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What to expect when starting Jiu Jitsu

Starting a new skill, especially in a social setting, can be a daunting task. If you've already walked through the doors of that Jiu Jitsu gym you've been eyeing, then congratulations! You've taken the first step to a life changing experience. If you're reading up on what to expect before walking in then that's good too. You're almost there.

Walking in

Maybe you called first or emailed the instructor via website and that's all good but the first hit of anxiety lies in actually walking through the doors. Fear not, gyms are businesses after all and the staff will welcome newcomers with open arms. Students are there practicing humility and discipline on the daily and will gladly invite new people to embark on the journey with them. A Jiu Jitsu or even MMA gym should feel warm and inviting as you walk in the door. If you don't get that feeling however then maybe that gym is simply not the right fit, which will bring us to our next subject.

Choosing your gym

There's a reason "choosing your gym" was placed after "walking in" and that reason is because I recommend walking in to several gyms before you settle down. Loyalty is a valued asset to your gym instructor and consistency will determine the speed of your overall success. The gym you choose should connect with you in more ways than one. After all you're not just choosing a training facility, you're choosing a family. Most schools offer a trial before paying their fees which gives you a good opportunity to test the waters. You should ask yourself these questions.

Did the instructor seem engaged in helping students individually after group demonstration?

I've traveled around and visited many gyms and have seen instructors for better or worse. One thing I personally value in a Jiu Jitsu instructor is one that takes special interest in their students. Sure if a gym is busy you might need to prove your loyalty before a instructor goes that extra mile for you. Still you should never feel abandoned like Ricky Bobby not knowing what to do with his hands. Typically an instructor will demonstrate a technique several times for the whole class to see. Afterwards students partner up to practice the technique. This is when an instructor shines in my eyes. The instructor should be walking around the room spending time correcting the technique and essentially "walking you through it" with those who really need the help. They should have a no-man-left-behind attitude.

*Photo taken at 10th Planet San Antonio by Cody Wood*

Did you connect with the other students?

Different schools have different attitudes. Some schools are very competition based and grind competitively every class. Some are more laid back with the majority of their students just trying to wind down after work and sweat out the day's stress. Some may have a mix of it all. After a class or two you should try to assess what type of school you're in and whether you connect with this group. Did the other students have a similar mentality as you? Do they have similar goals? Were you even able to communicate with them to find out or did they keep it short and cold during technique practice then mat-bully you when it came time to roll? Maybe you don't know what goals you want to pursue out of Jiu Jitsu yourself but you should be able to easily look at the students in the room and tell if they're a good example of something you'll strive to be.

*Photo taken at 10th Planet San Antonio by Cody Wood*

How was the overall atmosphere?

Everything from the room, to the people, to the music can create the overall atmosphere for you. Jiu Jitsu can be awkward to those who have never grappled before. After all how often is it you find yourself in between another person's legs for combative purposes. Never-the-less it should be a fun and exciting experience. Starting Jiu Jitsu is when you find an entire new realm of personal growth and potential you never thought to exist. If the vibe of the place isn't quite there it should be apparent. Maybe the music is weird, you feel out of place with the instructor and students, or you just simply don't connect. Yet another reason to feel out a couple of other schools to compare vibes.

*Photo taken at 10th Planet San Antonio by Cody Wood*

The road of a whitebelt

I'm not going to sugarcoat this, starting out is going to feel difficult at first. You know little to no technique and rolling feels impossible. Maybe before starting you've watched some YouTube videos to get an idea but it won't mean anything without muscle memory training. I remember watching a YouTube video on a Kimura then going to apply it on an actual person and being like.. uhh.. wait what. It's a whole nother ball game. You have to understand EVERYONE started there, even the instructor at your gym. Trust me, everyone remembers their first days on the mats. The beginning stages of your Jiu Jitsu training is going to consist of you fighting to survive. Don't expect to walk in a prodigy and submit people left and right without the training, it simply doesn't happen like that. Jiu Jitsu is one of the few martial arts where time on the mat really is everything when it comes to skill level. There's no getting lucky, there's no faking it. Little victories will come in surviving and escaping dangerous situations. You might get smashed for months but guess what. Eventually a new student is going to walk through the doors and stand exactly where you stood and go through everything you went through. Then it will be their turn to fight and survive the arsenal of techniques you've acquired since the day you first walked through that door. Not only will you get to practice your offense, but you'll get to play your role in guiding them through their transition just as someone had done for you.


Starting a new skill in a new place leaves you a lot to think about and honestly it should. The people you choose to surround yourself with can greatly impact your overall growth, in not only just a particular skill, but in you as a person. So it's up to you to choose wisely and find that environment where you feel at home. Once you start, and if you stick with it, Jiu Jitsu can be a fun and exciting journey that may reshape your life for the better.

*Photo taken at 10th Planet San Antonio by Rolando Palacios*


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