A lot of times, beginners have got quite a few questions. Rightly so. BJJ can be expensive, and sometimes this is the first thing that offputs new people. Judging by the emails i receive, quite a few beginners read this blog, so i figured, let's talk directly to the newcomers and answer some questions. These aren't questions i've received, but are perhaps a few things you might be wondering, as i wondered when i first started BJJ.
Q: What does BJJ stand for?
A: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Q: What's the difference between BJJ and Gracie Jiujitsu?
A: Gracie JiuJitsu is a kind of brand name of BJJ: it refers to the teachings passed down by certain members of the Gracie family, who are amongst the most influential martial artists of all time.
Q: Is BJJ for me?
A: Who knows! BJJ is one of the world's most increasingly popular martial arts, and has been used by the police force, and in many movies.
The best advice i can possibly give is get down there. Before i started BJJ, i was nervous: is this for me, am i doing the right thing? The simple answer is that if you want to do it, it's best to try it and dislike it, than to never try at all. BJJ is a fantastic sport with many positive benefits, so give it a go!
Q: How often will i have to train? how long are the classes?
A: You don't "have to" train at all. You should be training because you want to. When you get out onto the mats and start rolling and training, you will soon forget how long the classes go on for. Many's a time i've run sheepishly out to the car, knowing that the "extra short roll" and the end of the class has made me late.
The classes tend to range anywhere from an hour to about 3 hours.
In most classes, there will be a warm up, some techniques, some specific sparring, then some free sparring. If you have to leave early, ensure that your instructor is aware of this so you do not disrupt the class as you go.
Q: You say it's been used in movies? What celebrities practice it?
A: A quick google search will find you quite a few BJJ celebs. Nicolas Cage, Michael Clarke Duncan, Joe Rogan, Ed O'Neill, Guy Ritchie, Maynard James Keenan....
Q: Will BJJ help me lose weight?
A: In all honesty, BJJ is a great all around exercise. I'm not the lightest (or best built!) guy on earth by any stretch of the imagination, but i can confess that BJJ helped me shift several stones (1st = 14lbs). However, it won't do anything if your diet is still relativley poor: as with all exercise, weight loss seems to come down to the simple formula: Diet + Exercise = weight loss.
Q: What's good to eat before a BJJ class?
A: It doesn't matter so much in your first few classes, but tend to stay away from fatty foods, and stick to simple things like pasta or cereals that provide carbs without a fatty edge to them. Also, stay away from things that cause bad breath or excessive wind: there's nothing worse than rolling with a guy who's been at the garlic, or sounds like a man suffering from terminal flatulence.
Q: Am i going to get punched in the face?
A: No. BJJ is a grappling art, and as such, strikes are not used. Many classes will show self-defence techniques to overcome being attacked in these situations, but strikes are never used in BJJ competition.
Q: What's the grading system?
A: It's more simple than you might think.
The belt grades go: White, Blue, Purple, Brown, Black. There is also a red belt, although this tends to be reserved for members of the Gracie family and a few non Gracies such as Osvaldo Alves and Joao Alberto Barreto.
Also, there is a "stripe" system. This is however not uniform accross every academy. Stripes are generally awarded when it is recognised that a student has passed a certain level of progression. They are awarded at the instructor's discretion.
Q: I've heard BJJ uses chokeholds. Surely this is dangerous?
A: Any sport is dangerous. BJJ is no more dangerous than swimming when performed correctly. The kind of choke that is prevalent in BJJ is a blood choke, which is technically more of a "strangle" than a choke. It works by cutting off blood flow to the Carotid arteries, thus depriving the brain of oxygen. In terms of vascular restraint, it is safer than a choke against the windpipe, which can easily snap under relativley little pressure.
If you go unconscious (which is highly unlikely), in most circumstances you will regain consciousness and have no noticeable side effects.
TRAINING IS NOT A FIGHT TO THE DEATH. In BJJ, a submission is indicated by the use of a tap, which brings the fight to an end.
Any form of tapping, whether it be verbal or any physical signal, ie. a foot stomp, hand tapping, finger snapping, or whatever. Be extremely cognicent when you have another person in a potentially dangerous position, like a submission. When applying a submission, do it slowly so it will give your partner a chance to tap before an injury occurs. You should be able to apply any submission that is effective and correctly setup, slowly. Most injuries in your first 1-2 years of jiu jitsu occur because of careless application of a submission.
Q: I've seen nasty videos on youtube of things called Heel Hooks. Will my legs get hurt?
A: Within the vast majority of BJJ Schools, beginners are not taught heel hooks, and are hugely discouraged from using them. Infact, noone can use them in most competitions until the brown or black belt mark, meaning that by that time, you know what you are doing anyway.
Q: What's the likelyhood of picking up an injury?
