Your First Jiu-Jitsu Class: Everything You Need To Know

By Tsavo NealLearning BJJLeave a Comment

student nervous before his first jiu-jitsu class

Nervous before your first jiu-jitsu class?

Don’t be.

3 years ago, I was terrified about my first jiu-jitsu class.

Today, jiu-jitsu is my main hobby. I’ve enjoyed many physical and mental health benefits. And I have the privilege of running the intro BJJ class for new students at my gym.

In this article, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know so you’re prepared for your first jiu-jitsu class — and to ensure you’ll have fun.

Let’s dive in.

Your First Jiu-Jitsu Class: Quick Links

My First Jiu-Jitsu Class Story

July 19th, 2019. A hot summer afternoon in Vancouver, B.C.

I’m sitting outside the gym before my first jiu-jitsu class.

“Am I going to make a fool of myself?”

“What if someone beats me up?”

“Why am I doing this? I can always just go home.”

The thoughts were racing through my mind.

I was nervous. SO nervous.

But Jocko Willink said “jiu-jitsu is a superpower” — so I had to at least give it a try.

It was 10 minutes before my intro class started.

So, I sighed, picked up my bag, and headed towards the stairs where the gym was.

“Let’s do this,” I muttered under my breath.

As I enter the gym, I see a few guys sitting on the mats. They all wave and nod at me.

The head instructor, Ritchie, greets me with a big smile.

“Hey, you’re Tsavo, right? Nice to meet you! Go ahead and head to the change room and I’ll meet you right out here for your intro class.”

I was struck at how friendly he was.

Everyone else was super cool as well.

After I changed, I stepped on the mats for the intro class.

He taught me the basics of jiu-jitsu.

In fact, I even have my real BJJ journal entry from my ever first jiu-jitsu class

  • First-ever lesson with Ritchie
  • The foundation of BJJ is movement on the ground — rolling and shrimping movements, master these
  • You want to create an unfair fight and give yourself an unfair advantage — being comfortable from the worst position
  • Practice: shrimping, front roll, back roll, beach pose moving (on my hand, on my elbow, and on my shoulder)
  • Technical Stand-Up: forwards, backward, on my elbow, hand kick to arm, slide knee back far, prop up in a fighting stance
  • Always keep a hand up for self-defense
  • Armbar from guard: closed guard, control wrists…
  • Abs are the most important muscle in BJJ

I remember when Ritchie first showed me the armbar from closed guard.

It was like magic. After these 5 steps, he put me into a position where I felt like my arm was about to shatter. I tapped as soon as I felt a bit of pain, and he immediately let go.

This was it.

After hearing about it for all those years on the Joe Rogan podcast, I was finally doing jiu-jitsu.

I left the gym smiling from ear to ear.

Jiu-jitsu was fascinating to practice.

Everyone was super nice.

And it was so much fun.

I came back for my first real class the next day — and had a blast.

I was tired, sore, and full of adrenaline.

But, I knew deep down that I had picked up an important hobby…one that I’d like to do for a lifetime.

What To Know Before Your First Jiu-Jitsu Class

So, what should you know before your first jiu-jitsu class?

Not much, really.

You learn jiu-jitsu by doing it. Not just by reading about it or watching it.

However, there are a few things you should know before your first class.

What Is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Before your first jiu-jitsu class, you should know what jiu-jitsu is.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art and combat sport based on ground fighting and submission holds.

You’re not punching and kicking anybody.

Instead, you’re rolling around with them on the ground.

And you’re trying to “submit” them: make them tap by threatening a submission.

The cool thing about jiu-jitsu is that, unlike many other martial arts, a smaller person with superior technique can beat a bigger person.

You can read up on the history of jiu-jitsu if you’d like. And you can find all kinds of BJJ-related info on BJJ Resources.

But as long as you understand that it’s a form of submission grappling, then you have a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into.

What To Look For In A BJJ Gym

One of the most important factors in your jiu-jitsu journey is picking the right gym and the right instructor.

