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1 Year Anniversary: Things I wish I'd known when I started

Posted Jun 18 2009 12:11am
Before I ever stepped into my school, I had done a lot of reading. I wasn't satisfied at my old school for many reasons, but didn't want to make the same mistakes again. So, I did some research.

On a slight tangent, I owe a large debt of gratitude to the core participants at Bullshido.net. There is a lot of static that you have to get through. But there's also a ton of knowledge and some very valuable, necessary resistance to popular martial arts dogma. It wasn't until I began reading some of the articles on Bullshido that I could even begin to articulate the problems I had with my old training. I was already unhappy, but hadn't yet figured out specifically why. Reading the articles, I found myself nodding my head in agreement to many of the things that were written. Learning about Matt Thornton and the concepts of " aliveness", I actually found some tangible, concrete traits that I could then look for in my next school. And most importantly, that there WERE schools still doing things that way.


So, ultimately, that led me to BJJ. It's been one year now since I first stepped into James Foster's school and so I thought I'd commemorate the anniversary by sharing a few of the things that I would like to have known, or am glad that I knew before I went in. Some of these came to mind after Coach reminded us of them in class on Sunday. So, if you're thinking about taking up BJJ, here are a few things that I would really recommend that you know before you go in. I expect that I'll read this post as I will most others in 10 years and blush at how naive I am right now.

Some articles on this subject are available from people who are in a much better position to offer advice. If you're in classes now, of course your instructor is a great resource. If you're considering your first class, a great article on Grapplearts is available ( http://www.grapplearts.com/Starting-BJJ-Classes.htm ).

Ultimately, the thing I learned from Bullshido is this: don't be a jerk (actually, the Bullshido term is more appropos, but in the interest of keeping a PG rating, I can't post it here). Most of the following are just specific examples of either being or not being a jerk. There are many others.


  1. First, tap early and often. The first skill you will need to know in BJJ is how to tap. Before you learn to pass guard, before you learn your first sweep or your first submission, you will likely learn what it is to be at the mercy of someone else. The three ways to tap are to tap the mat or your partner with your hand (not your fist). You can also use your feet if your hands are unavailable. Or you can say, "Tap." Normally, you'll say, "Tap, tap, tap." Doing this should cause your partner to pause and not break your arm. Saying "ouch", grunting, growling, pinching, biting, or anything other than the three ways I mentioned will likely encourage your partner to continue, not make them stop.

  2. In conjunction with knowing how to tap is to know when to tap. If you are in an untenable position, tap. Recognizing the futility of a situation comes with experience. I've seen a particular situation occur over and over. A brand new guy's arm is fully extended and there is no way he's going to escape. Or he's turning purple and making that strange gurgling sound that means he's not getting any air. In other words, whomever he's sparring with has a submission and it's locked in. He doesn't, however, understand the situation. He continues to flop around. By doing this, the lower belt has created a dillemma for the upper belt. Does he continue to grind the submission? This could potentially injure the lower belt, and there's no excuse for that. Most will move on to a different submission. The potential problem I've seen with some is that they don't understand the distinction between being allowed to continue and escaping or reversing a technique. This can be dangerous to someone who just doesn't get it, as it doesn't help them to learn when to tap. I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that there's no problem if everyone knows when to tap.

  3. Next thing is that you don't win or lose in sparring. Sparring isn't about winning or losing a match. Of course, one of the things I really like about BJJ and grappling in general is that one can really push a match in sparring. But, I understand now that my partner, regardless of rank, is either working on some techniques or concepts or allowing me to do the same. Often, both. So, if you spar to win, you're missing the point.

  4. If people keep breaking when you spar with them, the problem is you. It's like that old saying, "There's only one thing that all of your failed relationships have in common: you." While injury is possible regardless of who you are sparring with, if you are leaving a trail of rib, elbow, or neck injuries in your wake, you're doing something wrong.

  5. Wash your gi and yourself. I mean, seriously.

  6. Try not to cheat. By cheating, I don't mean breaking rules, fighting dirty or anything like that. I mean, don't do things on white belts just because you know they work on white belts. My general rule of thumb is that if it doesn't work on a blue belt, it doesn't work. Or in other words, I try to spend my time developing techniques that work on a competent opponent rather than on techniques that prey upon the ignorance of my opponent.

That's all that comes to mind. If anyone has any other tips for beginners, I'd be glad to hear them. I'm still very much a beginner. As I said at the beginning, these are the things that I'm either glad I knew before I started, or wish that I'd known.

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