Where To Start… How Does One Begin Learning Jiu-Jitsu?

If you’ve read my articles and casually view Reddit’s R/BJJ section you know I’m on there, often trolling, but every now and again drawing inspiration.  Today, someone made a post about the struggles of learning as a beginner that I felt warrants an analysis:

TLDR I cannot into memorising techniques and need them explained by my partners which takes time and leave me with no more time to practice it. What can I do? Or do I just wait?

I’m a 2 week nobelt (nogi) beginner. Yes, I know it’s supposed to feel like magic and make me think “wtf” all the time. I had accepted being defeated all the time for the next few months before I’ve entered the gym. All I’m concerned about is learning the techniques.

Every class we learn technique for maybe 30 minutes. We are shown 1 “complete” technique in a few steps. After ech step we get a few minutes of practice. So for example we practice standing up from 50/50 guard and x-guard takedown back to 50/50, then we practice some different variation eg. when opponent does something differently.

Well, my problem is… I don’t get to practice nearly enough to even memorise it. Maybe I’m dim or lack focus but it’s just too much going on for me to remember all the steps. I usually forget the first one before coach shows us the last one. AEven if by some miracle I understand what’s happening, my brain freezes the moment I see it 1st person and suddenly I have no idea where each of our 8 limbs should go. The result of this, is that inestead of spending those few short minutes practicing the move, I need to have it explained by my partner. This in turn, results in me having little to no practice because I will forget it before next class happens ( I train twice a week). Not to mention techniques explained to me while rolling where I get to do them only sparingly. Of course after 4 classes I finally got the hang of what my limbs should do in 50/50 but only now I can start practicing doing it correctly… yet the classes don’t wait for me.

So the main question is the one in the TLDR. How do I retain knowledge and actually learn anything at all? Is making notes and memorising steps a good idea?

From Reddit/BJJ


When we are first starting out, retention of information is very difficult.  I remember when I returned to jiu-jitsu after taking a few years off and when started training seriously even the most basic movements seemed ridiculous.  But that’s just it: start with simple movements.

As a beginner, you need to rewire your brain to some extent.  You need to learn to move like a grappler, and grapplers don’t move like normal people.  I suggest that complete beginners focus on learning to shrimp and Granby roll.  There are other movements down the line but day 1 is shrimping, bridging and Granby rolling.

The truth is it also depends on what your intentions are for jiu-jitsu.  If you’re doing it for self-defense you should focus on certain aspects of the game first, specifically distance management and other such crucial details to using jiu-jitsu in a combative situation.  If you’re interested in doing it for fun, don’t worry about it; you’ll figure it out eventually.  If you’re looking to do it for sport, the first thing you should be focusing on is how and when to tap.  Learn your limitations and boundaries and then play within those.

Now for the how to learn new techniques.

Once you’ve started rewiring your brain to be able to actually move like a grappler, starting with shrimping and Granby rolling and then moving onto other basic movement drills, you can start absorbing information.

Start with fundamental single movements.  Begin focusing on how to use movements to escape situations.  Learn to use bridging and shrimping to escape mount and side control, and make sure you learn to bridge properly.  These are going to be your foundations.

Once you are comfortable escaping simple positions, start to learn basic submissions.  In my opinion the simplest submissions are the cross collar choke, the rear naked choke, the Americana, and the kimura.  Secondary to these are the triangle, arm bar and omoplata.  The latter group requires a greater understanding than the prior.

Learning is less about what you learn than how you learn, but what you learn is important.

How you learn is entirely up to you.  Some people do draw significant benefit from memorizing every minute detail of a move.  Use of a notebook can be helpful, as can a regular training partner who knows you well, preferably of slightly higher level.  I personally like to think of my learning pattern as being akin to a lump of clay gradually being formed, then shaped, and then eventually carved and detailed.  Initially movements are rough and unintelligent, but as I practice them more and more I develop a deeper understanding.  Repetition is going to be crucial, you can’t learn anything in this art without doing it hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of times.

The most important thing is to stick with it and make sure you mesh well with your instructor.  You state in your initial post that you strictly are doing no-gi; you may want to consider also doing gi as some feel it helps refine technique.

Good luck!


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