Surviving your first six months of Jiu Jitsu – by Paul Henningham

I’ve got strong memories of my first class: the anticipation, anxiety, confusion and exhaustion. I was one of those guys who used every ounce of strength and stamina at my disposal to try and thwart the attacks of my more experienced classmates. I was hooked pretty quickly when I discovered how easily they could control and submit me.

I think my “balls to wall” approach is pretty common for new students. In the absence of technique, it?s hard not to use whatever you?ve got. It felt a bit like I?d wandered into a French class and all these people were speaking a language I?d didn?t understand. My response was to flail away until I was a spent wreck, quivering in the corner. I?d go home an lie on the couch and wonder how anyone could train two days in a row. In retrospect, I think I would have learnt at a faster rate if I?d toned it down and started to listen (not just with my ears but my body too).

While strength and endurance are attributes that come in handy, they really are quite detrimental to new students trying to pick up the fundamentals. It?s no coincidence that girls and smaller guys are often more “technical” in their early learning stages as they can?t muscle things to make them work like their more sizable training partners. However, when you?ve got a monster pinning you to the mat, it?s pretty hard not to try and use everything you?ve got to get out. A lot of new students exhaust themselves and then are easy to control and submit.

One of Master Helio Gracie?s most important principles is first, you don?t lose. If you can learn to defend and stay safe, no one can beat you. If you get exhausted, it is very hard to stay safe. I think that this is a critical concept to concentrate on in the early stages of your training. Learning how to relax, breathe and move into progressively safer postures will save you from many tight submissions. It will also give you more effective and numerous routes of escape.

Another great trap for new students is the lure of “the tap”. The feeling of achieving this dominance over your training partner and having them acknowledge it by submitting is one that every new student is keen to experience. The problem is, going for submissions when you?re not good at maintaining position or controlling your partner is a quick route to the bottom. You may have heard the dictum, “position before submission”. Not only is it true that the more dominant your position, the easier it is to submit, there is an extra detail that has been omitted. That is, get good at maintaining position first and the submissions will inevitably flow. Before you spend too much time learning a multitude of subs, get really good at staying on top and moving from position to position. If they can?t escape, the submissions will come with patience.

Your first months of training can be pretty tough. Everyone is dominating you and you?re constantly feeling lost. Don?t worry because it?s the same for everyone. The main thing is, if you learn to relax and stay safe, concentrate on positional control before submission and keep coming back, it won?t be too long before you?re the one who starts to do the dominating. It?s a great journey you?ve embarked on. As long as you stay on the track and keep putting one foot in front of the other, the view just keeps getting better.