There’s a poster that hangs on the bathroom of my gym that says, “Your fitness is 100% mental. You’re body won’t go where your mind doesn’t push it.” This epitomizes the first few months of jiu-jitsu training.
Surviving the first few months was entirely a matter of consistency. I simply keep showing up.
Consistency taught me discipline, through always making sure I was in the gym three times a week, even when I was sore or I felt like I didn’t have the time. I’ve also learned dedication, from staying positive, keeping my ego in check, taking notes, watching videos, and studying the history and origins of the martial art.
After three months of training I don’t feel so winded from warmups, the instructions don’t feel so far above my head, and I’m more responsive as a training partner. I don’t feel so clueless on the mat anymore, though I now know just enough to know that I don’t know nothing.
A Supportive Environment
Jiu-Jitsu is for everyone, regardless of gender, body type, age, or athleticism. It’s important to find a place that is compatible with your personality and your goals. You should feel supported yet also motivated to do better. Lots of academies offer free trial classes, or heavily discounted trial periods.
I tried a few schools before I found the one that fit best with me. The place I train is amazing, with top notch instruction, though small, and from the outside it looks like its in the middle of nowhere, tucked away between a train yard, the MVA, and some taco trucks.
Rener Gracie, son of Rorion, says, “If people are anxious about coming to class, like they’re driving on the highway and their heart is pounding, palms sweating, that’s every one of your faults. Inversely, if people are excited to come to class, driving on the highway, playing loud music, getting pumped…that’s also because all of you. A jiu-jitsu gym is a collective effort.”
At my gym everyone is respectful and supportive. Many of the more experienced students go out of their way to teach the newer ones.
The instructors also rolling right away for the new white belts, which avoids injuries in the inexperienced and insures they will stay with jiu-jitsu longer. Getting familiar with the fundamentals before sparring is strongly encouraged.
I started rolling after a month or two. At first I had to tap out to fatigue, not a submission, which was incredibly humbling. Since that first roll and after months of classes, my cardio has improved dramatically. I have started running 5 ks on my off days without having to stop to catch my breath. This is my fourth month of BJJ and already I feel much stronger, more fit and more comfortable in my own body.
I’ve been fortunate with my gym. The training environment is positive and inviting, and dissuades overly aggressive macho behavior. There’s also a dedicated group of women who train, which fights the overly macho stereotype of combat sports, and adds a desirous diversity and character to the training environment.
There are elements of meathead tough-guy culture hidden away in the dregs of the larger jiu-jitsu community, but they get weeded out pretty swiftly. The experienced assholes are socially ostracized, while the ego filled inexperienced assholes, walking into the gym for the first time, get weeded out through the initial conditioning phase.
There is a conditioning phase for most things you do in life. It’s the acclamation period, where you acquire most basic understanding of the fundamentals, to actually start the thing you’re doing . In jiu-jitsu that conditioning phase is establishing a basic level of cardiovascular health and endurance, and developing the core, back, and hip muscles to handle the moves essential to jiu-jitsu.
The warm ups are intense. I’ve tried to get friends of mine to come to the gym with me, and what intimidates them the most is the cardio from the warmups, not necessarily the prospect of getting choked out.
They are intense, but I never dreaded them. I liked being pushed past my comfort level. Though I didn’t like feeling so feeble, flopping up and down the mat with my less-than-graceful hip-escape drills.
In my first few months I pushed myself so hard I threw up at jiu-jitsu class, twice. It was embarrassing for sure, but I learned a lot with my head drooling into the toilet. I learned you should never roll on an empty stomach, always stay hydrated, and
I also learned something about my own physical and emotional endurance. I learned I had some hard limits to my physical endurance that I needed to work on, like improving my cardio.
I also learned that I was pretty tough, and that I liked jiu-jitsu a whole lot, because I was still smiling after I finished vomiting in the gym bathroom. It was even more embarrassing the second time, but I didn’t let it discourage or dissuade me.
I just kept showing up.