be someone to greet you and the venue, tell you what to do, and help you find the changing rooms. Consider thinking in advance about a way to secure your personal possessions in case there are no lockers available.
If you still have time to spare, think about getting onto the mats and introducing yourself to any other students that may be there.
The class will usually start with a warm-up. These vary a lot between different academies and can be quite short, focusing on joint mobility or light stretching, or sometimes long and strenuous, focusing more on conditioning and getting the heart rate up.
The focus of the warm-up can also be determined by the nature of the class and may involve some jiu-jitsu-specific movements that will help with the class ahead. If a lot of technical drilling is planned, your body will continue to warm up during this part of the class, and the warm-up may be shorter and lighter. If the class is going to involve a lot of strenuous activity early on, perhaps with some sparring, then it may be a more physical warm-up to prepare your body.
Technique and drilling
In most jiu jitsu classes, the next phase of the class will involve being shown a technique or series of techniques by the instructor. After the demonstration, you will partner up with another student and get the opportunity to practice and drill the techniques.
It is very important to pay close attention during the instructor’s demonstration and absorb as much information as possible. Jiu jitsu techniques can be challenging to learn in the early days of your training, but it will get easier as time progresses. The instructor will usually walk around the mats helping people during the drilling. Make sure you ask questions if you need to, and don’t be embarrassed if you are struggling, as everyone finds it hard at the start!
Takes things slowly, and don’t rush or try to do the technique quickly or with too much force. As you become more familiar with it, you can gradually speed up. It is also essential not to resist too much when your partner is trying out the techniques. Get used to the moves before you start to resist or use force because if you don’t take the time to master the mechanics properly, you will have very little chance of getting it to work in live sparring.
Rolling and sparring
The next stage of the class is usually some live sparring, which many people call ‘rolling’. This is often the part of the class that beginners find the most daunting, but before long, it will probably be the part you look forward to the most and get the most enjoyment from. There are, broadly speaking, two different types of sparring: specific sparring and ‘randori’ sparring.
Specific sparring is when you will roll from a particular position, usually with a limited set of rules. An example of this would be sparring from the mount position, where one person is sat on top of the stomach of the other, pinning them. The ruleset in this situation would be for the person underneath to try and escape, whereas the person on top must try and get the person underneath to submit by tapping out.
This brings us to a critical aspect of sparring, tapping out. Tapping exists to keep the sparring safe, and it essentially means that if you are close to being submitted by a joint lock or choke, you tap your opponent, the mat next to you, or verbally say ‘tap’ to let them know that you submit, and the round can reset. It is essential to tap early and tap often as a beginner. The last thing you want is to pick up an avoidable injury that prevents you from training. Leave your ego at the door, and don’t worry at all if you have to tap out a lot. Everyone is in the same situation at the start.
Randori or live sparring usually starts from either the kneeling or standing position. Kneeling is generally safer, particularly in a busy class, and many academies favour this or hold separate stand-up-orientated classes for takedown training. This time the reset will only occur when one person taps out, allowing more flow between positions.
You will find the sparring section of the class very tiring initially. One tip to make things a little easier is to ensure you keep breathing and don’t hold your breath. This seems like very obvious advice, but a lot of beginners are very tense during sparring. You will be able to last longer in the rounds if your breathing is as smooth and even as possible.
The final stage of the class will be the cool-down. You will almost certainly be exhausted at this point, and the cool-down will help you slowly bring your heart rate down to a normal level. The cool-down is usually a series of stretches focusing on the most commonly used body areas and muscle groups in jiu jitsu.
The cool-down will also help you start the recovery process, loosening off some of the muscle tightness you developed during the class.
After the class
After the class is over, take the time to speak to the instructor or one of the academy admin staff to ask any questions you might have about what happens next. This is an excellent opportunity to ask about how to sign up, the class schedule, any uniform requirements etc. It is also very worthwhile talking to other students from the academy to get a feel for their training experiences and some inside knowledge about how things run.
Try to shower after the class, as you will likely be very sweaty. If you have a long journey home, you may want to grab a quick snack to refuel. Throughout the rest of the day, it is important to drink plenty of water to rehydrate and consider having an electrolyte drink to replace some of the salts you will have sweated out.
You will probably be sore for the next day or two. Jiu jitsu uses many muscles you don’t use in everyday life, or even in other sports and exercise activities. It is very worthwhile stretching more after you get home, for at least 15-20 minutes, and foam rolling can also be beneficial if you have a foam roller available. Try and get a good night’s sleep, as this will also help your recovery.
What happens next?
The first class you attend is usually very tough and can be one of the hardest you will ever go to. The good news is that you have survived, and if you are reading this, you have almost certainly enjoyed the experience and want to train more.
The next step is easy, sign up and get training. Trying to get to class 2-3 times a week is a good amount at the beginner level, and consistency will help you progress quickly. Good luck on your jiu jitsu journey!