Fight sports have become more popular than ever thanks to the rise of MMA. Few are more intriguing and less well understood by the general population than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, commonly referred to as just BJJ.
In this article, we will take a closer look at what exactly BJJ is and what it involves, and what you can expect when you start training. We’ll also share some of the essential things that you should know about the sport before getting started.
What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
First and foremost, it is worth noting that Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are not the same.
The Japanese art dates back to about the 17th century and uses mostly throws and strikes to immobilize a component.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu grew up in Brazil starting around the 1920s. It was inspired by the Japanese art, but also combined with other martial arts such as Judo. The Gracie family, originally based in Rio de Janeiro, is principally credited for creating the art.
BJJ mainly involves grappling in which one person tries to take down the other using joint locks, chokes, and strangles. This is the type of jiu-jitsu trained by most MMA fighters, along with other martial arts.
Essential Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Terminology
Obviously, you sign up to a BJJ class to learn, but it can be useful to have a basic understanding of some of the terminology and concepts before you get started. This can help you put the information that you are given in perspective and learn more quickly.
Gi vs No-Gi
BJJ can be practiced in a gi, which is a kind of kimono, or no-gi, in which case you will probably just wear a few light defensive guards. The practices are similar in terms of the moves you want to pull off, but different because you don’t have the gi to grip. Most schools will require that you start with gi training, and then move on to no-gi.
This is another term for sparring or grappling between students, as opposed to competitive sparring.
The goal of a match is to get your opponent to submit. This happens when your opponent realizes that they have no escape, and they must tap out for you to let them go, or risk injury.
Tapping lets your opponent know that you have submitted. In a competition, you can tap the mat of your opponent. When rolling, it is best to tap your opponent as there is no referee to observe your mat tap. You can tap with your hand or your foot and you should tap three times. The other person should let go immediately when you tap.
Your base is your center of gravity and the stance that you take when you are getting ready to spar. Ideally, you want a low center of gravity, and you want to try and keep your back straight.
This can be an attacking or a defensive position, but in either case, you are trying to control the position of your opponent, using your ankles, knees, and hips to prevent them from getting an advantage.
A defensive position involves tucking your arms, legs, and head so that you look a bit like a turtle pulling back into its shell.
This is used to transform a weak position into a dominant position by rolling the other person into a more neutral position.
Mounting is when you sit on top of the other person, usually on their torso with your knees.
Hooks are usually done when you are the top plater on the back of an opponent. You can wrap your legs around your opponent and use the tops of your feet to try and press their thighs open. This helps you control the movement of the bottom player while they try to escape.
This is a move that can be done to try and throw off a person who is in mount position on top of you. With your feet near your bottom, you thrust your hip up to try and jerk the person off. When done properly, only your toes and shoulders should be on the ground.
This is similar to a bridge, but it is a side escape. Lift your hips up off the ground using your foot and shoulder and then scoot your hips backward by straightening your legs. This creates space that can undermine your opponent’s balance.
What to Know Before Taking a BJJ Class
These few words of experience will help you feel more prepared for your first few BJJ classes.
BJJ Can Be Expensive
How expensive a sport is to train often depends on the amount of kit that you need to buy. This is why getting started with BJJ can be expensive. Most schools will require that you use a gi as you get started as it is essential for protection and learning. They are also unlikely to offer you “academy gis” to use at the beginning for hygiene reasons. While you may be allowed to do one or two classes without a gi, you will need to get one pretty soon after starting.
Don’t start shopping for gis online! Your academy will advise you about the specific type of gi to get, and they will often require that you buy a gi from the academy with their branding. This helps them ensure quality, but selling gis is also part of the business model.
You will also need a mouth guard, along with other standard hygiene material that you would use for any sport.
Take Hygiene Seriously
BJJ is an indoor, contact sport in which your face gets pretty close to other people’s feet and armpits. Hygiene matters. Not only do you not want to be the smelly one with long toenails that no one wants to train with, but you need to be careful about contagious skin infections such as athlete’s foot and ringworm.
Shower before training. Try not to touch your face with your hands during training, especially not your eyes, nose, and mouth, and shower shortly after training. Also, don’t forget to wash your gi regularly.
Anticipate the Class Format
Most BJJ classes will follow a fairly standard format. You can expect a class to start with a warm-up to prepare the muscles. There will be some BJJ-specific exercises such as rolling during this portion.
The main portion of the class will involve learning techniques and drilling them so that the instructor can correct details and you can start to commit the moves to muscle memory. Then there will be dedicated sparring time, often called rolling, so you can practice in a comprehensive manner.
