What to expect at your first BJJ class? Ask me something else, this one is hard!
I am not joking (too much) when I say it is hard to explain to someone what to expect the first time they step on the mats for a BJJ class.
Jiu-Jitsu is unlike anything else people have done, and there is no universal way to pinpoint expectations.
I will do my best to prepare any potential new students for the unique experience of trying out BJJ for the very first time, but keep in mind that the experience may differ, depending on the academy you pick for your first class, the class structure, and mostly, you.
A Quick Overview of BJJ
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is somewhere in between a martial art and a combat sport. Martial arts are philosophical, complex, and diverse and are more of a lifestyle than just a way to burn calories.
Sports, on the other hand, are more competitive, require a lot more stamina and strength, and tend to simplify things for the sake of performance.
You can already see why it is somewhat difficult to accurately portray the picture of what to expect at your first BJJ class – you can expect a unique blend of both these aspects.
It is a combat sport as well, given the chaotic nature of sparring and competition, where both athletes get to use an open-ended system to achieve their main goals.
Speaking of goals in BJJ, the idea is to use superior mechanical positioning to control another person standing, on the ground, or in transition between the two. Jiu-Jitsu is extremely detailed in exploring these means of control, so much so that it’s nerdy!
Several key positions in the sport, which offer immense control over another resisting human, score points, which is what competitors are after. These control positions coincide with the best positions to use in self-defense and sparring, so they are universally sought-after.
A very distinct element of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the use of submission holds. These are techniques that allow you to strangle an opponent (choke holds), or severely injure any of the joints on their body (joint locks).
While it is obvious how such moves might benefit someone in a self-defense scenario, they also help make Jiu-Jitsu unique in combination with the major control points I mentioned earlier.
How do people train such a “savage” sport/martial art you might ask?
Well, for starters there is a safety net in place.
Every time a person is feeling uncomfortable or gets caught with a submission hold, all they need to do is tap with their arms or legs two or more times on the mats or the training partner’s body and they get released immediately. Granted, tapping out means you’re conceding the match/sparring round/ exchange, but you do so unscathed while going a hundred percent live.
You see now how unique BJJ is, and why it’s going to be an experience like no other the first time you join a class to try it out.
What to Wear To Your First BJJ Class?
After 13 years in the sport, I have an answer ready to go for this question, as I get asked this at least a couple of times a week.
Given it’s your first BJJ class, you’ll likely not have any gear to wear. So, my answer is to wear what is comfortable. BJJ would be utterly useless in a self-defense scenario if the success of it depended on what type of clothes you and/or the opponent are wearing.
That said, certain academies have rules in place, and you should respect them when you sign up for your BJJ trial class. In most cases, shorts and a T-shirt will do the trick, or a pair of leggings and a shirt (mostly what ladies pick).
In case a Gi is required by the academy, most BJJ schools provide loner Gis for people trying it out for the very first time. That said, we’ve got an in-depth article breaking down the best BJJ gis that you can check out for some great options.
A universal rule is to make sure you NEVER step on the mats with anything but your bare feet, which need to be clean. Otherwise, I can tell you exactly what to expect at your first BJJ class – yelling.
What To Expect From Your First Class
The moment you decide to join a BJJ class for the very first time, you’ll have certain expectations.
Let me tell you exactly what is going to happen on the mats, and what you can get ready for before you even enter the gym.
A Welcoming Community
The first thing you can expect from your first BJJ class is to enter an unusually welcoming and chill community.
BJJ folks are friendly and open, very talkative, and extremely passionate about the sport/martial art. They’ll make you feel welcome on the mats and as part of the community even before you learn how to tie a BJJ belt around your waist.
In fact, the moment you engage with whoever is present on the mats, from the coach to the other students, you’ll get a direct glimpse into what training will look and feel like and what you’ll be like in a short while.
This is a big caveat of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and also something to keep in mind as a prerequisite. BJJ training is not like a kick-aerobic class – there is no way to just do stuff and have people copy them. It is not like CrossFit either where a coach writes the workout of the day on a board and lets you get on with it.
Coaches need to constantly look at what students are doing, and pay individual attention (within the bounds of their abilities and time) to each person on the mats. They’ll correct or praise you constantly while answering any and all questions you might have.
If you have the misfortune of having your first class in a gym where the coach demonstrates something and then buries their face in their phone, you need to switch gyms immediately.
Feeling overwhelmed and Confused
This I guarantee. I see it every time I hold a trial class (which is at least once a week) on people’s faces. Even when I try to keep things simple, sometimes I get carried away on tangents or in answering someone’s question and people get a blank look of confusion on their faces.
BJJ is extremely complex and diverse, and most importantly, it is open-ended – nobody knows everything about it. Moreover, there are names for everything, from major control positions and submission holds to specific transitions.
Those names are not standardized, so people use Portuguese terms, Japanese terms, English terms, etc. when trying to explain moves and techniques. To me, it all makes perfect sense, but to a newcomer, it is like hearing an alien language.
Do not worry about being confused in your first class or first year, for that matter – it will pass with time.
Feeling overwhelmed comes with the close-content engagement during training and definitely during drilling things against a resisting partner.
I am not a big fan of allowing people to spar on their first day, as there is no point since they don’t know what they’re doing, but if the academy you’ve chosen does it, you will just feel even more overwhelmed by the time class is over.
To Get Tired
There is no way to prepare yourself in terms of strength and conditioning for BJJ.
