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  • Writer's pictureJess D

Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting BJJ: A Guide for Jiu-Jitsu Beginners/ BJJ White Belts

bjj white belt guy holding white belt around waist


Jiu-jitsu is a journey that brings many lessons along the way. Here are some of the lessons I have learned and am still learning on my BJJ journey and I hope can help you jiu-jitsu beginners and white belts.

When you decide to start jiu-jitsu, you might be thinking you’re just going to start something new to get fit or to learn how to protect yourself in this martial art. I think we all go into things as optimistically as possible with our own notions of how it will be and how great we will be at these new endeavors. Of course, this was me when I first started jiu-jitsu, with my extra excited and energetic attitude. But, for me, jiu-jitsu was completely new, and I took some time to learn some important lessons I wish I could have learned before starting to help me progress faster and more efficiently in my jiu-jitsu journey. Everyone’s lessons in jiu-jitsu are different, and their BJJ journey gives them some insights that help them enjoy the journey even more. I am still learning these lessons despite starting in 2012, and I hope to learn more every day.

Here are some of the things I wish I knew before starting jiu-jitsu as a white belt and jiu-jitsu beginner:

Your Body Might Hurt from the Jiu-Jitsu Techniques, Submissions, and Muscle Soreness

woman holding a sore bicep

I don’t know what I was thinking, but I didn’t know that jiu-jitsu was going to hurt. I didn’t really do a martial art before. My real exposure to martial arts was a Tae-Bo class and some kickboxing classes in college just to get some cardio in (this was way before the Zumba time). After my first few intro classes and then getting exposed to submissions, I was surprised about the pain. Because I learned to tap, I knew how to deal with the pain and recognize it before it got worse. In addition, because I thought the only way you got real muscle soreness is through lifting heavy weights, those first few rolls were quite surprising. It made me happy to know that I was learning to protect myself and push my body. This also taught me to manage how I train during the week to have longevity, so I won’t go too hard every day of the week and maximize my training.

There is No Linear Learning Curve in Jiu-Jitsu

The way we usually learn in a step-by-step fashion usually leads to us learning in a way that looks like this:

line and bar graph

When you learn jiu-jitsu, it kind of looks like this:

line going up and down

There will be times along your BJJ journey as a white belt and jiu-jitsu beginner where you feel like you’re absorbing everything, and you feel like you’re improving incredibly fast. You will get stripes and a belt, and you feel that you’ll get your next promotion quickly. There will also be times where you feel like you’re stuck in the same place and you’re not actually learning anything, and you feel like you should quit. The most important thing to know about jiu-jitsu is that if you don’t quit and you keep learning, you’ll always improve. You’ll have those moments where you will feel like you’re going to suck. But as per the graph, you’ll see that. You’ll have an upwards projection; despite the sucky days you think you’re having.

You’re Not Going to Win in BJJ All the Time

man holding medals

If you’re a competitive person, this is a jiu-jitsu lesson I suggest you learn right away. I am quite competitive, and I strive to be the best for the most part. This mentality can be toxic and even dangerous, especially when you’re new to something. Of course, you’re going to stink the first few times you try something. When you start doing more, you obviously get better but keep in mind the people around you are also getting better. As you train and especially when you do competitions, you’ll win some, but you most certainly will lose some. Even the best jiu-jitsu players in the world have lost some matches just by a small mistake. I wish I learned this lesson earlier because I got quite frustrated in the beginning when I would have a streak of getting multiple submissions and great rolls. Then it would be crappy rolls, stupid mistakes, and getting submitted so many times I couldn’t even count. This is the nature of jiu-jitsu: you never lose, you’re just learning many lessons.

Get a Strong Foundation with BJJ Basics

Bjj class watching a technique

If you spend a lot of time on social media (which you should of course, follow me), then you see many people posting cool sweeps, submissions, and bjj techniques. You might look at some of these techniques and think, “Man, I can’t wait to try this in the gym!” You might want to try all of them, but in your excitement, you neglect your basics. I know basics are boring; my ADHD brain zones out when I train or drill basic bjj techniques. But the basics are the foundation of doing the fancy techniques that you like. I do have the tendency to do things fast without thinking about what I’m doing or being intentional about my training, and I feel because of this, I am now starting to fortify those basic building blocks of techniques. As boring as drilling basic concepts and techniques are, just take the time to do it so those fancy, more complicated techniques will come easier to you.

Stretching and Flexibility are Important for Injury Prevention in BJJ

lady stretching arm and shoulder

This is a general fitness and sports thing to know, but it is important for those of you who are younger and deciding to start jiu-jitsu. Maintaining your flexibility makes you limber and agile for jiu-jitsu, conditions you for jiu-jitsu, keeps you active with friends, and prevents the inevitable injuries that will come from training. Growing up doing swimming and weightlifting, I would always get bored when it came to warm-ups and stretching cool downs. So, I would always make them as short as possible or avoid them altogether. Because of this terrible habit, I now have a few injuries that could have been prevented had I taken the measures to become more flexible. Now I take a bit of time after class to stretch while I talk to friends.

You Need to Do Some Studying off the BJJ Mats

girl studying with notebook and laptop

Your coaches have a lot to teach you, and every jiu-jitsu class should be an opportunity to expand your game. But to be honest, sometimes what the teacher teaches you might not fit into what you like or can do. I can’t tell you how many times my coach has shown something flippy and flexi, and my body was like, “hell no”. You have to seek out things that will match your body type and game, which means you will have to look at videos and take time to review things from prior classes. This means finding resources like BJJ Fanatics to view some techniques that do look cool to you while being mindful of your basics. In addition, you should be taking notes after class so you can review them to recall your lessons. Take time to visualize how you would move in certain scenarios so when you go to the gym you can drill and execute these techniques.


The process of learning jiu-jitsu, like any other process, is a marathon, not a race. When you consider everything, you will figure out your own lessons and make your own way to being your absolute best in jiu-jitsu as a white belt and jiu-jitsu beginner.

What are somethings you wished you learned before starting jiu-jitsu?


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