A Beginner's Guide to Starting BJJ

May 6, 2024
Thinking about starting BJJ? This beginner's guide has all the information you need, plus some advice on how to make your first experiences with BJJ awesome!
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Starting BJJ might be one of the hardest things you’ll do in your entire life. But it also has the chance to be one of the most meaningful things you do in your entire life.

This guide covers everything a beginner jiu-jitsu practitioner needs to know about starting BJJ – from the origins/history of the art, to how to find a gym and what to expect from your first class.

So, read on, and hopefully, this guide will help answer a few of your questions as you embark on your BJJ journey!

Starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

I won't lie to you – starting Brazilian jiu-jitsu is hard. But the benefits of training BJJ are undeniable. You'll learn how to defend yourself, improve your physical health and fitness, and you'll likely make some new friends at the same time!

It might be a bit daunting at first, but once you start training, you'll understand why the BJJ world is so huge!

But before anything else, you should know a bit about the origins and history of BJJ.

A Brief History of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

The history and origins of Brazilian jiu-jitsu begin in Japan.

Towards the end of the 17th century, Jigoro Kano – a student in traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu – began teaching his own style of grappling, known as Kano jiu-jitsu. This would later be known as Kodokan Judo.

One of Kano’s students, Mitsuyo Maeda, travelled to Brazil in 1914, where he began teaching Kano jiu-jitsu/Judo to members of the Gracie family.

Carlos Gracie learned from Maeda and passed the techniques on to his four brothers. One of his brothers, Hélio, adapted the techniques to accommodate his own lack of size and strength. With that, Gracie jiu-jitsu (BJJ) was born.

The next few generations of the Gracie family spread BJJ internationally. Today, BJJ is a worldwide phenomenon.

Finding a BJJ Gym

How do you find a good Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym?

Nowadays, there are many BJJ schools to pick from. Here are two major things to look out for.

·      A welcoming environment

·      A knowledgeable instructor

Starting with the first point, it’s crucial that you feel welcome in the training environment, otherwise, you likely won’t have good experiences at training. Most gyms offer a free class, so you can try as many gyms as you’d like before making a decision.

Speaking of instructors, you need to make sure you’re learning from someone who has a legitimate training background. Ideally, the head instructor will be a black belt (or, in some cases, a brown or even a purple belt), and is affiliated in some way with a major academy/jiu-jitsu team.

Your First BJJ Class

Class Structure

Most Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes follow a similar structure.

Typically, the average BJJ class starts with warm-ups – whether it be a general warm-up (i.e., jumping jacks, push-ups, jogging), or a specific BJJ warm-up (i.e., hip escapes/shrimping, bridges, shoulder/back rolls). In more advanced classes, it's common to have flow rolls as part of a warm-up, or even specific BJJ movements (e.g., arm bars from closed guard, knee on belly transitions) in place of a general warm-up.


Most follow the warm-up with some technique drilling. The instructor will demonstrate/teach a technique, and then students will get a training partner and spend a few minutes practicing the technique on one another.

This could be a sweep, a guard pass, a submission, etc.

Most instructors teach between 2-4 techniques before moving on to the rolling or sparring portion of the class.


Sparring – also referred to as rolling in the BJJ community – is where you get the opportunity to use the techniques you’ve learned against fellow students.

Rolling in BJJ is such a great activity for skill development because, whenever you get caught in a submission, all you have to do is tap and you get to start over without any serious injury. This might not be the case in boxing or Muay Thai, for example,  where a solid punch to your chin could do some serious damage.

If a class is an hour long, the second half will likely be dedicated to rolling. 5-minute rounds are common, giving you the chance to train with a handful of different training partners.

Surviving Your First BJJ Class

Sparring with a fully resisting opponent is a new experience for most people. The first lesson in BJJ is to not let your ego get involved, as it can be frustrating to have someone choke/strangle and arm bar you repeatedly – especially if they are a smaller, seemingly weaker person who doesn't appear to be very intimidating.

In the beginning, learning BJJ is all about being able to show up consistently – and that means that injury prevention should be a top priority.

You can’t train if you’re hurt, so don’t go overboard and start training every day of the week at 100% intensity. Realize that the road to BJJ black belt is a long one, and consistency is more important than intensity over time.

Besides that, just try to have fun and enjoy your first class! 

How Fit Do You Need to be to Start BJJ?

BJJ is a very physically demanding activity – in particular, because of the live sparring included in most classes.

When you first start training BJJ, you might be surprised at how exhausted you find yourself after sparring – and if you’re a relatively fit person to begin with.

If you’re really not comfortable with your fitness level heading into your first BJJ class, you can always take a few weeks and build up your general fitness (i.e., cardio, muscular endurance) before doing a trial class.

BJJ and Martial Arts Etiquette

BJJ is not as traditional as many other martial arts, as it was largely developed in the 20th century.

However, there are still a few basic rules and pieces of etiquette that you should know.


