“I Think I suck at BJJ!” Beginners tips to surviving the first six months of Jiu-Jitsu
I recently had a rather humorous conversation with a new Jiu-Jitsu student. We had just finished a Jiu-Jitsu class and a student came up to me rather excitedly. He said, “Professor I need to talk to you!” I replied with, “What’s up…is everything okay?” He said, “Well I had a realization in class today…” I said, “yes, go on…” He continued somewhat somberly, “I realized that I’m not very good at Jiu-Jitsu and if I was going to be 100% honest, I really suck at it!” I replied with, “Well that’s great news…you’re not supposed to be good…in fact you’re supposed to be exactly where you are right now!” The truth that I was trying to convey was that you don’t walk into a French class the first day and have any idea what’s going on. In fact, it will take months before you can pronounce the words correctly…let alone form sentences. If you’re a brand new white belt that’s great news. That just means nobody has any expectation for you other than you know very little. You are literally the empty canvas…so embrace and enjoy this rare moment.
Tips for surviving the first six months of Jiu-Jitsu:
- You won’t suck forever! It’s okay that you may feel like you suck right now. It won’t last forever… eventually everyone has their breakthrough. Remember, you have to “suck” before you can be okay and you have to be okay before you can be good…and so on. Everyone else’s expectation for you is that you don’t know anything and you’re not supposed to be good yet. Why should your expectation be any different?
- Be okay with tapping The tap is your best friend and survival tool. It is not meant to shame or embarrass you, but rather protect you. A good rule of thumb for beginners is, if you are trapped tap! Most Jiu-Jitsu injuries happen within the first 18 months of training. Protect your joints by tapping at pressure, not pain. When you tap at pain, you are at the threshold of injury. Tap early and stay safe!
- Be careful what you call a “benchmark” If you’re 43 years old and just starting Jiu-Jitsu, the 20 year old fellow beginner is NOT your benchmark. It unfair and unrealistic to compare yourself to someone half your age. The real truth is that you shouldn’t really be comparing yourself to anyone. In a game that’s decided by who taps out who, it’s hard not to make your partners the competition. But we are all so very different from each other. From our diverse genetic makeup…to our life histories, etc. it really makes no sense to compare ourselves to anyone but ourselves. If you want to see how you measure up? Compare yourself to yourself a month ago, two months ago, etc. How would you do grappling yourself 2 or 3 months ago. It’s important to have this conversation every few months as it will bring you down to earth if you are struggling with the, “everyone’s getting better but me” beginner blues.
- Jiu-Jitsu is the hardest thing you’ll ever do We’ll get this one out of the way now. You must be up for challenges because you picked a tough activity. Don’t let this scare you, but rather motivate and inspire you. What makes Jiu-Jitsu so challenging? It’s tough physically AND mentally. I’ve aways said that you can’t do Jiu-Jitsu and be out of shape. The act of doing Jiu-Jitsu will get you into shape. But if you come into BJJ with health issues, weight challenges, old injuries, etc. then you’ll have to work through the physical challenges of getting into shape. Again, don’t let that discourage you. The good news is that the very act of coming to class will get you into shape. There’s not much else you need to do fitness-
wise other than just coming to class consistently!
- Have a recovery plan! Jiu-Jitsu is very physically challenging. After a tough night training you’ll feel it in every part of your body when you wake up. Somedays you’ll feel like you were beaten to a pulp. When you have those days it’s your body’s way of saying, “I worked very hard for you, please serve me now.” How do you serve your body? You give it the necessary environment to heal and rejuvenate. That means proper diet, rest and recovery. Read my recent article on BJJ Recovery Essentials for more tips.
- Be a good note taker I am a big fan of writing everything down. When you put ‘pen to paper’ you are making a mental record of the information being presented. The physical act of writing will help anchor the information into your brain. I always recommend brining a notebook and pen to class. In class jot down important details on the moves you’re learning. I also recommend keeping a grappling journal. After each open mat try to record details of your grappling rounds. Record notes like: who you grappled with, results of rounds, what’s working and what’s not, your mental state, etc. I would encourage you to start this early in your training and look back over your notes from time to time. It will be fun to see your improvements and mindset when you review your notebook at a later date. (Check out my blog, “Getting the most out of a BJJ class” for great tips)
- Have fun and don’t take any of it too serious! Regardless of why you started BJJ, you want to have fun. At the end of the day you’re paying for an extra curricular activity. I know that BJJ can become very addictive and can take over your life. You probably started BJJ to add to your life, not become it. Over my last 20 years I have seen more than a few people become so fanatical about Jiu-Jitsu that it literally ruined their marriage. Don’t make BJJ your mistress. If your spouse doesn’t take classes, then introduce them by showing them some moves at home. (I didn’t say make them a grappling dummy) But rather empower them with the gentle art. You can also bring your partner to Jiu-Jitsu social gatherings so then too can be a part of it on some level. Remember, to have fun and enjoy the journey.
From time to time it’s good to remind yourself that BJJ is just bunch of grown ups play fighting in funny pajamas – so don’t take it or yourself too serious!
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