I’ve seen people quit BJJ just because they sign up for the wrong gym.

It’s imperative that you find a gym with a culture — or “vibe” — that suits you.

So, you should try out at least 3 of the local gyms in your area and see which one feels right for you. And consider your budget, because jiu-jitsu can get expensive.

Ask the gym owner or your instructor about the rules of the gym. That will tell you a lot about the gym’s culture. And you’ll get a feel for the culture as you mingle with the other students.

Each gym is different. But, there are some things you should require as you pick your gym:

  • Instruction from a legitimate practitioner
  • Safe training partners
  • Welcoming atmosphere
  • Good hygiene practices

Try a few different gyms before you pick one to stick with.

You’ll get a sense of which one is best for you based on its culture, community, and instructor.

The gym you choose determines if you stick with BJJ beyond your first jiu-jitsu class.

Safety First

BJJ is a martial art and combat sport.

People get hurt. I’ve been hurt.

So it’s important that you understand how to do jiu-jitsu safely to minimize the risk of injury to yourself and your training partners.

1. Respect The Tap

The most important thing is to respect the tap.

If someone taps, you let go immediately and safely.

If you tap, your partner should let go immediately and safely.

Do not roll with anyone who doesn’t respect this rule. They shouldn’t be allowed at the gym in the first place.

If you get stuck, just tap. Better your ego gets hurt than your arm gets snapped.

2. Don’t Spaz

New white belts are notorious for being “spazzy.”

They move erratically using jerky movements to try and survive, escape, or submit.

Don’t do that.

Aim to move and apply real techniques — slowly and smoothly.

If you don’t know any techniques from a particular position, ask your training partner.

“What can I do here to improve my position?”

It’s often the new white belts who are the most dangerous in terms of getting injured or injuring others.

So don’t spaz.

3. Use Your Awareness

As you’re rolling around, be aware of what’s going on around you.

I’ve heard some horrific stories about one pair of students rolling where one falls onto someone in another group.

So, always be aware of what’s going on around you.

If you and your training partner are rolling into another pair, pause the roll and move away to create some space.

If you follow these 3 guidelines — and you train with someone who does the same — you will drastically reduce the risk of injury.

How To Prepare For Your First Jiu-Jitsu Class

How do you prepare for your first jiu-jitsu class?

The most important thing is that you just show up.

Your instructor and the other students will help you survive your first class.

However, if you want to do some extra homework before your first class, read on.

Understand The Basics Of BJJ

BJJ is a complicated sport.

There’s a lot more going on than punching and kicking.

There are hundreds of techniques and positions that you’ll have to learn.

And it takes a lifetime to master.

So, before your first class, it helps to understand a few things.

1. Positional Hierarchy

Familiarize yourself with the main positions in jiu-jitsu.

These are…

  1. Guard
  2. Side Mount
  3. Knee Mount
  4. Mount
  5. Rear Mount
  6. Turtle

jiu-jitsu positions

As you watch other students roll, practice figuring out where each student is in terms of their position.

This will be very helpful to contextualize and understand your first jiu-jitsu class.

2. Movements

Familiarize yourself with the main movements in jiu-Jitsu.

My instructor, Ritchie Yip, has an excellent 5-part series on this.

Even better if you practice these movements before your first jiu-jitsu class.

Do that, and you’ll be far ahead of where most people are before their first class.

Just a brief understanding of the positional hierarchy in BJJ — and the movements that link them together — will help you immensely.

While you’re at it, check out some jiu-jitsu podcasts which will help you understand the art on a more conceptual level.

But again, 99% of BJJ you’ll learn on the mats.

You must earn your knowledge in jiu-jitsu.

Do Your Cardio!

Jiu-jitsu is a demanding sport.

It’s going to take a lot of you — especially in terms of cardio.

I’ve seen people sit out halfway through their first jiu-jitsu class because they couldn’t keep up.

Now, you don’t have to be a triathlon runner to make it through your first jiu-jitsu class.

