BJJ Grrl

"Be gentle, kind and beautiful, yet firm and strong, both mentally and physically." ~Sensei Keiko Fukuda

FAQs & Advice

Because I seem to be accumulating a lot of extra pages, this will be a landing page for them all.

Resources

A page to list articles around the internet and books & instructionals relevant to BJJ. Links to comprehensive FAQs, too.

Dos & Don’ts

Lists of Dos and Don’ts for Newbies/White Belts and for everyone else, too.


Table of Contents

Your First Class
Spazzing
Further Reading
BJJ Schools
Instructors
School Rules
School Structure
Belts
Tournaments
Why Enter a Tournament
When to Enter a Tournament
Tournament Advice
Random Advice Corner



Your First Class

So, you’re finally going to take the plunge and actually show up & take a BJJ class. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Wear athletic/gym clothing (shorts, t-shirt). No cargo shorts or jeans — the pockets can catch someone’s fingers or toes and do bad things. You’re gonna be working out, so dress for it.
  • Get there a little early and find an instructor or gym manager. If you haven’t already signed a waiver or release form, you’ll need to do that. Get there early so you don’t miss the warmup while signing.
  • Relax. Breathe. Yeah, you’re probably nervous. So’s everyone when they first start. It’s okay. If you have time, loosen up and/or talk to some of the people there, whatever helps you relax.
  • When the class starts (usually with a warmup), try to keep up but don’t worry too much if you can’t. The conditioning will come. Again, relax, breathe. No one is thinking anything negative about you not doing everything. Even if you actually have to stop and sit on the side, it’s okay, and it’s not failure. You haven’t failed the secret initiation test.
  • Drilling — pay attention to the instructor as he demonstrates. Ask questions if you have them. Try to pair up with a guy approximately your size. Relax. Ask questions if you have them. Don’t worry if you can’t get the technique down: you’re asking your brain & body to do something it’s never done before. It’s really okay. You haven’t failed the secret initiation test.
  • Positional/specific sparring — some schools will do positional sparring instead of regular rolling/sparring, especially for new guys. You’ll start in a specific position and will have a goal (something like escape, submit, or maintain position). Once either you or your partner achieves your goal, you restart in the same position and try again. If they’re doing something different than what you just learned in drilling, you may have to ask for someone to show you what to do.
  • Rolling/sparring — I’d advise just watching for the first day, but I also know most guys think they know what they’re doing and will jump right in (or don’t want to be thought of as weak/wimpy/whatever). But I advise that more because you’re still nervous and are probably starting to think that everyone is laughing at you, so you’re probably going to go nuts on the mat, thinking you have to earn some respect… which simply isn’t true. Just remember that you actually don’t know anything while the other guy does, and he will probably make you tap out a lot. Tapping out is not failure. So again, relax. Tap. You’re not doing jiu-jitsu yet, but your partner is, so pay attention to what he does.
  • Talk to guys after class. Ask any questions.
  • When you go home, take a thorough shower.

Above all: don’t be a jerk. I wrote a more complete list of Dos and Don’ts that addresses all the common newbie “jerk” tendencies.

Yes, you’re nervous, you want to prove yourself, you want to do well — but you’re walking in to a class for a martial art that’s designed to control a resisting opponent, and everyone else there has been doing it for longer than you. So, yeah, you’re going to get your butt absolutely thoroughly and completely kicked. Expect that, and even be glad of it. Would you really pay money to learn something if you could hold your own from your first day? I wouldn’t — the fact that I got my butt kicked was proof to me that BJJ not only worked but was also something I needed to learn.

Spazzing

Spazzing is flailing; exploding; flopping on partners; grabbing limbs and jerking; trying to turn anything gripped into an immediate submission; pinching, scratching, or biting; shoving/flinging your partner around; jumping into the air and coming down on top of your partner; clawing for grips; trying to force things that are nowhere near close to happening; slamming (picking your partner up and slamming them back on the mat); trying to bearhug someone as a submission or stalling tactic; going as fast and hard as you can all the time; showing no concern or awareness of your partner as a teammate and fellow human; essentially, fighting as if your life depended on the next 3 minutes. (Which it does not.) Often associated with holding your breath and/or being too concerned about what anyone will think if you have to tap. Also related to panicking. All of these characteristics usually lead to your partner being injured. The point of jiu-jitsu is to submit your partner without actually injuring them.

