What I’ve learned after two years of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

I recently had a laugh after re-reading my initial post on what to expect after the first few months of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).

It was funny because the me that wrote this was in a very early stage of jiu jitsu, and while I’m still a total beginner on my BJJ journey, I’ve learned a lot since then.

By January I’ll have been training for two years, and in that time a lot has happened in my BJJ life.

I’ve graded to white belt four stripes, competed several times, gotten ringworm a number of times, upped the number of times I train per week and have had to take time off due to sickness, being overseas, injuries and everything in between.

More importantly I enjoy BJJ even more than what I did when I started.

With that being said I thought it would be interesting to jot down some thoughts about what to expect in your first two years of training, at least according to my own experience.

1. Expect and accept having to take time off

The first expectation you should have in your first couple of years of training is that there will be periods where you will have to take time off training, and that’s fine.

As I alluded to above, I had to take time off training during my first two years because of ringworm, some nasty injuries, holidays (both overseas and interstate) and work deadlines. At first, I grew frustrated that I couldn’t train and that I would miss out on a valuable technique or chance to get better.

Each time after a break I would have my first roll and have the same feeling: I would feel tired as shit but relieved to be back. After coming back from overseas I actually felt that I was better on the mat, although that might have just been the benefit of coming back with fresh eyes.

There are two reasons why I no longer feel that occasional short breaks from training are negative:

  1. You can always be learning even when you have time off – you can mentally rehearse techniques from your training log or watch videos online
  2. Infrequent short breaks don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, which leads onto my second point:

2. Consistency is key

During my time in jiu jitsu I’ve made many friends who started at around the same time as I did. Many have been much better than me. Especially at the start of my jiu jitsu, I felt I was terrible compared to other students on my level.

Over time I’ve realised that no matter how good your natural talent is, there’s no replacement for showing up every week at training. Someone can have tonnes of natural talent, but if they come to training haphazardly or stop after six months, even someone like me can surpass them over time.

Consistency and time on the mat has had the biggest impact on my game overall. I’ve found extracurricular YouTube videos also useful, but not as useful as just showing up.

3. Find a mentor

As you start to make friends in your gym you might find yourself asking certain advanced students for pointers. In my case I just kept bugging one of the brown belts with questions at the end of class about techniques I didn’t understand (of which there were many).

I now have a number of friends that I can go to with questions to help clear things up.

Being able to roll with a mentor is great too, as you can pick up on subtle things that advanced students do subconsciously, and they also might point out flaws in your game.

4. Roll with everyone

As you start to progress you’ll gravitate towards rolling with the same friends or training partners.

I’ve found there’s something to learn from rolling with all shapes and sizes, so it pays to be open to rolling with people you don’t regularly train with too.

You may not get to play your usual game with someone much stronger/heavier/lighter/weaker than you but you’ll learn at least one thing from it to apply to future rolls, so it’s always a useful experience.

5. Don’t miss out on training – you don’t know what will happen next week

We all have days when we just want to bail on training and relax at home.

On these days It’s always a good idea to suck it up and head to training. This is because you don’t know when you’ll catch a cold, get ringworm or have a family function on and have to miss class in the future.

Even if you’re tired, cold or just not feeling into it, just think about the feeling you’ll have after a good training session.

I’ve had times where I’ve bailed on a class because I wanted some time at home, only to then miss out on another class that week due to something unforeseen. This further reduces the number of classes I’m able to make that week, and thereby impacting my consistency target.

6. Don’t neglect the mental component

I’ve had poor results in the four competitions I’ve had so far. This is due mostly to skill, although I noticed that I was lacking in the psychology department too.

I tried to tackle this by reading three books: The Champion’s Mind by Jim Afremow, Mental Toughness Training for Sports by James E. Loehr and 10-Minute Toughness: The Mental Training Program for Winning Before the Game Begins.

There are lessons to learn from each of these, but the book that I found easiest to follow was 10-Minute Toughness by Jason Selk. The other two books were very comprehensive, but what most resonated with me was the simplicity of 10-Minute Toughness.

In 10-Minute Toughness, Selk advocates a five minute pre-training warm up and a five minute post-training debrief. I’ve been doing this regimen for almost a year now and have felt much more in control of my mental side during training. In 2018 I will be employing these strategies to help with my competition.

There you have it! I hope this has helped give you an idea of what two years in BJJ looks like, at least according to my experience.

What’s your experience of BJJ been? Let me know in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “What I’ve learned after two years of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu”

  1. I really enjoyed both these articles, thanks! Lots of handy tips too. I had started to write down the movements but wasn’t sure it was worthwhile so I stopped.

    I’m currently about 3 months in and your early experience definitely rings a bell. I’m often overwhelmed with the sheer volume of knowledge. In other martial arts I’ve trained in you have, say, a dozen basic movements for white-belts that you repetitively train pretty much every session until you grade. In BJJ, despite training 3-4 times a week for 3 months, I’ve almost never trained the same technique twice. I’m also constantly frustrated at my comparative technical inability but lucky to have patient training partners and instructors. I’m coming to BJJ at a later age (I’m now 40), so I am also a bit more patient with myself both in speed of progression but also in terms of not pushing injuries.

    One question – you mentioned in your first post that you changed your strength training regime. What does this look like for you now? To begin with I was just to sore to contemplate it, but have started to reintroduce a couple of sessions a week of just the big compound lifts, as well as some circuit training. I’m seeing this as mainly injury prevention as building strength is not a big priority. Would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

    • Hi Robert!

      Thanks for the kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed the articles.

      I agree completely, during my first year it was very rare to work on the same technique twice, which is great for exposure but can be difficult to remember.

      Regarding your comment on technical inability, my experience so far has taught me that patience is key – so you’ve got the right mindset in my opinion. I’ve noticed that now because I have two year’s worth of techniques and variations of techniques stored in my mind, it’s much easier to learn and apply new techniques, so it does get better!

      My training regime these days is very similar to what you describe. I do two days of lifting, where I cover off compound lifts including full squats, bench press, deadlifts, pull ups and some isolation exercises for muscle groups like biceps, triceps and hamstrings etc. For every exercise I will do 3 sets of 4 – 6 heavy reps. I also do at least one 6 – 7 km (3.7 – 4.3 mile) run per week as I find it really helps me with baseline cardio fitness when rolling.

      Overall I’ve found weights training has really helped with injury prevention, but in my experience it has also tightened my muscles up, so I try to stretch every week and am now looking at adding in a weekly yoga class to work on loosening everything up.

      I hope this helps,

      • That’s really helpful, thanks. I know what you mean about tightness – my first severe injury was when I was trying to do CrossFit and BJJ and my neck and shoulders just couldn’t handle it. After two weeks laid up I realised I had to quit one.

        My gym actually offers yoga for fighters but have only managed to go once so far. It definitely felt like it helped but have found arriving 30 minutes early and doing a tonne of stretching equally effective.

        • No problems!

          Definitely agree with you about the stretching.

          I’ve also found that using a hard cricket or lacrosse ball and following some of the movements suggested in Kelly Starett’s book “Becoming A Supple Leopard” also helps a lot with tightness. In particular the couch stretch he suggests is also good for the hips if you work in an office like I do.


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