Training in a martial art can be one of the most rewarding and positive experiences you can have in your life providing benefits to you physically, mentally and emotionally. That said, getting started can be daunting and for a lot of people just walking through the doors of an academy for the first time is incredibly intimidating.

While taking a deep breath and simply turning up for a class will generally work out for the best there are still a few things you can do to ensure your early experiences lay the foundation for a rewarding martial arts adventure.

Before You Go to Your First Class

Do your research.

Not all BJJ academies are the same; some focus on sport jiu jitsu, some on MMA, some on self defence and others will cover the full spectrum of the martial art. There will also be significant differences in the gym cultures which is what will really determine whether or not you continue training.

We live in an age of information so it’s easy to check out the Facebook page, business reviews and website of anywhere you are considering training. If you are uncertain how to do this click —>here<— 

Go to the website.

So you’ve found a place that looks good. Now go back to the website and actually read it.

Read the class descriptions, view the timetable, check out the cost and find out whether or not there is a free trial. You should also see if there are starting requirements as some places will have specific beginners courses or insist that you do a number of one on one sessions before jumping into the group class.

Email or call the academy. 

It’s always a good idea to actually check in with the academy before you turn up; There may be a special event or some other unusual circumstance that would make it a less than ideal time for your first session.

Turn up about ten minutes early.

Not thirty.

If you turn up this early then, depending on how the academy in question is organised, the coach will either be busy or not there yet. Just give yourself enough time to find the place, introduce yourself and fill out a small amount of paperwork.

During Your First Class

Expect some culture shock.

Every martial art has its own culture, traditions and social expectations and they can seem totally unfathomable to a new student. To add to the confusion no two academies are exactly alike even within the same style.  Jiu Jitsu, which is generally considered to be comparatively informal when it comes to martial arts, will still have a number of rules of etiquette including, but not limited to:

You might be expected to line up in rank order at the beginning and end of class

You might be expected to bow whenever you walk on or off the mat

You might be expected to refer to the instructor as “Professor”

You might be expected to slap hands and/or bump fists with your training partner

You might be expected to line up and shake everyone’s hand after training

You might be expected to say “Oos” way too often and in ways that make no grammatical sense

Or you might not.

Hopefully the coach or a senior student will explain to you ahead of time what’s going to happen and what is expected but there’s no guarantee so be prepared to just roll with whatever happens – people will understand that you are new and learning “how things are done”.

So to recap:

If you haven’t done a martial art before then there are many things that are going to seem unusual to you.

If you have done a martial art before then there are many things that are going to seem unusual to you.

Expect to feel unfit.

Unless you are transitioning from another kind of grappling art, expect to feel very unfit during your first few sessions of BJJ. Even if you run marathons and crossfit every day a typical BJJ training session will get you very tired. It’s not that jiu jitsu is unusually demanding, it’s that the physical demands of any martial art tend to be very specific and this, combined with your lack of knowledge on how and when to relax, will quickly wear you out. The plus side is that this feeling is short lived. A couple of weeks of regular attendance and you’ll feel like you’re back at your base level of fitness.

Expect to be terrible.

Martial arts are complicated and it can take many years of training to become highly skilled, but for some reason a decent number of people seem to assume that they know what they’re doing before even completing their first lesson.

Realise that you are a danger to yourself and others.

If you are doing any kind of full contact martial art, such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the potential for minor and major injuries is present and, as a beginner, you won’t yet know how to take care of yourself.

This means that your training partner is doing all the work to make sure that neither one of you gets hurt. So rather than fighting as hard as you can “to win”, realise that your partner is fighting to keep you safe. Keep it light and remember that you are here to learn. This will have the added benefit that your higher ranked partner is less likely to decide that simply crushing you is the easier option.

If you come with a friend expect the coach to split you up.

There is no surer path to injury than having two beginners train with one another.

After Your First Class

Expect to be sore in ways you haven’t experienced before.

You’ve just used your body in ways it’s never been used before so expect a few new muscle aches to crop up the next day. After a few more classes your body will adapt and these new aches and pains will cease to occur. This would be exactly the same if you had just lifted weights for the first time or spent an hour trying to learn how to play squash despite never having picked up a racquet before.

If you did some kind of sparring then you’ve probably picked up a few bumps and bruises too. Like the aches, these are largely the result of experiencing something new – in this case significantly more body contact than you were previously used to – and these will also diminish as you begin training more regularly.

You will have questions. Many, many questions.

If your question starts with “What if” then please just stow that sucker in the back of your brain/write it down on a piece of paper and set it on fire. Understand that generally these kind of questions are answered with time and training and that the answer is frequently “It’s a fight, try not to let them do that”.

Other questions though – questions about the gym, the gear, the training, the coaches and the art itself – should be asked without hesitation. Common questions include

How do memberships work?

What kind of training gear do I need and where do I get it?

How do I tie my belt?

How do I care for my hair while training?

How hard should I go in sparring?

The Next Few Weeks

Start with two or three classes per week.

I know you’re excited and want to get as much out of this new experience as you can but you really need to ease into it. I’ve seen a number of people get started with BJJ and immediately jump into six classes a week and less than a month later they miss a class and I never see them again. Those who become long term students of the art start off with two or three classes per week and might, over time, build to more frequent training.

Expect to be corrected.

When you start training in any martial art there are two very common scenarios. Scenario one is that you feel like you are doing the technique or drill correctly but you are still being consistently corrected. Scenario two is that you feel like you are too uncoordinated to do the technique or drill correctly but you are still being consistently corrected. Neither scenario is correct.

You are not doing the movement correctly but you don’t know it yet because you are untrained.

You are not doing the movement correctly but you are not uncoordinated, you are untrained.

Accept the correction, continue training and never forget that, despite what movies and your mother tell you, it is statistically very unlikely that you are either amazing talented or particularly inept. You are paying a coach to teach you when you show up, help you when you want it and correct you when you need it.