But any cardio work you do will pay off immensely for BJJ.

Worried that you’re out of shape?

No worries. Jiu-jitsu will get you into shape.

Be prepared to suffer during your first class.

But don’t let your lack of cardio hold you back from getting started.

Any cardio you do before your first jiu-jitsu class will help you on the mats.

Adopt The Beginner’s Mind

“The white belt is a rite of passage that all BJJ practitioners go through.  No one is above the process.  Every person with a colour belt in BJJ was first the nail before they became the hammer.”
Ritchie Yip

Remember: you’re a beginner.

It doesn’t matter if you’re super smart.

It doesn’t matter if you’re great at other sports.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a big bodybuilder with a huge bench press.

Jiu-jitsu is new to you and very different from anything else you’ve tried.

You’re going to suck. You’re going to get humbled. You’re going to feel like an idiot.

That’s all part of the process. Everyone goes through it.

So, adopt the beginner’s mind. Go into it humble and willing to learn. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Commit, show up, and have fun.

“As a white belt, every class will feel like a complete game-changer for you. You’ll see and feel huge gains in your skill with each and every week and every technique that is shown to you will seem like a revelation. This is the part where you’ll start to fall in love with Jiu-Jitsu.”

(For more jiu-jitsu quotes, read my article on the best jiu-jitsu quotes)

What To Wear To Your First Jiu-Jitsu Class

Now, let’s talk about what to bring to your first jiu-jitsu class.

What you wear depends on whether your first jiu-jitsu class is Gi or No-Gi.

You’ll also need flip-flops, a mouthguard, and a bag to carry all of your stuff in.

What To Wear For Gi BJJ

Gi BJJ is jiu-jitsu practiced in the traditional gi uniform.

aeroweave bjj gi

The ultralight Aeroweave BJJ gi — perfect for beginners

That means you’ll wear a gi jacket, gi pants, and (white) belt.

“Should I get a gi before my first jiu-jitsu class?”

Yes — unless your instructor gives you one.

Many gyms offer a free gi uniform if you sign up. And they’ll provide it to you at your first jiu-jitsu class.

If they don’t, then you’ll have to buy a gi.

White and blue are safe gi colors. They’re accepted at every gym.

However, some gyms frown upon “flashier” gis.

If you’re not sure, just ask your instructor.

What To Wear for No-Gi BJJ

No-gi BJJ is jiu-jitsu done in athletic wear instead of the gi uniform.

no gi bjj uniform

That means you’ll wear a rashguard and BJJ shorts (shorts without drawstrings or pockets).

If you don’t yet have a rash guard and BJJ shorts, you can just wear a normal athletic T-shirt and athletic shorts.

Spats (compression pants) are also recommended, but optional. They’ll protect your legs from rashes and keep them warm.

Protective Gear For BJJ

The only protective gear that is mandatory for BJJ is a mouthguard.

I highly recommend bringing a mouthguard to your first jiu-jitsu class.

(I wear and recommend a Sisu mouthguard)

Even though you won’t be sparring, you might be positional sparring.

For any BJJ activity outside of drilling, wear a mouthguard.

Your teeth will thank you.

There are endless other options for protective gear, such as:

  • headgear (to protect your ears)
  • finger tape (to protect your fingers)
  • kneepads (to protect your knees)

However, these are completely optional.

Wear them if you need them, but they aren’t mandatory.

Flip Flops for BJJ

Don’t forget to bring flip-flops!

You’ll need to bring flip-flops to every jiu-jitsu class.

You’ll wear them as you walk around the gym — but not on the mats. It’s a hygiene thing.

Walking barefoot in a bathroom and then onto mats where people are rolling around is no bueno.

What To Expect For Your First Jiu-Jitsu Class

Here’s a secret — your first jiu-jitsu class won’t revolve around you.

It will be a normal class in which you take part.

And that should come as a relief.

You’ll likely partner with a higher belt who will help you through each portion of the class.