Jiu-Jitsu has very specific physical demands on the body, which only develop as you train regularly. So, regardless of how hard your first BJJ class is (trial classes are usually kept very low-key) you’ll feel tired by the end of it, especially if you try something against a resisting partner
There is also mental fatigue that comes with training BJJ, as you need to use your mind constantly to figure things out under pressure while you’re engaging in live sparring.
Even though you might not spar your first few weeks, you’ll still drill and get an idea of how mentally taxing Jiu-Jitsu can be.
There is no way to train Jiu-Jitsu and be extremely comfortable – if there was it would be called Zumba and we’d dance around energetically all over the place.
The reason for discomfort is psychological and physiological – close contact.
We tend to have a zone around us that we don’t let people get past it without extreme caution – it is a defense mechanism.
This zone is different for each person, but the moment someone enters it we start feeling uncomfortable.
Think about riding in a crowded bus and how it makes you feel.
Well, in BJJ, you’ll have people intentionally trying to get as close to you as possible to execute things effectively. While the feeling of discomfort does get away, it will take a lot of time for that to happen.
The good news is that you’ll get used to it fairly quickly, and you always have the option to tap out or ask a training partner to back off a little, especially in your very first BJJ class.
You’ll Want More
The one thing about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that it is pretty addictive.
Even though you’ll feel like experienced students can play around with you in any way they want on the mats, and you’ll get submitted many times during training, there is a weird burning desire to do it all again.
True, you won’t be “put through the wringer” as much in your very first class, but you’ll still be aware of how easily someone can control you in numerous ways, and you’ll want to come back and master that craft for yourself.
BJJ Class Structure
In my quest to try and pinpoint exactly what to expect at your first BJJ class, I’ll share the standard BJJ class structure with you as I find it helps people make sense of it.
I usually tell new students about the structure in short before we start the trial class.
Warm-Up. Different in different academies, the warm-up section in BJJ classes is fairly short – around 10 minutes. It usually involves active stretching and some general movement like running, jumping jacks, or BJJ-specific movements and tumbles to get the heart and lungs into training mode.
Technical demonstrations. This is where everyone gathers around to see the coach demonstrate the move(s) of the day. After the demonstration, people pair up and try the move(s) themselves. During practice, there is no resistance from the partner, especially during your very first class.
There are several technical demonstrations and subsequent practice rounds per training, usually within the 2-4 range.
Drilling. This is where people get to try and do the same thing done during the practice rounds, but this time against a resisting training partner. This way of training is invaluable for really understanding BJJ and you should definitely do your best during this portion of class.
Sparring. Live sparring, or rolling as it is referred to in BJJ, is when you try and control and submit your training partner, while they are resisting you and trying to do the same to you. It is open-ended, fun, and arguably, the most attractive part of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Too bad you won’t try it out yourself during your very first class, but you’re more than welcome to stay and watch
Tips For Your First BJJ Class
If I had the chance to talk to people before they come for their first BJJ class, I’d share some key tips and tricks to make it a more enjoyable experience for them and to make my job a little bit easier.
Since you have the presence of mind to try and figure out what to expect at your first BJJ class, you’ll go prepared:
Do not be afraid to try things out. It is all new, and potentially scary, but unless you give it a try you won’t get the realistic picture of what BJJ is all about.
Engage with your training partner and try to do as many of the things that the coach demonstrated as you can. There’s nothing to lose and you’re in a perfectly safe environment to allow yourself to play and experiment.
BJJ coaches love questions!
Try to ask everything that comes to mind, and do not restrict yourself to the coach and instructors alone- ask your training partners as well, especially if they’re more experienced than you.
Even asking and debating with your trial class peers is a great way of understanding more and getting more out of your first BJJ class experience.
Just remember to restrain yourself from interrupting the coach while they are delivering the information during a technical demonstration.
There are several Q&A sessions during a BJJ class anyway, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to ask away.
You Don’t Have to Do Everything
This is something I make sure to communicate clearly to everyone coming for a trial BJJ class before they join us on the mats.
Given everything that I said already about being uncomfortable, tired, overwhelmed, and confused, it would be counterproductive to treat people as if they’re in boot camp and a coach is a drill sergeant.
If you don’t want to do something, just tell your coach about it. That said, remember my first piece of advice and try to engage as much as you can without making it a negative experience for yourself.
One of the best pieces of advice I got from my original coach, Carlos Maia, was that while we train BJJ, we give our most prized material possessions – our bodies to our partner to play with.
We need to be careful not to injure them in any way, as it is a two-way street.
Respect your training partners, other students, and coaches at all times.
The atmosphere in BJJ classes is pretty loose and friendly, but if you’re not sure how to engage, you’re safer erring on the respectful side of things as opposed to trying to make people notice you.
Let the Dust Settle
My last piece of advice is to allow some time after your very first BJJ class to let the dust settle.
You’ll be filled with impressions immediately after class, but trying to figure out if Jiu-Jitsu is for you right then and there is not a good idea.
Sleep it over, perhaps give it a day or two, and then look back at your impressions before you decide whether or not to proceed with training.
What to Expect at Your First BJJ Class: Final Thoughts
As you can see there are plenty of things that take place in BJJ classes, and no two classes are alike.
If you’re wondering what to expect at your first BJJ class, the best answer I can give you is an experience like no other before which has the potential to change your entire life.