A: This depends on how you play. Accidents DO happen: however, statistically, the sport is closest to Wrestling, which has fewer injuries than sports such as weightlifting and boxing. We all pick up nagging pains in sports, and i think that is part and parcel of training.
However, serious injuries do not often happen when you exercise care in your training environment.
Q: Where did BJJ originate?
A: Mitsoyu Maeda, a Japanese Kodokan Judo player, travelled to Brazil, and was helped out by an influential businessman by the name of Gastao Gracie. Gastao's son, Carlos, liked what he saw of Maeda's martial arts prowess, and was eventually taken on as his student. From there, Carlos learned the traditional Kodokan Judo (with a large ground influence), which was eventually adapted by Helio Gracie in order to suit a smaller body type, with less emphasis on strength, more on technique.
After many years of development, and with the Gracie's open invitations to any comers to fight them, Gracie/Brazilian Jiu Jitsu became popular in Brazil, and with the introduction of the UFC in 1993, took off in a way that noone could have possibly imagined.
Q: So why not just learn Judo?
A: Judo is a fantastic martial art, with a great deal that can be used in BJJ. However, Judo's newer rule sets do tend to limit the amount of time spent on the ground, which is where, according to rough urban statistics, most fights end up. By spending more time utilising ground techniques, BJJ is highly effective as it allows for an opponent to make a greater deal of mistakes than they possibly could standing.
Q: But are there any techniques that make Judo different to BJJ?
A: BJJ has evolved a great deal since it's incarnation as a Judo off-shoot. In modern BJJ, many practitioners have come up with their own set of movements to fit the requirements of each individual body type. Much like traditional wrestling, each person has different preferences.
Think of BJJ as a journey: the destination is always the same, but how you get there never is.
You will see many of the newer BJJ techniques and developments popularised in competition and in mixed martial arts.
For example, Eddie Bravo has pioneered the Rubber Guard system, which is starting to be used an increasing amount in MMA. Marcelo Garcia, a notable world champion BJJ competitor, has popularised the X-Guard system, which features many techniques that a few years ago, were unheard of.
Q: Are there any supplementary learning materials i can use outside of class?
A: Yes. However, i'd say to stay away from these until you feel they will fit your pupose: to supplement your learning, rather than dominate it. Some beginners find that by watching instructionals, their head gets so full of new ideas that they no longer know what techniques to go for when it comes to sparring time.
However, if you are at that level and you're looking for some recommendations, look no further.
Saulio Ribeiro's Jiujitsu revolution series is fantastic: a Gracie Humaita black belt and one of the world's best competitors, Saulo explains the moves he shows fantastically, and tend to be effective moves for both the beginner and more advanced player alike.
Many videos can be found on youtube, but if you're looking to purchase instructionals, Budovideos seems to be the best site.
I'll throw in a word here about forums: there are some places that (for a fee), provide a great deal of learning resources. This includes sample gameplan outlines, move combination videos, teaching, video analysis of top competitors, and a place to talk about anything BJJ or grappling specific.
One of these sites that i'm a member of is The Grapplers Guide, which is run by a Brown belt in the USA, who runs his own school. I can't recommend this place highly enough, especially given he runs regular promotions, meaning that the materials there are always worth the cost of membership.
Q: Can you recommend some good BJJ guys to watch? Competition footage, etc.
A: Personally, i like to watch a few guys in particular. We all have our own preferences, so just watch around and see what you like. Some good guys to watch are Braulio Estima, Marcelo Garcia, Xande Ribeiro, Andre Galvao, Demian Maia and Roger Gracie.
If you're looking for guys you may recognise from MMA, try watching guys such as Matt Serra compete in the ADCC, where many guys from the UFC also have competed: Tito Ortiz, Matt Hughes, Ricco Rodriguez, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, etc..
Q: What should i do in a class?
A: Relax, enjoy, and above all listen to the instructor. Don't go hell-for-leather at submission attempts, and don't go 6000% on your opponent. This is how injuries occur, and it will only stall your BJJ progression. Ask the instructor about class etiquette, or if there is anything you need to take note of. For example, if you need to use the bathroom, ensure you put shoes or flip flops on first, so that you don't gain germs from the bathroom on your feet, and then spread them onto the mats. Yuck!
Q: I feel tired, confused, and helpless on the mats. Help?!?
A: We all get like this at times. Plateaus are not unheard of in grappling sports, and this is why it is important to remember that grappling is meant to be fun. If you're not enjoying it as much as you used to, then relax, and remember your performance is not that important. It's better to roll loosely and freely, remembering that this is just a hobby right now!
Explain to your coach how you feel, they've been there and will always have some words of encouragment for you. If you still have trouble, try taking a break for a few sessions. Get your head back in gear, but don't wait too long!
Q: What do i need to bring on my first lesson?
