Brazilian Jiu Jitsu For Beginners | Everything You Need To Know Before Starting Your BJJ Journey

Written By Dylan Knostman

So you’re interested in starting BJJ? Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the most challenging and rewarding physical and mental journeys you can go on, with never ending knowledge to learn and metaphorical mountains to climb, there’s a reason Jiu Jitsu practitioners are often so addicted to the mats. Not only an incredible practical sport for application in mixed martial arts, but it can also be a great workout for the average person, and tremendous for confidence and self defense. This article will give you all the information you’ll need before stepping foot in the gym, or even some information for people who are new to the sport but have a small amount of experience. Welcome to the wonderful world of grappling!

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My personal experience in  Jiu Jitsu is somewhat of a unique one, and I feel it’s worth sharing as an anecdote for anyone who may be interested in starting. I was a collegiate Track and Field athlete, and after qualifying for the national championships my junior year, my senior season was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I was left without a physical or athletic purpose, and I felt extremely lost and depressed. After moving cities, I chose to pursue the hardest physical and mental challenge I could, which was combat sports. Originally interested in boxing, I went to an MMA gym and my first class was actually Jiu Jitsu, and after that I never looked back. I have been training almost every day ever since, competed many times, and have experience in the areas in terms of gi Jiu Jitsu and no gi Jiu Jitsu, and I am hoping my experience and knowledge can help you find your place in this amazing sport and martial art.

What Is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a martial art primarily focused on grappling on the ground, with control and submissions via chokes and joint locks, making these the primary goal. Traditionally, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is practiced while wearing a gi, which is a thick cotton based kimono and a colored belt determined by your rank. You can grab and hold both your own gi and your opponents for control and submissions, and in traditional Gi Jiu Jitsu grips are very important for both offense and defense. The other version of Jiu Jitsu practiced is called no-gi, or sometimes submission wrestling in the United States. The primary difference between gi and no-gi is that in no-gi Jiu Jitsu, you simply wear shorts and a rash guard (very similar to a compression shirt), which means you are not able or allowed to grip onto your opponents clothing. This results in a faster paced, more wrestling centric style of grappling, which is much more applicable to sports like MMA. No-gi Jiu Jitsu was founded and revolutionized by Eddie Bravo and 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, a gym and organization founded in 2003 in Southern California.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the most difficult martial arts in the world, both due to the time and effort it takes to receive your black belt (typically 10+ years), and the fact that your technique is always tested through live, full contact sparring. Unlike other martial arts such as Aikido, Krav Magra, or Kung Fu, there is no way to hide your skill, strengths, and weaknesses in Jiu Jitsu. Practicing Jiu Jitsu requires mental fortitude, physical strength, and cardiovascular ability, but it also teaches these things meaning someone who has never been an athlete can come in and find skill and success in Jiu Jitsu.

Who Invented Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

While Jiu Jitsu started in Japan as both a self defense practice and a hand to hand combat method for samurai, what we know today as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was founded in the 1920’s in Brazil Heliot Gracie and several of his family members. They sought to combine aspects of vale tudo, judo, catch wrestling, and other submission based grappling styles with Japanese Jiu Jitsu to develop the grappling style that has turned into modern BJJ.

Where Did Jiu Jistu Originate?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu originated in Belem, Brazil when Helio Gracie and his three brothers who taught judo among other grappling arts, began to develop their own system which to this day is still known as Gracie Jiu Jitsu. The sport is widespread with many influences around the world but Brazil will always have claim to the birthplace of the original style of the martial art.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Training

Training in Jiu Jitsu can have many different aspects, and different academies train in different ways. Typically classes begin with some sort of warm up that can include aspects of stretching, running, and basic Jiu Jitsu techniques such as hip escapes (shrimps) or technical stand ups. After a five to ten minute warmup, the lesson is divided into white belts and colored belts, which learn the technique of the week, which gets more advanced and in depth as the week goes. After learning the move, live specifics are done to give a good sense of how the move may work in a real situation. This lasts about 20-25 minutes, and then class breaks for live rounds, in which you spar with submissions for roughly six minute rounds, after which class concludes. This is simply an example of a class and many different academies can train in different ways.

Two competitors in the middle of a BJJ match, competitor with the white gi/kimono executing a triangle choke
Triangle choke in competition

What Do You Learn In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a ground fighting sport, so the primary skills and techniques learned relate to taking down, controlling, and submitting your opponent on the ground. The variety of techniques in Jiu Jitsu are so vast, so it’s difficult to fit it here, but what makes Jiu Jitsu most unique to other ground fighting sports is the use of your legs and limbs to submit your opponent in pretzel like shapes, and fight effectively off your back. Sport Jiu Jitsu is very different from Jiu Jitsu for MMA, as is different from hobbyist Jiu Jitsu, so depending on which direction you choose to take a variety of techniques and methods will be available for you to learn.

What Does The BJJ Belt System Consist Of?