If you don’t know what you are doing, but you are doing it as hard and as fast as you can, then you’re spazzing.
~Kintanon

Please don’t spazz. No one wants to roll with a spazz.

Further Reading

slideyfoot posts on lots of BJJ forums and provides a set of reading material for people new to BJJ. It’s like a n00b’s jiu-jitsu Bible. So read ‘em and learn:

Also, The Truth About Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which covers your first day through your first 6 months or so. The audience is females starting BJJ, but pretty much all of it applies to you fellas, too.



BJJ Schools

Notes on instructors, school protocols, belts, etc.

Instructors

An instructor does not have to be a black belt; there are plenty of brown, purple, and even some good blue instructors. And an impressive tournament win list doesn’t mean someone will be a better instructor, either. There are examples in other sports of a phenom player who is a horrible coach, mostly because he does it all instinctively and can’t explain how he did what he did. However, the higher the belt, the more likely that the instructor can explain the further details of a technique.

Any instructor should be happy to tell you their lineage, who they got their belt from and who their instructor got his belt from. Do be wary of anyone who will not provide that information, or of anyone who does not have a lineage — now that jiu-jitsu is becoming more popular, there are people trying to jump on the bandwagon and earn money from teaching when they themselves have never actually studied BJJ.

School Rules

Some schools have rules; some have none. Here are some of the rules I’ve heard of:

  • Asking to roll with higher belts. Some schools enforce the belt hierarchy in rolling. If you’re a white belt, you can’t ask a blue or higher to roll with you; they must invite you to roll with them.
  • Belt order. Some schools line up by belt color. Some do it on occasion. Sometimes, this even happens during nogi class.
  • Gi color. Some schools only allow blue and white gis.
  • Bowing on and off the mat. Respect the mat and the training.
  • Illegal submissions. Some schools limit what submissions you can apply at what level, both for your and your partner’s safety. In my school, for example, white belts cannot use leg attacks (though upper belts can do them on white belts).


School Structure

Things you might encounter:

  • Some schools do not let you free spar/roll until you reach a certain level or certain class. Instead, you’ll only often do positional sparring (for example, start in guard, break/pass the guard to side control, then reset in guard) for a few months. This is to protect both you and your partners and does not mean that the school is teaching a lesser jiu-jitsu.
  • Some schools use stripes on belts; some don’t. Some schools use extra belt colors (yellow, green) between white and blue. Some schools have tests for stripes and/or belts; some don’t. Having or not having any of these doesn’t mean anything about the school’s jiu-jitsu; it’s just the instructor’s preference. (My instructor, for one, does not use stripes. He sees stripes as a way for the instructor to keep track of everyone’s progress in a large class. However, we only have ~20 consistent guys and another ~20 inconsistent group, and so he can remember where everyone is or can roll with us himself or throw us to the advanced guys to place us quickly.)


Belts

  • White Belt: Faixa Branco
  • Blue Belt: Faixa Azul
  • Purple Belt: Faixa Roxa
  • Brown Belt: Faixa Marron
  • Black Belt: Faixa Preta
  • Red & Black Belt
  • Red Belt: Faixa Vermelha


IBJJF Weight Classes

(Weight wearing gi)
Adult, Master, & Senior

  • Galo = Rooster 126.5 lbs (57,50 kg)
  • Pluma = Light Feather 141.0 lbs (64,00 kg)
  • Pena = Feather 154.0 lbs (70,00 kg)
  • Leve = Light 167.5 lbs (76,00 kg)
  • Medio = Middle 181.0 lbs (82,30 kg)
  • Meio-Pesado = Medium Heavy 194.5 lbs (88,30 kg)
  • Pesado = Heavy 207.5 lbs (94,30 kg)
  • Super-Pesado = Super Heavy 221.0 lbs (100,50 kg)
  • Pesadissimo = Ultra Heavy Over 221.0 lbs (Over 100,50 kg)

Female

  • Pluma = Light Feather 118.0 lbs (53,50 kg)
  • Pena = Feather 129.0 lbs (58,50 kg)
  • Leve = Light 141.0 lbs (64,00 kg)
  • Medio = Middle 152.0 lbs (69,00 kg)
  • Meio-Pesado = Medium Heavy 163.0 lbs (74,00 kg)
  • Pesado = Heavy Over 163.0 lbs (Over 74,00 kg)