As a general rule, leave ego at the door. Arrive at BJJ class ready to learn, make mistakes, and improve your understanding/execution of the various techniques and systems.

Also, know the rules and don’t be a mean training partner.

Things like eye gouging, hair pulling, and slamming, are not allowed during sparring. Likewise, some gyms have rules about which leg locks you can use in training. Know the rules and treat your partners with respect.


Here are a few basic rules about hygiene and training BJJ.

·      Always train with clean equipment (gi, belt, rash-guard, shorts)

·      Keep your nails trimmed

·      Never train with an exposed wound (i.e., bandage/cover it)

·      Never train when you’re sick

·      Never wear shoes on the mat/walk barefoot around the gym and then onto the mat.

Belt Ranks

The first two categories – attitude and hygiene – are two of the more universal categories. This third category varies quite a lot from one gym to another. If we’re going by the most strict of belt rank etiquette...

·      You must always refer to a black belt as professor – not coach or instructor

·      You can never ask a black belt to spar if you are not a black belt yourself.

Lower belts can only ask someone of the same rank (i.e., same belt level) or someone of a lower rank to spar. Likewise, if you are asked to spar by someone of a higher rank, you must accept. In some cases, it is acceptable if you ask someone one belt level higher than you to spar (i.e., blue can ask purple but not brown).

Again, it’s important to remember that not all gyms follow such strict etiquette regarding belt ranks. Either way, it’s crucial that you learn the general rules of whichever gym you're training at. This is especially the case if you’re visiting a new gym.

Equipment and Gear Needed for BJJ

Some gyms offer a deal where you get a membership and a uniform together for a reduced price.

Otherwise, there are a number of places online where you can order some of the best gis and slickest no-gi attire.

If you’re training gi BJJ, you’ll need:

·      A gi

·      A belt

·      In some cases, a rash guard to wear under your gi

If you’re training no-gi BJJ, you’ll need:

·      A rash guard

·      Board shorts and/or spandex leggings

In both cases, you can also opt to wear a mouth guard. Athletic tape is typically used for injuries, such as light ankle and wrist sprains, and is also used on fingers to improve grip and help with minor injuries.

In no-gi, it’s fairly uncommon to see someone wearing wrestling shoes, but it does happen from time to time.

How Much Does BJJ Cost?

The cost of Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes depends on a number of factors, including where you live, which organization you want to train with, and how often you want to train.

You can expect to pay anywhere from 100-200$ a month on average – but again, be warned, prices fluctuate from city to city and from country to country.

There are also other costs associated with BJJ not related to membership, such as:

·      Equipment (e.g., new gis, no-gi shorts and rash guards, tape, mouthguard)

·      Online instructionals (i.e., BJJFanatics)

·      Private lessons/group seminars

BJJ Belt System

The BJJ belt system begins at white belt and, for most, ends at black belt.

I say most because, after black belt, there is technically the red and black belt (7th degree black belt) and the red and white belt (8th degree black belt), as well as the red belt (9th and 10th degrees of black belt). However, these are reserved for the masters of the art, and take decades to achieve.

A common question is: how long does it take to get to black belt?

Generally speaking, people say it takes 10 years to get a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. But that number is different for everyone.

Based on the IBJJFs belt standards:

·      You must be at least 16 years old to receive blue belt

·      You must stay at blue belt for at least 2 years

·      You must stay at purple belt for at least 18 months

·      You must stay at brown belt for at least 1 year

So, based on the IBJJF, the quickest you could get your black belt is about 5 years. Again, though, everyone’s BJJ journey is unique. What matters most is that you just get out there and start training!

Helpful Resources for Starting Jiu-Jitsu

There are a handful of helpful resources that can make the start of your Brazilian jiu-jitsu journey a bit easier. There’s no substitute for time spent on the mats training, but there are some things you can do to speed up your BJJ progression.


There are hours and hours of BJJ videos to watch for free on YouTube.

One way to improve your BJJ is to watch the greatest athletes in competition. Luckily, you can watch many matches from the black belt world championships – and other major competitions – for free on YouTube. 

You can also find many instructional videos, in which instructors teach specific techniques that you can apply directly to your training.

BJJ Fanatics

If you enjoy watching/studying BJJ instructional videos, you can always invest in some instructionals on the BJJ Fanatics site.

Instructional videos allow you to learn from your favourite BJJ athletes – all from the comfort of your own home. You can buy instructionals that focus on certain positions (e.g., closed guard, takedowns), or instructionals that focus more so on systems (e.g., kimura trap system, leg lock system).

Head over to BJJ Fanatics and see how many amazing instructional videos to choose from!

Popular BJJ Books

If Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructional videos aren’t your thing, you can also invest in some BJJ books. These are often full of techniques and concepts that can help you improve your game at a faster rate.

Examples include:

·      Jiu-Jitsu University by Saulo Ribeiro

·      The Black Belt Blueprint by Nicolas Gregoriades

·      Mastering Jiu-Jitsu by Renzo Gracie and John Danaher