Jiu Jitsu has always been on my mind as an art that required a lot of patience and persistence to get good at. I’ve been doing muay thai and boxing for about 7 years and striking always came naturally to me and I am confident in my stand up skills, but when it comes to the ground game, it was like learning a new language. The anxiety before class and the feeling of relief after is a feeling only a few will understand but a feeling most white belts will get. I’m not going to talk about the specific moves and techniques I learned but more on the philosophy and art of it all. So here is my experience as a white belt and what others can expect when starting jiu jitsu.
1. Stretch and Get Your Body to a State of Strength and Proper Mobility
The first class I got muscles knots in places that I didn’t know you could get muscles knots. Jiu Jitsu requires a certain amount of flexibility to open up easier access to better positions/submissions. Although your flexibility and mobility will improve over time as you do more classes, I recommend starting a stretching and mobility routine as soon as possible. Having great mobility will give you a little more time to escape submissions and endure the pain that may come with this sport. Improving flexibility is a slow process but it is definitely possible. I went from muscle knots and barely being able to touch my toes to playing a rubber guard style and being one of the more flexible white belts in my academy in only one year. This taught me that in order to be successful you have to work at it on a consistent basis no matter what your goal is.
2. Leave Your Ego at the Door
We all know that white belt that is just too stubborn to tap. I was one of them. Don’t risk weeks of injury because you don’t want to tap out. Yes you will tap out as a white belt and you will tap out often. That is normal and you shouldn’t feel ashamed to admit defeat. This concept has humbled many people and they take this lesson to other aspects of life. Hopefully you’ll learn faster than I did and you won’t get injured and discouraged from this amazing sport. Be respectful of everyone’s knowledge. Don’t brush off a tip from anyone, there’s a good chance it may be useful and if it’s not, simply don’t use it. This applies to all aspects of life. Respect everyone’s opinion because everyone knows at least one thing that you don’t.
3. Have Proper Hygiene
I’ve always been a hygienic person so learning this came naturally to me. After hearing the horror stories of staff infections and bacteria diseases, one should not hesitate to shower as soon as possible after AND before class. Keeping the gym clean is everyone’s responsibility. You should take great pride in the facility you train at and respect your training partners enough to wash your equipment, clip your nails, and do whatever else is needed to keep your gym and training partners clean and safe from disease. This sport reminded me that having good hygiene is not just a health practice but a respect practice. Keeping your house clean is a respectful gesture to your family and keeping yourself clean is a respectful gesture to yourself.
4. Don’t Panic
As a white belt you are going to be put into positions that are uncomfortable. Positions you’ve never been in before and places where no matter how hard you try you can’t get out of. As a smaller person this lesson would have to be the most important lesson I learned in my first few months. Not panicking comes with time as you build more confidence and it also comes from knowing when you are in danger and when you are not. As a white belt, it may be natural to panic when a larger more experienced practitioner has you in a bad spot. However, it is important to control your breathing and control your stress so you can think of what the professor has taught you and how you can use proper technique to get out. Panicking also takes energy and you need to conserve it for an explosive move to a better position. I’ve learned to apply the lessons on the mat into other aspects of my life. When you get anxiety attacks and you panic, it feels like there’s a bigger, stronger more skilled monster on your back trying to choke you out. So how do you train for that? Go to a jiu jitsu class and simulate it in a controlled environment surrounded by people that just wants to help and see you improve not only as a jiu jitsu practitioner but also as a person.
5. Pick the Right Gym For You
For the most part, the jiu jitsu community is full of kind and helpful people. However, there are some gyms with hungry athletes that are trying to be world champions. If you are starting, being thrown right to the sharks may not be a great idea, unless you are trying to be one yourself. If you feel uncomfortable and unwelcomed at the gym you are at, try finding a new one. The first option might have been the wrong one and that’s okay. Don’t let one bad experience ruin your opportunity to learn such a beautiful art. When buying a new house you don’t buy the first home you see do you? Keep searching until you find a gym that really feels like home. It will make the rest of your journey better.
6. Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Yes working hard is important there’s no doubt about that but when you forget to have fun that becomes a problem. Being the best is a great goal but enjoying the journey is something you don’t want to miss out on. Being frustrated and stressed only leaves you in a dark place and creates bad habits in the gym. Learn to have fun and enjoy the process because one day it will all be over and you will wish you smiled a little more and laughed a little harder. Work hard but play hard and love what you do not just in jiu jitsu, but in everything you do in life. Enjoy the journey to your goals and when you reach black belt, CEO, cult leader, whatever it is you are trying to do, the finish line will just be a cherry on top of a glorious mountain of a sweet memories and excitement.
In my first year, I experienced new friendships, bruises, hyper extended elbows, joint pain, watery eyes, confusion, focus, relief, anxiety, confidence, happiness, laughter, stress, and fatigue. I guess you can say it was a roller coaster of an experience but it’s a good thing I love roller coasters. There’s no feeling of finally understanding a move and successfully using it in rolling sessions. Being creative and coming up with your own style and figuring out problems on the mat on your own is an art in itself and such a rewarding feeling. Even the blank stare you give another white belt when you both don’t understand what to do is hilarious looking back at it now. It was an amazing first year of jiu jitsu and I am excited for many more to come!
Comment down below your life lessons from Jiu Jitsu. We love hearing from our submission sharks!