Tournaments


Why Enter a Tournament

There are lots of reasons why you might want to enter a tournament. You might just want to have a little fun. You might just feel that, since it’s a part of BJJ, you might as well try it. You might be very competitive and want the thrill of winning (I will tell you, having your hand raised after a match is an awesome feeling) and to come home with lots of medals to hang on your wall. You might want to get as many titles and medals as possible to get sponsors. You might be tired of rolling with the same people all the time. You might wonder how your belt stacks up with the same belt from other places. You might want to see how you’ve progressed in the last so-many months. You might want to test your cardio and preparation. You might want to test your BJJ in a real-enough environment. You might want to find if there are any holes in your game that your teammates haven’t been exploiting. You might have a school that strongly encourages tournament participation, either in general for everyone (and so you go with the peer pressure) or specifically as part of the consideration for promotions. You might want to try a Submission Only tournament format and see if you could either finish your opponents quickly or survive a 30-minute or 1-hour battle.

If you’re either much larger than all your training partners, much smaller than, and/or female, or much more experienced or much less experienced than your training partners, you may just want to roll against people your own size and experience level.

I think any of those are valid reasons for entering tournaments.


When to Enter a Tournament

Sooner rather than later. Start entering now. Sure, you may not do too well because you don’t know much, and/or you may still be too new to really learn anything… on the mat, that is. You can, however, be learning how to prepare for and navigate a tournament, which is one big hurdle that needs overcoming. The training before, the weight-cutting, the travel, the packing, the waiting/warming up/waiting cycle, the nerves, and the complete blankness and/or stupidness that enters your head when you step on the mat… Yeah. These are all things you need to figure out how to deal with, and these things can take time to work through.

There’s no point in waiting “until you know enough.” Because you never will. By the time you think you’ll be able to handle the white belt division, your coach will probably bump you up to blue. Doh! And if you wait until black belt to compete, then everyone will have been a black belt much longer than you’ve even done BJJ. Doh!

I did that in TKD; I waited until I was a black belt to compete, and not only did I have to figure out how this tournament thing worked, but I also had to compete against people who’d been black belts longer than I’d done TKD! So, that did not end well, and that was also my last tournament in TKD.


Tournament Advice

A Great Quote for Competitors

This is also one of Renzo Gracie’s favorite quotes, and I find it especially fitting for competitors:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
— Theodore Roosevelt



Random Advice Corner

  • You’ll get your blue belt about the time you really understand that jiu-jitsu is not about belts/promotions and you finally stop worrying about proving that you deserve it more than that other guy (and also realize that he deserves it, too).

11 responses to “FAQs & Advice

  1. Moonboots says:

    I entered a Comp this week. i was the only girl in the comp and ended up losing all my matches by submissions quite quickly. I have only been training for a few months and it has smashed any confidence i had. Any advice?

    • leslie says:

      Wait, so you competed against boys? In your first competition? After training a few months? Against boys who were 1) stronger than you [sorry, but they likely are; it's that squirrelly biology stuff], 2) probably terrified that they might lose to a girl and so were going quite hard, and 3) possibly have been training and competing longer than you? …

      Honestly, I see no reason to feel badly about how it turned out. I totally understand how it sucks. I’ve lost all my matches at tournaments before. I know how you’re second-guessing every move you made/didn’t make and maybe this and what-if that and you’re worried about how your coaches or teammates are feeling & thinking of you. (I promise, though, it’s definitely not what you think.) Or you’re thinking that maybe you should go take up competitive knitting or something instead.

      But — you stepped out on a mat and competed in this wonderful, raw sport that we all love. That’s more than most people will ever do in their lives.

      You competed once and it sucked. That’s okay, because next time you’ll know more, you’ll have trained harder beforehand, you’ll be more mentally prepared. And hey, maybe you’ll even fight girls! ;)

    • leslie says:

      Also, Teddy Roosevelt has a great quote for this. It’s also Renzo’s favorite:

      “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

  2. cheyenne says:

    Hi, I don’t know how current this blog is, but I would love to get in on the conversations and I have a question :) I started grappling in March of this year in the US and am currently in Panama training bjj, I am having a great time and learning, however I had a bad experience with one of the newer, very aggressive girls on the team. I was attempting a cross choke from the mount and the girl started freaking out and crying. She rolls really tough and I don’t know how to modify myself with her. I definitely do not want her to have a bad roll with me but I am basing my effort on hers as well. Any advice? Thanks so much in advance!

