Starting any sport can be very intimidating. Not to mention, a sport that involves full-on grappling. Some of us step on the mat armed with knowledge from youtube videos, friends who train, and blog posts. Others, like myself, go in blind. When I started jiu jitsu, I couldn't have told you the difference between BJJ and Karate (embarrassing, I know). I joined my first class because I wanted to do something new and fun, and get in better shape in the process. I never expected to have this sport take over my life, give me my closest friends, or transform my priorities. But I must say, this sport has effected every aspect of my life. It has turned me into a different person and has given me the community, body, and mental strength I always dreamed of. Here are 10 things I wish I knew before I started.
1. It's addicting
Jiu Jitsu is a little bit like a cult. One day you go to try out a class and think, this will be a fun new hobby, I will get in great shape. Next thing you know, you are training 6 times a week, your only friends are jiu jitsu friends, and you are a daily consumer of BJJ staples like CBD and Acai.
BJJ is the kind of sport that really requires you to go “all in”. Everyone in the gym is showing up and trying to improve. So if you are not constantly getting better, you are getting worse. Basically, jiu jitsu is like an aggressive chess match using your body. People get addicted to trying to figure out the puzzle. Moreover, there is something really exciting about improving everyday, getting out of your head for a couple of hours, and getting your stress out with 30+ of the coolest people you will ever meet.
2. Sometimes you'll be the only girl on the mat
BJJ is great for women, however there can be very few at some gyms. It is normal for some gyms/classes to only have a few women. Some days, or most days, you might be the only one. It can be frustrating not having training partners your size or someone to talk to in the locker room. But don’t worry, most jiu jitsu guys are great, and rolling with larger opponents can really help you develop technically. Once you go to compete against people your size, it seems like a piece of cake.
3. It may take a few times to find a gym you love
Finding your gym can involve some trial and error, but when you find it, your teammates will become your family. Your jiu jitsu friends know you like no one else does. They see you on your best and worst days. They are there everyday sweating, bleeding, winning, losing, and improving with you. The culture of a gym and the people there can make or break your experience in jiu jitsu, and it may take a while to find a place where you feel you fit just right. But it’s out there. It can take one try or it can take five, but either way you will find your family and it will be totally worth it. The bond you share with those who share the same experience with you is like no other.
4. Everyone Plateaus
When you first start, you improve so much in such a short amount of time. It feels amazing. In the span of 6 months you can go from not knowing how to shrimp to holding your own on the mat. But eventually, that progress slows down and it can be very frustrating to not have that same rate of growth you enjoyed before. That is actually a very common reason higher belts quit; they feel like they just aren’t seeing any improvement. We’re here to tell you, HANG IN THERE! It’s not forever. Talk to your coach or other teammates for things that can help. It’s different for everybody, but it will happen to all of us sometime or another. Your gym family is there to help each other through it.
5. There will be days you want to quit
Let’s come right out and say it, Jiu Jitsu is HARD. Some days you will feel like it was your first day on the mat all over again. Some days you will get dominated and submitted by everyone you roll with. Some days you’ll leave training with injuries to both your body and to your ego. In those moments, you might wonder if you should have chosen another sport. But you’re a jiujiteria. You are a different kind of woman, a fierce female. It takes a lot of discipline, strength, and mental toughness to do a sport as difficult as jiu jitsu. In those moments that you feel like quitting; take a deep breath, cry your tears, and remember that there isn’t another place on Earth that makes you feel as alive, accepted, and whole as you do on the mat. And going through those struggles and coming out on top (or on bottom) will help you become stronger. Sometimes the matches you lose are the ones where you learn the most.
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6. You will be in pain all the time
This article will get positive again (I promise) but let’s be real. BJJ takes a TOLL on your body. Your fingers and toes might be crooked and ripped apart, you might have aches and pains you have never had before, and you are sure to be covered in bruises. But for those initiated, we’ll say it’s worth it. Just ask! Though the aches and pains are unavoidable, make sure you take care of yourself with a recovery protocol. Rest well, eat well, stretch, and cover yourself in ice-packs.
7. It will change so many areas of your life
You’ve probably already seen it, but almost everyone who starts jiu jitsu improves other areas of their lives because of it. Getting better at Jiu Jitsu demands getting better as a human. Many people start opting out of partying for training, adopt a healthier diet, prioritize sleep more, and start a recovery regimen. But maybe more importantly, you will find a community of other people trying to make themselves better. And that energy is infectious. Jiu Jitsu is a cure for adult loneliness, so many of us have found our tribe sweating with other people on the mat.
Written by Kate Christofano and Maya Nazareth