Then there will be a cool-down and stretching session, though this could be collectively as a class, or you may be left to do this on your own.
Trust and be Trustworthy
It is important never to hold onto your partner after they have tapped. They tap to let you know that they aren’t feeling safe, and they need you to let go. If you aren’t sure whether you have tapped or imagined it, better to let go.
You don’t want to be that person that no one wants to train with, just like you aren’t going to want to train with that person who is too tenacious and doesn’t know when to let go.
Believe in Techniques
Learning something new is always hard, and it can be tempting to try and use force to try and overcome a problem or an opponent. But BJJ is more about technique than force, and you have to learn and execute the techniques to get the results that you want.
Pay attention to the details when the instructor is explaining techniques, and take corrections for what they are meant to be. They are meant to help you improve and get better.
Do Your Homework
There is nothing more frustrating than thinking that you have got a new technique, and then having lost it when you come to your next class. It is frustrating for you and for your teacher. Do your homework and practice your technique to get it into your muscle memory. Spending a few minutes each day drilling techniques from the previous classes will make a bigger difference to your progress than you imagine.
Stay Calm & Experiment
It is easy to become frustrated when someone has their arm wrapped around your neck, but to be good at BJJ you need to be a little cold. Rather than become stressed and anxious, you need to stay calm and think strategically. This will be hard at first, but it is a skill that you can practice and improve.
Also, remember when you are rolling with your classmates you aren’t in a competition. You don’t need to stick to your best and most reliable moves. Use the friendly environment to experiment and expand your repertoire of moves.
Not sure what to do? Ask your instructor or older students for advice.
Sparring is Tiring
Expect to be tired and sore in the first few weeks or months of BJJ training.
While it can sometimes look like two people are curled up on the floor barely moving for about five minutes, they are exerting a lot of energy to control the other person and hold them in place.
Expect it to take some time to get the type of fitness that you need to do this. And remember, just because you can run a marathon doesn’t mean you won’t get tired. You are doing something different with your body, so it will respond differently. Your body will need time to adapt to this specific activity, though certainly less time than if you start with low fitness levels.
Work on Your Grip
Getting a good grip on your partner’s gi is essential for sparring. If you can’t grip, you can’t spar. While your grip will naturally get stronger as your train BJJ, you can get ahead if you train your grip with specific exercises. Your instructor will be able to recommend some options.
How To Choose a BJJ Academy?
When looking for a place to train BJJ, obviously you need to choose somewhere that is convenient in terms of location and times, but there are some other things to look out for to find a good place.
It used to be that you were lucky to train with a blue belt, but those days are gone. These days you should be training with a brown or a black belt.
BJJ uses the Japanese belt graduation system, so: white, blue, purple, brown, black, black and red, red and white, red. Each belt also has four stripes that help you mark your progress.
While your teacher should be a brown or black belt, look for a class with a mix of colored belts. This means that they are pretty well established and have happy students who have been with them for a while.
Unless you are looking for a super masculine atmosphere, check to see if there are any women in the class. Women sticking with it is generally a good sign that the club has a great culture, and it isn’t all about muscles and ego.
While it probably won’t matter to you when starting out, also check whether the academy participates in competitions and whether they let you train at other academies after a certain level of experience. While this won’t matter when you are just starting, soon it will, and you don’t want to be disappointed.
You probably need to train 3-4 times a week to make steady progress, though you might start with just twice a week when starting out if you need more recovery time.
What is the difference between jiu-jitsu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu?
Traditional jiu-jitsu comes from Japan and is principally about throws and hand strikes. Brazilian jiu-jitsu grew out of Jiu-jitsu in Brazil and is more focused on grappling.
Which is better, MMA or BJJ?
MMA involves training a variety of different martial arts and incorporating them into your unique fight style. BJJ may be one of the martial arts that you train. So, it is not a question of either or.
Is BJJ effective in a street fight?
BJJ can be highly effective in a street fight, particularly because it teaches techniques for taking down larger and stronger opponents. It also helps you learn to remain calm under the pressure of an attack.
How long does it take to become a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
Every person is different, and there is no fixed time for how long it should take to become a black belt. But if you train hard and consistently, you can expect to reach that kind of level after 10-15 years.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is so popular right now that you might be tempted to dismiss it as a fad, but it has a long history and is a proven fight technique. Plus, the training teaches discipline, humility, and builds strength.
If you are considering giving BJJ a try, hopefully the information above helps you feel more prepared and helps you find a great place to train.