You walked into a jiu-jitsu gym for the first time. Congratulations!
They say it’s never too late to start jiu-jitsu, and that’s true. Great competitors have started in their early to mid-twenties, and perennial practitioners have started even later than that. There’s never really an ideal time.
Sure, everyone, who starts wishes they’d done so earlier. I’ve heard people who started at 15 say they wish they started at the age of ten. Weird, but I’ve listened to it all.
Still, if you’re an adult going into your first jiu-jitsu class, you probably have already developed an ego. It’s only natural. You’ve survived on this earth doing things your way. So why should you stop now? It’s gotten you this far. So it must work, right?
This is why it’s harder for adults to receive instruction and change their mindset. They’re more stuck in their ways and more difficult to influence.
But, you’ll need to set aside your expectations if you’re to make it a long time in this art, though, and that’s the goal for everyone. To quote a famous credo, “It’s not who’s good; it’s who’s left.” Even Grandmaster Helio Gracie trained jiu-jitsu on the very day he died at 95 years old.
Still, the first half-year of your jiu-jitsu will likely play a significant factor in whether you make it far. So, here are some essential tips that will keep you on the mats for as long as you want to be.
Don’t Ask Higher Belts What You’re Doing Wrong After Rolls
Yes, there are basic things you don’t want to do during rolls. And you’ll learn those very early on in your fundamentals classes. Don’t extend your arms when someone has you in mount; protect your neck when someone has your back; keep good posture in someone’s closed guard; etc.
Still, if you’re rolling with someone with significantly more experience than you, and they submit you quickly, it probably has more to do with their experience than any error you’re making. They’re probably just better than you at jiu-jitsu. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
You’re new and not very good, and that’s okay. You’re going to get submitted and make mistakes. If you do something wrong, a good higher belt training partner will likely voluntarily point that out. But if a higher belt submits you a few times during a roll, helps you up after the bell goes off, and shakes your hand, you probably didn’t do anything wrong; they’re just better at jiu-jitsu than you.
It makes sense, too: They’ve been doing it longer. There’s no spell for your technique that’s will magically have you submitting the brown and black belts in the room. So, spend time on the mats and enjoy the journey, because that’s more important than the destination.
Stay Off YouTube
The term jiu-jitsu often implies the use of superpowers that make your opponents fly in the air, tap out at will, and other cinematic images. So when you go into your first class, and you learn some, well, pretty pedestrian-looking moves, you’ll probably wonder where all the fun stuff is. Where are the flying armbars? Where is the stuff where you spin on your head? Where is the stuff where you climb up a larger person’s back and choke them out, like that Jeff Glover highlight video you saw before joining?
All that stuff, unfortunately, comes in time. But you need a solid foundation to get fancy moves to have any impact on your game. If you have no fundamentals but can hit flying armbars, your jiu-jitsu is about as stable as a mansion built on sand. It might look cool from a distance, but if you throw as much as a pebble at it, it will crumble into dust in no time.
Always trust your instructor first. You’re paying them to do a job to teach you jiu-jitsu and drill the fundamentals nonstop. Do that, and your jiu-jitsu will take off to places you didn’t anticipate.
Don’t Wait Until Blue Belt To Compete
You just joined a gym, and you probably learned about jiu-jitsu competitions. Indeed, most people who join jiu-jitsu don’t do so to become competitors. Most people saw a few MMA fights and thought it’d be cool to learn how to armbar people like Ronda Rousey.
However, upon entrance to jiu-jitsu, you learn of an entire sporting world surrounding it, and it intrigues most students enough to give it a try. But, there’s something that hinders a lot of white belts from competing, though; lack of experience. In their mind, they should wait until blue belt when they’ve had some experience to compete.
While you certainly could start competing at blue belt and have an excellent competitive career, there’s no better time to start competing than right now. Remember, you will be fighting other white belts — people of similar experience than you. So there’s really no reason to wait.
Because if you wait until you’re ready, you’ll probably be waiting a lifetime.
You started this because you wanted to have fun. So keep it that way. No matter how seriously you decide to take it, make sure, it never loses that appeal it had before you started it.
You’ll probably make new friends, expand your social circle, and run into people you never thought you would. At the end of the day, this is why we all do jiu-jitsu, whether you’re the most hardcore of competitors to the most casual of hobbyists. We all do it for interpersonal interactions and for the great people we all meet.
Remember these things, and jiu-jitsu will take you as far as you want it to take you. There are infinite possibilities in this sport– media, teaching, competing, etc. You can be part of that, too, but you need to be patient. If jiu-jitsu was easy, nobody would do it.
Jeff Nelson is a brown belt under Danilo Cherman of Team Nova Uniao. He started training jiu-jitsu in 2014, and he always complains about Star Wars on his personal Instagram account.