You can break a typical jiu-jitsu class into 4 parts:

  1. Warm-Up
  2. Drilling
  3. Positional Sparring
  4. Open Mat

But most gyms will run you through a private, 1-on-1 intro class before the group class begins.

Now, we’ll look at each of these in detail.

1-on-1 Intro Class (20-30 min)

Not every gym offers a 1-on-1 intro class before you take your first real class.

But if they do, an instructor will spend 20-30 minutes with you to go over the basics of BJJ:

  • Rules
  • Gym etiquette
  • Basic movements (rolling, shrimping, bridging, etc)
  • Standard techniques (ex: armbar from closed guard)

This intro class will help you prepare for your real first jiu-jitsu class.

Warm-Up (5-10 min)

During warmups, your instructor will lead you through some grappling-related movements.

This will include movements such as…

  • Forward rolls
  • Backward rolls
  • Bridging
  • Shrimping
  • Stretching

Some warmups are light. Some warmups are intense.

It all depends on your gym and your instructor.

These movements take practice. In the beginning, you will suck at them, but that’s OK. If you need it, just ask a higher belt for help.

After the warmup, you’ll be warmed up. And you’ll get a feel for some of the movements you’ll be using in the next portion of the class.

Drilling (30-50 min)

During the drilling portion of jiu-jitsu class, you can expect to spend 30-50 minutes drilling a technique, or a sequence of techniques.

For example…

  • You might start with a standing arm drag to back take.
  • From there, you’ll do a takedown from the back position and transition into mount.
  • From there, the top player will do a cross-collar choke.
  • From there, the bottom player will work on surviving and escaping the cross-collar choke.

You and your partner will go back and forth as you practice each part of the particular sequence.

For drilling, go as slow and easy as you need to get the technique right.

Then, you can speed it up once you have the hang of it.

Positional Sparring (15-20 min)

Positional sparring is where spar within the specific sequence you practiced in class.

Expect to do positional sparring in your first jiu-jitsu class.

Think of it as a mini-game.

It’s not full-on rolling, because it’s heavily constrained to a particular set of techniques.

It’s designed to help you and your partner get sparring-like experience for a few specific techniques — the ones you worked on in class.

Positional sparring is crucial to learning a technique, practicing it, and adding it to your game.

And it will be your first introduction to what comes next — rolling.

Open Mat (1h-2h)

During the open mat is when instruction stops, and where everyone takes turns rolling (sparring) with each other.

The class is over (so anyone can leave), but the gym remains open so that students can roll until everyone has left the mats.

During the open mat, you can leave at any point.

BJJ sparring rounds are usually 5-6 minutes long with a 1-2 minute break in between.

You’re not going to roll after your first jiu-jitsu class.

Instead, you’ll likely continue practicing what you learned in class.

Or, you can watch the other students roll.

Rolling is the most fun part of jiu-jitsu. But it will probably be a few weeks before you start open rolling.

Your First Jiu-Jitsu Class: Conclusion

Now you know everything you need to know about your first jiu-jitsu class.

You don’t need any more information.

Jiu-jitsu is about taking action. Now, it’s your turn to go and show up to that first class.

You’ll be nervous. You won’t know what you’re doing.

But at a good gym — the type of gym you want to commit to — everyone will be there to help you.

15 years from now, when you’re a black belt, you’ll look back at your first jiu-jitsu class and smile.

Your life is about to change. And I’m so excited for you.

For those of you who are about to take your first jiu-jitsu class…

Is there anything in this article I didn’t cover?

What questions do you have for me about your first jiu-jitsu class?  

Leave a comment below and let me know!

Happy rolling! 🤙

tsavo neal

Tsavo Neal

Tsavo is the founder of BJJ Equipment, an assistant BJJ instructor at InFighting, and a BJJ purple belt. He's a passionate hobbyist and BJJ gear/equipment aficionado. He launched BJJ Equipment in 2022 to make it easy for grapplers to find the best BJJ gear so they look, feel, and perform at their best on the mats.

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