For many Brazilian jiu-jitsu students, the biggest challenge they face in their entire time training doesn’t happen on the mats. In fact, it doesn’t even happen when they’re a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu student. Often, just getting yourself into the mental headspace where you’re ready to go to a gym for the first time can be intimidating.
Fortunately, after four years of working the front desk at a martial arts school, I’ve spoken with thousands of students who were considering trying it out just like you. And in that time, I’ve identified the most common reasons people worry about getting started.
With this article, I want to look not just at three common reasons students give for holding off and why they’re mistaken, but also the ways in which I think the most common counterpoints also miss the mark, even when offering a good faith reason to try.
I am excited to try it, but I have to get in shape first
This is usually one of the first misconceptions anyone addresses when talking about concerns that hold people back from getting started with jiu-jitsu, and for good reason. It’s one of the most commonly cited concerns, and it’s one where the thinking behind it just doesn’t fall in line with reality.
Where I differ from many others, however, is why I think it’s wrong. Usually, what you’ll be told if you tell your buddy who trains or a local instructor that you need to get into shape first, is that it’s the wrong mindset because jiu-jitsu will get you in shape. While that’s true, it’s not the biggest fallacy with getting in shape in order to start.
For me, the biggest reason you shouldn’t spend time trying to get in shape before your first class is because you’re not going to succeed. Training jiu-jitsu isn’t just a great way to get into better shape; generally, it’s also the only surefire way to get in shape for jiu-jitsu.
People often look at their health on a linear scale. There is unhealthy and, on the other end, unhealthy, and anything you do will move you along that scale. The reality is that every sport has unique demands it places on both your physical and cardiovascular health and while work in one area can certainly help, the way to get in good enough shape for jiu-jitsu is to do jiu-jitsu.
At my gym, we had both a BJJ and a Muay Thai program. It was common for someone to start in one for several months and then get curious. I’ve seen the fittest Muay Thai students sucking wind by the end of warm-ups in BJJ and vice versa. Your first class is probably going to make you tired in ways you’ve never imagined, and nobody will be judging you for it because everyone else out there was in the same place on their first day.
I’m not sure I fit into the target demographic
Of all the concerns that new Brazilian jiu-jitsu students have, this was the area I needed to do the most learning, and one where I commonly used the regular refrain that I now feel comes up a bit short: jiu-jitsu is for everyone.
As someone who has lived his life checking all of the societal default boxes and holding only love for those who don’t, it is easy sometimes to overlook others’ experiences. The reality is that not every gym is genuinely for every student. The good news is that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu itself still is.
So, what does that mean, exactly? It means that if you think you can’t get anything from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu because you don’t fit into the mental image you have of a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu student, you may be surprised to see the makeup of the mats at a school near you. When a school creates a safe and welcoming environment, the mats can become a truly unique melting pot where people with many differences can come together and revel in their human similarities.
If you feel that you don’t belong in BJJ, find a school near you and ask the tough questions before your first day. If you don’t like their answers, find a different one. Because when you find a school that is welcoming and protective of all students, you will find a school where truly everyone can benefit from Jiu-Jitsu.
What if I take a class and I don’t like it?
This is another area that keeps prospective jiu-jitsu players on the fence, sometimes indefinitely. It’s also another area I don’t entirely agree with the usual counterpoint. Often when presented with someone not sure if they’ll dig their times on the mat, the well-meaning grappler will point out how jiu-jitsu is great for everyone. While it would be wonderful if that were true, it’s simply not.
There are various reasons that after you take a class, you might decide it’s not something you want to pursue in the long term, and that’s totally fine. Trying out Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and discovering it’s not your cup of tea doesn’t make you soft, or a quitter, or any other pejorative you worry about having attached to you. It means you didn’t like jiu-jitsu, and you should find a different hobby to pursue than you do.
In my experience, almost everybody knows whether or not Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is for them after one class. Rare is the student who comes out of their first trial experience with a lot of gray areas. Getting out on the mats and feeling what it’s like to perform the day’s moves, and have those same forces exerted on you, is usually very clarifying for a prospective student. 95% of the people I spoke with in my time came off the mats either knowing, “holy crap, this is amazing, and I need to do it,” or knowing, “yeah, this wasn’t really for me.” And both of those are adequate responses. What’s important is, now that you’ve tried, you know which camp you fall into, so go try a class.
Bobby Ingram is a career blue belt with a perfect attendance record in competitive matches. When not contributing to the blog, he makes martial arts jokes on instagram on @mixedmartialartish. You can follow him @robertpingram for an account that is mostly a glorified fan page for his dog at this point.