There are five belt levels in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and they go in order of white, blue, purple, brown, black. There is such a thing as a red, or coral belt which signifies a practitioner who has been an active black belt for over 30 years, and a select few in history have ever achieved this level. Within the belt system there is also a stripe system, with typically four stripes total signifying your progress throughout that belt level. Certain professors and gyms give stripes for different reasons, whether it be mastery of moves, competition success, or simply time spent on the mats training. The typical time at each belt can be anywhere from 2-8 years, which most dedicated Jiu Jitsu practitioners receiving their black belt in roughly ten years. The number one piece of advice that remains true in regards to belts is to focus on your technique and training, and let the stripes and belts come as they do. At the end of the day your belt level means very little and it’s much more about how you approach the sport and how you apply your set of skills to BJJ.

Is Jiu Jitsu Dangerous?

Jiu Jitsu is one of the least dangerous, full contact combat sports. There is little to no danger of head trauma as no strikes are allowed, and many people train Jiu Jitsu long into old age as you can mold your style to your ability and speed. There is some danger to your joints and limbs as submissions are part of the sport, but any good partners and gyms will respect the tap, which means you can tap out at any point and the grappling exchange will be over. There is no winning or losing in the training room so use the tap to help your training and stay safe, but also it’s good to use it only when you truly feel like it’s your last resort.

Is BJJ Good For Self Defense?

BJJ is a great sport for self defense, but alone it is not ideal in all situations. The control and ground aspect of Jiu Jitsu allows you to defend yourself or diffuse many situations, but as there is no striking and many altercations occur on hard surfaces or places not ideal to grapple, it’s good to pair Jiu Jitsu with something like boxing to have a good rounded self defense skill set.

What Is Jiu Jitsu Good For?

Jiu Jitsu can have many physical and mental benefits, and can be good for self defense and coordination for other sports as well. Some of the physical benefits can include flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, strength, and ability to defend yourself or apply better grappling skills to sports like MMA. The mental benefits can include stress relief, increased confidence, decision making under pressure, and problem solving skills.

How Often Do You Need To Train BJJ?

There is no right answer to how often you need to train Jiu Jitsu, but just as anything else the better you want to get, the more often you should train. The body has limits, but many high level competitors train 3-4 hours a day 6-7 days a week, but most people train Jiu Jitsu an average of three times per week. This can fluctuate if you plan on competing, as it’s always good to get more mat time before a match. Once you start training, many people get the itch and you’ll find it hard to stay away from the gym.

The Physical Benefits Of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be an excellent workout for almost anyone and provide a multitude of physical benefits. It can provide challenges to your core strength, endurance, cardio, and general flexibility. It can also greatly improve your proprioception and coordination, within the sport and in other areas and aspects of your life. Self defense and ability to handle physical situations is another tremendous aspect that could fall under the physical benefits of Jiu Jitsu.

Improved Strength & Full Body Workout

Jiu Jitsu is a full body grappling sport, meaning you use your arms, legs, and all parts of your body to gain position, control, and position. Due to this, your strength will grow exponentially while participating in Jiu Jitsu. The greatest areas of improvement can typically be seen in grip strength, back muscles, core strength, and an overall increase in general fitness. While you may not see increased muscle size due to the extensive cardiovascular output and the calories burned during training, increased strength is a guarantee with training BJJ.

BJJ instructor teaching his students
Black belt Steve Rosenberg giving instruction in the advanced class at Arizona Combat Sports credit: Jocelyn Corrales

Weight Loss

Grappling can be considered one of the highest calorie burning sports that exist. During live rolls, you are using virtually every muscle in your body, requiring you to use maximum oxygen and high effort for extended periods of time.  Some studies have shown you can burn up to nearly 1000 calories per hour depending on the intensity of your training. Most people will see a significant drop in weight with consistent training, regardless of your weight and health to start. Personally, I have lost twenty pounds since I started Jiu Jitsu, and I can honestly say I’m in the best shape of my life because of BJJ.

Cross-Training Benefits

Jiu Jitsu can help you find success and improvement in other areas of training, such as running, swimming, yoga, and certain areas of weight lifting. Jiu Jitsu is best for building flexibility, core strength, and cardiovascular ability, which is very applicable for many other physical endeavors. Due to the caloric and cardiovascular output, Jiu Jitsu may not be ideal for those looking to build large amounts of muscle for such activities as body building.

Is BJJ A Good Workout?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a tremendous workout. It can challenge your strength, durability, balance, and particularly your cardiovascular endurance. Grappling forces you to use all of your muscles in a variety of ways that they are not normally used, meaning it can be an incredible and unorthodox workout. Overtraining is very possible in Jiu Jitsu, so make sure to ease your way in as you find your footing in the sport.

Does BJJ Build Muscle?

Yes, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can build muscle, although it is not always large bulking muscle, and more often is lean, efficient muscle. The grappling techniques used in BJJ require the use of many muscle groups, particularly in the core, back, and upper body. Consistent training in BJJ can lead to increased strength and muscle growth in these areas. Additionally, many BJJ practitioners incorporate strength and conditioning exercises into their training, such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises, which can further contribute to muscle building. However, it is important to note that BJJ is not primarily a muscle-building activity and the amount of muscle growth that occurs may depend on individual factors such as diet and genetics.

