Tips For Introducing New People to Jiu-jitsu

Following a recent court decision awarding 46 million dollars to a new BJJ student who ended up with devastating injuries from rolling with an instructor in California, I thought I might say a few things about how I like to introduce people to BJJ.

Anyone who has made it to a blue belt knows that they only reason they’ve been able to continue in jiu-jitsu is because they found people willing to kindly introduce them to it and train carefully with them so that injuries are minimized. I’m proud of the fact that after 30 years of doing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu I’ve never needed to call an ambulance. Remember, Jiujitsu is for life, not next week, not just during tournament season.

Day one: Yes we run through the positions (mount, side, guard), and talk about an idea for each spot (shrimp shrimp shrimp). But, when it comes time to train, what I like to do is put the new player in my open guard and encourage them to watch their balance while trying to get around my legs. All I do is try to undermine their balance with basic sweep patterns and tipping and pulling. The idea is just to get a sense of what the guard player is going to be up to while our new friend tries to go around or over or under the legs. That’s it. Nothing else.

Month one: Once our friends have an idea of what we’re up to, and it’s not fight club, we let them put us in tough spots and show them how to work back to guard or reverse to a guard pass position. While we play these games we do a lot of talking. We talk a lot with our new friends because we want them to get excited about our art. We make lots of jokes about our art too. It’s a funny looking art to those who don’t know what it is. And we have a lot of humor around what we’re doing. Jiu-jitsu training should have some laughter.

Life one: A great, challenging and powerful game to play to build your leg dexterity, core strength and defense is no-hands guard. Usually I have partners on top play with one hand. This is a terrific way to build all these key attributes while removing the competitive nature of the training. No one loses. We can’t imagine we’re awesome when we’re passing the guards of people who aren’t using their hands, and it’s going to be our turn on our backs in three minutes!

Another great training technique is three guard passes. In this training game we do use our hands, and start in the guard. The idea is to only work guard position once we’ve swept, or passed, or tapped, we just reset. After three attempts or successes, we switch places. No one fights to the death here. The limited scope of the training allows us to concentrate on improving particular positions. It’s much like musicians limiting themselves to being expressive with just a few notes of the scale. We can then do the same game, with mount or side. Of course the amount of pressure, and resistance can be scaled for newer people.

New players are often nervous. They often think they need to impress. They often imagine we’re a fight club. I work hard to disabuse new folks of all these silly and undermining impressions.

We do Jiu-jitsu because it’s beautiful and it pays us back. We love our art and hope to have plenty of great training partners to work with. The best way to have great training partners is to be a great training partner.

Veterans can of course set their own terms for rolling. They might like to roll stiffer, hold on to finishes longer, include leg locks. This is their choice, they have enough experience to know what they’re getting into, and know enough to tap when something doesn’t feel right. But no newbies should be included in such training. And no unexpected things should ever be thrown at a newbie. Newbies will need scaffolding for their first few weeks. We operate to support them and guide them through their earliest experiences so that they don’t get hurt, or turned off. We want to build our clientele, support our instructors and make new friends while doing the best martial art / kineasthetic awareness training available.

See you on the mat, Friends!

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