A: If you have a Judo Gi, bring that. In my experience, thinner gi's such as the uniforms provided in Taekwondo tend to be a little too light, and can easily be damaged when being pulled around or used for chokes.
If you dont, not to worry: many academies will let you try spare gis they have, before pointing you in the direction to purchase one yourself.
If your academy doesn't have a spare gi, just try to wear loose fitting clothing (don't wear your armani stuff, things that you dont mind getting pulled about), and nothing with metal or zips that could possibly damage the mats.
BUT, please bring a towel and some water, or at least ask if there is a place in the gym where you can grab some water or other drink. You will sweat a lot, so replenishing these fluids is vital for optimum performance. Plus, if you don't drink enough water, you'll feel a lot worse the following morning, your body needs h20!
Q: Do i need to have prior experience?
A: Most certainly not. Many people enter BJJ with no prior martial arts experience, and do fantastically well. Prior experience in grappling arts may help you out, but by no means consider this essential.
Personally, i came in to BJJ weighing 19st at the age of 16, and with no prior martial arts (or sports) experience. If i can pick it up, believe me, you can!
Q: I want to compete. What's the easiest way to find out what's on, and where?
A: The guys in your academy will almost always know what competitions are coming up, so don't be afraid to ask. This also means that if more than one of you go, car-sharing works out a lot cheaper than individual car or train rides, so if you're on a budget, remember that being social is the way to go!
in the UK, EFNSports tends to be the place where the organisers of events publish their dates and times: the EFN forum is the best place to check out for this.
Q: Competition? The thought of that makes my stomach turn! Do i have to?
A: No. Competition isn't for everyone, although bear in mind it is the easiest way to test your skills against people from other academies, in a truly resisting environment. It always looks good in the eyes of your instructor to have a gold medal, but do not feel that there is pressure to get you to compete. If it's not for you, then it's not for you.
Q: Oh.. there seems to be SO much in the class, should i take notes?
A: Yes. If you think you are going to struggle to remember what happened in class, please take notes! Not only take them, but read them occasionally. It's like going back to school to a large degree: notes are of no use if you don't revise them.
Most importantly though, if you feel you need to, take a small notebook to class and write down the techniques while they are still fresh in your mind. Practice them with a friend, and make sure that they are at your disposal.
Q: What colour Gi is best?
A: To be honest, there are so many colours of BJJ gi now available i've lost count. White, Blue and Black tend to be the most popular from what i've seen, although the occasional Red can't go unnoticed. There are many gi colours available, you can even get a tie dyed Gi now: but it's key to remember that BJJ isn't a fashion statement. If you're a woman (or just like it), you can even get pink gis, which often look fantastic!
Q: What brand Gi is best?
A: This really does depend on your preference. If there's a guy a similar size to you at the academy, ask to try his jacket on before practice, so you can quickly gauge how you feel in it, and how well the cut of fabric fits you.
There are hundreds of Gi brands available at varying prices, both domestically and internationally. Brands you tend to see around are Koral (that tend to be pricey but of a good quality), Atama (which tend to be a little smaller), Blitz (cheap but reasonably good quality, and UK based), Tatami (fairly new UK company, but are cheap and the Gis look VERY good), and Vulkan, who produce a particularly light Gi when you want to cut those last couple of pounds for a competition.
Q: How do i tie the belt? It looks a bit complicated!
A: Don't worry. Help is at hand, YOUTUBE TO THE RESCUE! Good video there.
Q: Why is there a coloured tab on the belt?
A: I've heard people say to me that if a black belt has a red patch on his belt, then he is a red belt. This is quite a misguided, but not unheard of interpretation.
The truth is that the coloured tabs on the belt are a part of the grading system. They are there primarily to hold stripes. These tend to be black on every belt, apart from a black belt, for obvious reasons.
Q: What is "no Gi BJJ"?
A: Nogi BJJ is simply BJJ without the Gi. Many practitioners prefer this, as without the handles and grips that the gi provides, one is forced to use more natural features such as underhooks and overhooks to control the opponent, rather than sleeves and collars. There are many arguments for and against NoGi BJJ, but honestly, dont worry when you're first starting. If your academy runs a class for both, then try both and see how you feel.
Q: I have a medical condition, can i still train?
A: It depends on what you class as a "medical condition". If you have consulted your doctor, and your instructor, and they both say "yes", then it is purely your choice.
If you are infectious, or have conditions that can easily be spread through close bodily contact, then i'd say, give training a miss. Even with blood conditions, cuts do happen in close combat sports, and your training partners wont be too happy if you spread something around the class.
Q: I still have questions. Where can i go for further support?
A: There are always questions that can't be covered in these kinds of guides.
If you are looking for more information, either contact your local BJJ school instructor, email myself at Lukewykes AT googlemail DOT com, or check out another BJJ blogger's fantastic resource for beginners: Slideyfoot's Blog.