After a new student’s very first Intro BJJ class, he asked my professor “What should I be doing outside of class to help with Jiu-jitsu?”. This is a regular and important question that I frequently hear from new students.
As Saulo Ribeiro says in his book Jiu-Jitsu University, “Everything that is good for the body is good for the practice of jiu-jitsu”. Master Saulo is the man when it comes to jiu-jitsu, so when he says something, believe it! I feel that in regards to the first few weeks and months or training jiu-jitsu, there are some additional considerations that can significantly impact your initial experiences with the sport and play a key role in your decision to continue training or move away from it and potentially quit.
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is a martial art that utilizes specific movements and techniques that are unique to it just like any other sport. A basketball player isn’t going to focus on the same type of physical development as a downhill skier or golfer. Additionally, while I believe it is something almost anyone can learn it is physically demanding. I’ve heard many comments in the academy similar to “I do P90X but BJJ is a workout like nothing else I’ve ever done”, or “I wrestled in high school and still lift weights, but BJJ works muscles I didn’t know I had”. This is important to realize because you WILL be moving in ways your body very likely has never moved before and at intensity levels that you may not be accustomed to. This varies with age and physical fitness/ability obviously but it is still important to consider following some basic guidelines when you are in your first several weeks of training.
Drink more of it. This is generally good advice for anyone, but when you train BJJ you will sweat….a lot. Staying hydrated is critical to ensuring that you remain fresh on the mat as well as helping to prevent cramping and premature fatigue. Drinking a bunch of water right before class won’t help much and may actually make you feel worse, so work it into your daily routine over time. If you train when you’re dehydrated, you’ll most certainly feel the difference.
Back to Master Saulo’s quote above…a healthy diet will translate to better performance on the mat and will help provide more sustained energy. It also helps with proper recovery as well. Just like I mentioned with the water, try to avoid eating a heavy meal or too much of anything within several hours of training. I’ve never heard anyone say “Man, that Taco Bell value meal I scarfed down on the way to class really enhanced my effectiveness today!”. The exact opposite, however, I have heard frequently i.e. “Ugh… that sandwich an hour ago was a BIG mistake”. We all have busy lives and diet is a huge issue that I also struggle with constantly. What I don’t do anymore, however, is eat close to training time. If you make this mistake once or twice, you’ll probably decide it’s a bad idea!
You’ll get this advice regarding any exercise or health-related topic. Your body needs sleep to recover both mentally and physically. Most people don’t get enough sleep. When I started jiu-jitsu my kids were younger and my schedule was much busier than it is now. The difference I feel from when I trained and was sleeping 5-6 hours a night vs. the 7-8 hours I usually get now is profound. I have the additional aspect of depression that I will always have to account for as well, so getting enough sleep is even a bigger priority for me. If it is at all possible, you should really work on making time in your schedule to ensure that you develop a routine of getting enough sleep. It will pay off huge dividends in your BJJ progress but most importantly in your life overall.
Do you have a few minutes here or there throughout your day to shut your mind off and stretch? You’d be surprised at the impact 3 minutes here and 5 minutes there can have on your flexibility. If I’m watching TV I try to get on the floor and do some simple stretches. Legs in front reaching for the toes or sit up and pull my feet in w/ my knees wide. At the office, I will get up from my desk and do some straight leg toe touches. You can find an infinite amount of stretches online to choose from. If you have particular tightness in certain areas of your body (hamstrings, neck…wherever) find some simple stretches for those areas and try to work them in for brief periods over the course of your day. Also, ensure that you are taking proper advantage of the warm-up drills you are almost certainly doing where you train. Warm up properly before training!
I have seen many, many people start jiu-jitsu with an amazing “gung-ho” attitude and a desire to advance very quickly. They want to train 6 days a week on top of additional exercises or activities outside the academy. This results in 2 things (in my experience). They either quit or they recognize that they are burning out and dial it back. Don’t make this mistake! Always think of jiu-jitsu as a lifetime pursuit and invest in it accordingly. If you want to learn how to ride a bike you don’t jump on one and go do the Tour-de-France. You start by riding a few feet, stopping, turning around and then going back a few feet further. BJJ is the same. Allow your body and your mind time to acclimate to the discipline. Brand new students are generally relegated to training 2x a week where I coach at URSA Academy. What I notice from this is that when the students show up for their class, they are eager to train, refreshed and excited to learn new techniques. After they advance through our structured curriculum and are invited into the advanced class for live training with more experienced partners they are tremendously excited and enter that part of their BJJ journey with more enthusiasm than the day the first showed up!
As Professor Luigi Mondelli states in this article from GracieMag “Respect your body’s limits. Consistency is worth more than intensity when you’re just getting started in training.”
I feel very fortunate that these ideas were presented to me by my professor from day one of my BJJ experience. They have served me well and I find myself returning to these thoughts frequently after almost 6 years of training. I hope they are able to help you “stay on the path” of your own BJJ journey.