    • leslie says:

      Hi, Cheyenne :)

      Was she freaking out about the intensity level (she thought you were being a big meanie and “beating her up”/”hurting her on purpose”), or was she panicking because she suddenly couldn’t breathe? (It happens. Oh, and she does know how to tap, doesn’t she?)

      How to “modify yourself” with an aggressive partner:

      First, think about just defending for the round and not about trying to finish submissions. If you’re concentrating on submissions, then you’re most likely becoming more aggressive yourself. Your aggression (and the fact that you threatening to choke them, lol), in turn, feeds the other person’s intensity. If you work on defending only, you will sweep, maintain position, move to new positions, and overall work more slowly because you are thinking foremost about your own posture and position rather than about jumping for the first submission you see. Also, if you have good positions, then their aggression doesn’t do them as much good.

      (I had to take this approach the other day when I rolled with several strong, spazzy new boys back to back to back — simply defend myself. Btw, “defense” is not just holding guard and passively waiting them out for the round. Defense is keeping/getting yourself in a position from which they can’t effectively spazz at you. I swept those boys, threatened chokes [to make them back away], fought hard to regain the position I wanted, stripped grips, made grips, off-balanced them, and generally made the round as tiring for them as I could.)

      Second, once you feel that you are in control of yourself and can keep yourself safe no matter what she does, then start looking for those submissions again. But now be sure that you have the necessary position first. If you have the right posture and position, the actual submission finish should be relatively easy. If you have to rush before they can escape, or if you have to slam it in or jerk it fast before they can block, or if you have to strain to finish — then you weren’t in the right position to start with. You should be able to finish most submissions relatively slowly, without them being able to escape.

      Hope that helps!

  3. cheyenne says:

    Thanks so much! It definitely helps I will keep it mind for tonight!

    I think her freak-out was a combination of fear and anger. I was a little annoyed that she didn’t tap before that point. When I first started grappling I was pretty tap-happy as I was getting use to how uncomfortable some positions were. I will definitely learn from this experience and focus on gaining and maintaining position and understanding how the movements of bjj have the potential to flow together. It think it was the first roll where I was actually able to be that dominant. It used to be I was just trying to “get out alive” but now I have a new goal to really control myself and the opponent when possible :)

    Thanks again and I look forward to spending more time on your blog!

    • leslie says:

      Yes, it is a shock the first time you find yourself on the dominant side of things. And then it’s also validation: “Holy cats, I actually know some jiu-jitsu!” (Now wait until it happens with a guy who you thought would be bad news. Mind = blown. This stuff works!)

  4. moonboots says:

    So I thought I might give you an update from my post (April 2012).
    Last weekend I went in the first comp since epic disaster of my first ever competition back in April. It was my first comp in which I competed against girls, and wow it is different. All my matches were highly technical and didn’t involve brute strength and lots of aggression. I came away with two silver medals for gi and no gi in my weight division. I now have loads of stuff to work on before the next tournament in a few months. I am grateful that I have kept with it because there were a few moments where I was truly ready to hand back my gi, but all the hard work has paid off… finally!

  5. Nancy says:

    I got injured (elbow sprain) back in august and it led to having to take a full 4 weeks off from training. But since then I’ve had a lot of anxiety about going back, and I’ve skipped a ton of classes during the past month. I just cant seem to find my BJJ rhythm. I’m not scared of re-injury- my healing went really well- but I just cant seem to get my head in the game and get excited about class like i used to be pre-sprain.

    Any advice on how to get my mojo back? Help a sister out?

    -Nancy

    • leslie says:

      Yeah, coming back from extended breaks can be rough. But, if I only went to class when I was excited to go, I would rarely go. Seriously. Most nights I only go because it’s on the schedule. (Some nights I’m chanting “I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna!” but it’s on the schedule, so I have to go.) I very rarely let how I’m feeling about class influence whether I’m going or not. Some nights I have to make a deal with myself — I’ll only go and drill, or I’ll leave after the first class if I’m still bleh. Most of the time, though, once I’m on the mat I forget that I didn’t want to be there, and I’m glad I went.

      So I would try that — put class on your schedule for the next few weeks, even if it’s a day or two less than before. Make a deal that you’ll do less or that you can leave after some specified point for some specified reason (though the deal is mostly to trick your brain; you’ll likely not use it). The point is to base training on a decision, not a feeling.

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