Hands sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy - this isn't karaoke, you've started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu! Since this is an exciting and often frustrating time in your journey through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, here are some lessons learned that have helped me...
Everyone sucks at first, not just you.
When I started BJJ I had set a high standard for myself. Since I had previously trained in Muay Thai, I thought I would pick up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu relatively quickly (Spoiler - I didn't). BJJ will require you to learn how to move your body again and acclimate to the initial awkwardness of moving on the mat. I've heard this process equated to something like a baby learning to walk for the first time, an accurate comparison in my experience.
As you see Blue belts gliding past you during the warmup you'll wonder how they can move so quickly and it comes down to one thing: practice. Your initial progress in BJJ will be tied to your proficiency in these fundamental movements taught during warmups. Don't be like me as a white belt and speed through them doing every movement wrong because you want to keep up. You're sure to stunt your progress since many of the techniques in Jiu-Jitsu rely on executing these movements properly.
Live training with white belts won't make you better.
You know the look - a higher belt glances in your direction during live training(rolling), and you quickly look away in hopes that one of the white belts newer than you are free for a roll. DON'T DO IT! Higher belts are more likely to move with intention; you won't win, but you will learn and are less likely to get injured since they have greater control of their movements.
Training with higher belts also ensures you get better reactions to the techniques you try. Do your best to sideline your ego and desire to win rounds during live training. You will see your technical ability grow exponentially in contrast to relying on abilities of strength, speed or flexibility which can fluctuate and degrade over time. Having rolled with some of the greatest Jiu Jitsu competitors of all time, you would be shocked just how little effort their movements require. Trust the process of learning the techniques and movement of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu because you'll never be strong enough to curl out of that purple belts armbar or press the ultra heavy blue belt from mount.
Consistency is key.
The initial excitement of learning a new skill can sometimes result in obsession. While training is necessary in order to improve, you don't want to overload yourself with training resulting in burnout.
If your goal is to learn Jiu Jitsu and eventually earn the coveted rank of black belt, you would be wise to train consistently two to four times per week.
This emphasis on attending class each week rather than training as much as possible provides you a few key benefits:
You are less likely to suffer mental and physical burnout. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a vast ocean you're attempting to wade into. Don't make the mistake of swimming out as fast as you can. Instead, allow yourself time to understand, drill and process the techniques each week. You will need time to think over what you're learning rather than attempting to cram more and more techniques that you probably won't even remember the next day (Insert Bruce Lee quote about training one kick 10,000 times).
Second, should you train as much as possible, you are opening yourself to increased risk of physical injury. Remember, even professional athletes need to allow time to recover. Don't put your body at risk by live training when you are injured or sore. Instead, remember to drill, study, and allow your body to recover each week. If you don't, you will only become sore, suffer pronounced injuries and ultimately require longer breaks from training.
Learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.
You may have heard that white belt is all about survival. Focus on attempting to escape and improve your position when rolling with more experienced training partners.
You likely won't get many opportunities to submit a higher belt during live training. It is far better to practice escaping inferior positions (back, mount, side control) before practicing those crazy submission setups you saw on You Tube. Once you do, you'll find yourself playing from more advantageous positions and become the hammer more often than the nail.
Learn to problem-solve.
In life we learn to react to the events around us. On the mats you are reacting off your partner's movements and attacks.
When I started training, I attempted to use as much strength as possible and force positions against my training partners. It wasn't until I met Professor Caio Terra that I learned Jiu Jitsu is almost entirely solving the problem your partner presents you with. Jiu Jitsu requires strategy and thought. Don't try to force submissions on your partners. Learn to control your opponent and transition off what they give you. No forcing your attacks; emphasizing control will create opportunities for submission.
Enjoy the journey.
Jiu Jitsu runs deep, don't lose sight of why you train. The Jiu Jitsu community, self-development, and fitness are just a few reasons why I started and will continue to train. Don't get lost in setting lofty goals for yourself and enjoy the process of learning among friends.
You've chosen the difficult task of learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu yet you must remember to enjoy the journey. Should you become miserable or tired of training, you should assess why and make any necessary changes to your training and mentality. Remember, time will pass regardless of whether you are training or not. Have fun on your journey, don't take yourself too seriously and allow time for your hard work to shine.
Now wash those Gis, cut your fingernails and lets get to work!