What to Expect at Your First Jiu-Jitsu Class
Whether you are starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at a BJJ gym in Vancouver or anywhere else across the globe, attending your first class can seem intimidating — after all, it is difficult to know what to expect. While BJJ is an incredibly complex martial art that takes years to master, your first jiu-jitsu class should be an enjoyable experience that introduces you to some basic moves and positions. The latter portion of the class is often reserved for either live training or sparring, known in BJJ as “rolling” — however, you should not feel obligated to participate until you are comfortable and have a few classes under your belt (some instructors may even make this a matter of policy). Most other students should be happy to conduct specific positional training with you instead, helping you become familiar with essential positions and brushing up on the fundamentals themselves.
First Things First: Jiu-Jitsu Warmups
Typically, all jiu-jitsu classes from beginner to advanced begin with some form of specific grappling drill as a warm-up. These drills commonly consist of a series of hip-escapes, bridges, forward and backward rolls, and perhaps a few other variations of moving your body across the mat with or without a partner. The forms of motion contained in these drills form the essential building blocks of proper grappling movements, so it is essential to familiarize yourself with them. Don’t be discouraged if these seemingly simple motions stump you at first — the body mechanics, while sound, are often unusual and may take a few classes to fully grasp. Stick with it and listen to the instructor, with a few weeks of practice you will be moving through the class warm-ups without issues.
Example of a traditional Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class warm up demonstrated at the famous Marcelo Garcia academy
Learning BJJ: The Moves of the Day
Your first jiu-jitsu class should be specifically aimed at beginners, and you will likely begin learning about fundamental positions such as mount or full-guard. Learning to recognize these positions is one of the first big conceptual hurdles you will face as a new BJJ student. Your instructor will demonstrate a simple move that will become the focal point of the day’s lesson, such as a basic escape or passing sequence. Try to follow along, but as always do not stress if you cannot master the move during your first class. It is quite rare for someone without grappling experience to pick up a move the first time they are shown, and even advanced students will need many reps before they can expect to perform a newly learned move.
Diaz Combat Sports head BJJ instructor Stuart Cooper demonstrates a basic escape from side control
If you find yourself in an all-levels class for both beginning and advanced students, you may wind up quite lost during the “move of the day” sequence. A good recommendation is to try to pair up with a more advanced student who can guide you through the class. You may even be directed to a specific partner by your coach. Do not be intimidated by coloured belts or cauliflower ears. Many advanced students, including purple and brown belts, are more than happy to help beginners find their way in BJJ — plus, the feedback they can provide you on specific positions will always be superior to that of another white belt.
A ranked belt at any reputable school will not try to hurt you, and if the class is geared towards all levels, there are more than likely a few upper belts looking to hone their teaching skills and build relationships with new students. As long as you display a humble attitude, willingness to learn, and do your best to pay attention, you will be a fine training partner for anyone.
If you do end up with another newer student during your first class, your instructor will usually come around to help you both out during the drilling portion of the class. Remember that BJJ coaches enjoy teaching jiu jitsu. A quality instructor will never be frustrated or berate you during your first class.
Again, your humble attitude and willingness to learn will show from the moment you step on the mats, and most BJJ instructors love to have students of all levels showing up to their class and doing their best to learn BJJ.
Going Live: Where the ‘Fun’ In Jiu-Jitsu Class Really Begins
While learning and drilling the move of the day will be a large portion of any beginner or all-levels jiu-jitsu class, most classes will also include at least one instance of “live” training, which is often called rolling in BJJ.’ Typically, this will be a five to eight minute round where you and a partner will attempt to control or submit one another in accordance with the position studied that day. If you are nervous about this, you can always sit and observe during your first class, or perhaps go at a lighter pace with a more advanced training partner.
UFC legend Nate Diaz does light rolling with a training partner
It may be a new experience to have someone grabbing at you, lying on you, and trying to choke you out — however, one of the features that makes BJJ so approachable is the act of “tapping out”. Commonly used to signal surrender when locked in a submission attacked, tapping is an acceptable way to excuse yourself from any scenario you wish to disengage with. If you find yourself stuck in an uncomfortable position, or matched with someone who is going excessively hard, tap out and politely tell them you are going to sit the rest of the roll out. While this situation is quite unlikely during your first BJJ class at a decent gym, you are ultimately the one to draw the line as to what you can handle when going live — the tap empowers you to do so.
Famous author and Youtuber Jocko Willink and a partner rolling
In any case, your partner should know it is your first day, and ‘match your intensity.’ If you come out of the gate hard, vigorously trying to attack your opponent, you can expect them to turn up the heat. On the other hand, if you pair up with an upper belt and ask to work on the move of the day or some other fundamentals, most students will be more than willing to accommodate you. Your own attitude and aggression will be the biggest factor in determining your experience during your first few live rolls.
Overall, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gyms are generally pretty cool places with positive vibes. You should feel welcomed as a new BJJ student during your first class. Understand that earning real respect on the mats will take years of dedication and discipline. However, as previously stated, if you show up with a humble attitude and willingness to learn, you should have no problem fitting right in at any BJJ gym in Vancouver.