I first started BJJ after watching the UFC and, as a newbie to the martial art, I wanted to know if BJJ is beginner-friendly? Here’s what I found.
BJJ is good for beginners because of its structured, progressive training program. Most BJJ schools are friendly and will start you off by learning the fundamentals before allowing you to progress onto the more advanced, full-on training, and your training partners will help you learn and improve.
Let’s jump in and see what makes BJJ beginner-friendly, and if you stick around until the end, I have put together 5 useful beginner (whitebelt) tips to help you out.
BJJ for Beginners
One of the biggest reasons why BJJ is beginner-friendly is because most schools start you off slowly and follow a system of fundamentals. Essentially, there are a few concepts that you need to learn before you can begin to really get a grip of the art.
Some of the fundamental concepts include balance, leverage, and posture. Some of the fundamental positions and techniques include guard defense and offense, top mount and back mount positions – and joint locks and chokeholds. Without these basics, you’ll have a very tough time during live rolls (more on that below).
This, however, does not mean BJJ is easy to learn. In fact, BJJ can be very difficult in the early stages of learning the martial art (you can learn why in my other article, how hard is BJJ to learn).
But what this does mean, is that (most BJJ instructors) won’t throw you into the deep end and make you ‘fight’ right from the get-go. When you start out in BJJ, you will be starting out learning a structured, progressive grappling system, before advancing onto the live rolling or ‘fighting’ so you at least have some idea of what to do.
“If you’re unsure of exactly what you will learn in BJJ, check out my other article: What BJJ Teaches You including the physical techniques & practical life lessons you’ll learn.”
Learning The BJJ Fundamentals (drilling & rolling)
The reason I say ‘most BJJ schools and instructors’ won’t throw you in at the deep end right away, is because some BJJ schools WILL throw you into the harder full-on training from the get-go, even in your first class, and this is actually more common than you might think.
In BJJ, training can be split into two main categories. The first is ‘drilling’ where you and your training partner go one-for-one with each other to practice a new technique you’ve learned. And the second is ‘rolling’ where you go full-on, head-to-head, and try to finish your opponent with all the techniques and submissions you know.
In general, drilling is fairly light and cooperative training (your training partner will help you out). But in rolling, it can get quite rough and your training partner will go hard to implement any and all techniques which they know, to try and finish you with a submission.
Of course, rolling hard does have its place and it is an important part of BJJ training (you can learn more in my other article, BJJ How Hard to Roll). But as a beginner to the sport, it’s not very beneficial or beginner-friendly, because you’re just going to get smashed and have no idea what to do, plus it can make you want to quit!
BJJ ‘Specifics Training’
There is, however, a middle ground between drilling and live rolling called ‘specifics training’. In specific training you pair up with different training partners and, like in rolling, you both go 100% to try to finish your opponent. But, it will only be focused on a specific area of Jiu-Jitsu.
For example, if during the class you’ve been learning how to mount escape, one of you will take top mount position, and the other will take bottom mount position. Then when the time starts, you will both go 100% to try and escape the mount if you’re on the bottom, or to finish with a submission if you’re on top.
If the person on the bottom sweets or escapes, the roll ends and you reset and go again. If the person on top submits the person on the bottom, the time stops, you reset position, and go again. After a certain amount of time, you swap positions and continue training from that same ‘specific’ position only.
The good thing about specific training is it allows you to put everything you’ve just been learning during the class into real-world practice against your training partner, and put what you’ve learned to the test with 100% effort. And this type of training is much more beginner-friendly than just free rolling.
However, not all BJJ schools do specifics training. One that does a great job of specific training for beginners though, is Gracie Barra. You can check out my Gracie Barra review for more details.
BJJ Can Be Less Aggressive & Violent
If you’re new to martial arts, BJJ is a great martial art to start with because, in general, it is less aggressive or violent than some others like mixed martial arts, boxing, or Muay Thai for example. After all, BJJ is known as ‘the gentle art’.
But that’s not to say that BJJ can’t be an aggressive sport. For example, if you’re progressing into the more advanced classes, live rolling, or even competition, then BJJ can be just as tough and aggressive as any other martial art.
In general though, in my experience, BJJ classes and BJJ schools have a much more welcoming feel to them and are less intimidating than striking martial arts like Muay Thai, MMA, or boxing – helping make BJJ very beginner-friendly.
5 BJJ Beginner (Whitebelt) Tips
By now I hope you see that BJJ can be a very beginner-friendly martial art to get into. If so, let’s have a look at some tips which can help you out at the beginning of your BJJ journey.
1. Get the proper gear
When you’re just starting out in BJJ, don’t worry too much about buying any gear. However, as you begin to take it a little more seriously, it is important that you have the proper sportswear and equipment.
But please don’t waste your money. Check out my other articles to avoid buying the wrong things:
2. Learn to break fall
This one is super basic but very important, so much so that you’ll likely be taught it in your first lesson. Like in judo, BJJ has many different takedowns, trips, and throws. And a break fall is a way of landing on the ground safely in a way to spread the impact and reduce the likelihood of injury.
3. Don’t be ashamed to tap
In BJJ when you get caught in a submission hold like a choke or a joint lock, the way to signal that you’re giving up is to tap on your opponent or on the mat. It’s understandable that some people don’t want to tap to show that they’re tough or to admit they have ‘lost the roll’.
However, this is not a good idea when you’re just learning because you could easily injure yourself by not tapping early enough. Most training partners will be careful with their submissions and not apply too forcefully to avoid you getting injured, however, it is a contact sport, and accidents can happen.
So it is a good idea to just tap as often as you feel necessary, and don’t feel ashamed to do so. Not feeling ashamed to tap leads into the next point perfectly.
4. Have a learning mindset, not a winning mindset
It can be tempting when learning a martial art to go hard with 100% effort and force in every roll to try and win. However, as mentioned, it’s easy for yourself or your training partner to get injured this way, and is unnecessary. After all, we’re all there to learn a martial art and we are not in a professional mixed martial arts fight.
However, I have experienced in some schools where I’ve trained in the past, students who do just go all out 100% forced to try and win every single session! But you usually find that those are the people who the other students try to avoid because it’s not worth the potential injuries.
5. Mix up your training partners
It’s very common in Jiu-Jitsu to make very good friends with your training partners and to make a special effort to train with them in each and every class. However, over time when you keep training with the same person, again and again, you start to learn their go-to moves and the tricks they use to win the roll.
If you’re always training against the same person, with your style vs their style, both of your skill levels can begin to plateau. But when you regularly train with new training partners, you discover where your weaker areas are, and any potential holes in your game.
Plus everybody’s style is different, so training with new people presents you with new opportunities to learn new tricks and techniques to improve your own skills. So when it comes to training partners, it’s good to mix it up between different styles, different belt ranks, and levels of experience to help you improve.
For more ways to improve your BJJ, check out my other article BJJ: 12 Ways To Improve & Progress Faster