The Mental Benefits Of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, as many martial arts, is praised for its effects on your mental focus, resilience, calm under pressure, and awareness of your emotions and capabilities. Due to the complex nature of decision making and ability to keep your cool while you’re trying to execute a new move, or defend against someone else. This can greatly benefit you in many areas of life and your wellbeing. The stress relief provided from Jiu Jitsu is incredibly valuable as well, both between releasing endorphins for a mood boost, and the satisfaction of getting a tap out on your opponent during live rolls. Many people find solace in this sport as it can truly allow you to escape and manage a lot of the other challenges in your lives, be it for short periods of time.

Mind-Body Connection

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the more complex sports and martial arts in terms of mind-body connection and decision making. A strong sense of proprioception is useful, and how you focus during various situations is crucial in Jiu Jitsu. It’s not always as simple as your brain telling your hand to grab the opponent's gi, you have to think ahead, plan your next move, while also trying to outsmart your opponent and gain the upper hand. Many Jiu Jitsu practitioners also practice Yoga and meditation, as these can help develop your awareness, focus, and mind body connection on the mats. These benefits can also help in your everyday life. Whether it’s a stressful situation at work, a self defense situation, or even just more general awareness with your body in your daily activities.

Helps Relieve Stress

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an outstanding stress reliever as many other sports are. Physical activity has been scientifically proven to release dopamine, and this combined with the mental challenge Jiu Jitsu can provide, along with the learning and ability to submit and control your opponents can be ideal for many people looking to get away from the stress of everyday life. While Jiu Jitsu can be a great outlet, make sure you do not use your training partners to exercise your negative emotions and always make sure you are in a stable mental state and receive any help you need outside the gym before participating in a combat sport.

Increased Focus

BJJ is a very focus intensive sport, with many techniques and situations requiring both mental fortitude and extreme focus to overcome. Whether you are trying to lock up a triangle choke, your fighting your way out of a rear naked choke, focus is incredibly important and something that is challenged and developed through your Jiu Jitsu journey. This can be applied in everyday life as well, as you can build your overall focus and attention skills through the sport. (Don’t be surprised if you find yourself thinking about Jiu Jitsu in many other situations though)

Added Boost In Confidence

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a sport with a never ending amount of knowledge and technique to learn, and because of this there is the opportunity for great technical advancement for people of all skill levels. This means that every time you discover a new technique, overcome a challenge, or pull off a slick new submission you are always learning and finding new ways to build confidence and passion for the sport. Along with the technical confidence boost, the way the ranking system is oriented in Jiu Jitsu makes for a challenging but rewarding path to promotion. When you receive a stripe after months of hard training at a certain belt level, it’s an amazing feeling, but it’s even a better feeling to receive a new belt completely. Perhaps the best part of it all is that despite your progression, the sport forever provides a challenge and is constantly changing around you as well. This can provide consistent new puzzles and challenges, which is why so many people continue to do Jiu Jitsu long after achieving their black belt.

Female BJJ competitor in the middle of a jiu jitsu match
2023 Pan-American Bronze medalist Jocelyn Corrales looking for a takedown credit: Jocelyn Corrales @jocetheboss

Improve Problem-Solving Skills

Joe Rogan famously compared Jiu Jitsu to human chess. Every decision leads to an entire new path of opportunities both offensively and defensively in Jiu Jitsu, and the situation that you are in is constantly changing. This challenges your quick decision making and ability to plan a sequence of moves or actions. This can lead to a great mental and physical challenge that makes Jiu Jitsu such a unique sport.

How Much Are Jiu Jitsu Classes

Most Jiu Jitsu gyms charge a monthly fee to train at their academy. Some gyms contain other combat sports or martial arts, and even full fitness facilities which can influence how much a membership may cost. Most Jiu Jitsu gyms can cost anywhere from $80-$200+ a month for either limited or full membership. This price is influenced by the size, reputability, location, and quality of the given Jiu Jitsu gym, academy, or school. It is important to factor in the price of a gi, rash guards, protective gear, and any other potential costs before signing up. Some gyms will require you to purchase a gi or equipment exclusively through them, and I personally recommend against places like this as it can often be indicative of a controlling environment.

Should I Train BJJ?

I may be biased, but I believe everyone should give Jiu Jitsu a chance. While it may not be for everyone, and not everyone is for Jiu Jitsu, it provides one of the most rewarding mental and physical challenges a sport and martial art can, and everyone interested in benefiting from what BJJ has to offer should seek out trial classes at their local gym as soon as possible. What are you waiting for? Grab yourself a gi, bjj mouth guard and enroll in a class today!

Dylan Knostman, author of BJJ for beginners article, winning his jiu jitsu match and getting his hand raised

The feeling of getting your hand raised in competition credit: Dylan Knostman, @dskbjj

Final Thoughts

There are many things to consider before starting a sport or activity such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but this article should provide a great start for anyone interested in participating in one of the best martial arts and sports in the world. The Jiu Jitsu community is one of the most accepting and healthiest groups to be a part of and many people find benefits in all areas from life in joining a Jiu Jitsu gym or academy. While this sport is not for everyone, everyone should throw on a gi and get on the mats at least a couple times during their life. What are you waiting for?

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