The idea that a blog entry could have gotten me ready for the barrage of information that came when I started training is absurd.
But, that’s not to say a little bit of foresight would have hurt either. If I could go back in time to when I first started, these are five things I would have told myself to mentally prepare for the mats.
It’s not about muscle.
I don’t care if you can bench press a house and cheat curl a car—a 140 pound grappler with good technique will wrap his whole body around one of your vulnerable limbs and bend it, squeeze it or torque it until you tell him or her to stop. Remember UFC 1? It’s definitely about to happen to you. Sure, they’re nice people, but the second after you slap hands they turn into Liam Neeson from Taken. They have a very specific set of skills for dealing with people like you, they will catch you, and they will tap you.
You’re not going to get everything right away.
Whether it’s your body type or the fact that most techniques involve a lot of steps, some positions and submissions will be difficult for you to grasp right away. Don’t get down on yourself about it though. If you look around the mat, you’ll probably see about half the people struggling with the same things you are. Watch the people who are doing it well and don’t be afraid to ask the instructor for help.
Don’t stop once you’ve done it well once, though. Do it lots of times—and switch sides so you become as ambidextrous as possible. You’ll have to finish from your less-dominant side eventually and if you’re not prepared, much like Full Metal Jacket, “You will hesitate at the moment of truth. You will not kill.”
If you never work at it, it will never work.
When you do find some techniques that work for you, don’t spend all your time using them. When you’re driving to the gym, think of two or three things you want to focus that day, put yourself in that position and develop a few reliable tools that work for you.
I’m a beginner with a million holes, but my guard is the biggest problem. I’m built like a troll with short legs, so I’ve only finished two triangles—one was on my dad, and I don’t think he was trying very hard. As a result, I’m focusing on improving my sweeps and using good form to get up from bottom. At the very least, I get to take mental notes on how people blow past my guard and apply them later.
You won’t know it until you feel it.
Speaking of UFC 1, a big reason Jiu Jitsu works is because people who don’t understand itreally don’t understand it. Striking (good striking, that is) is very complex and technical, but just about everyone on Earth understands the principle of fist-to-face combat.
On the other hand, someone who has never experienced a Kimura will give their arm away and have no idea how or why it happened. Until you’ve rolled for a few months, always have a tap hand ready to go (or at least know when you’ll have to verbally tap). If a leg or an arm gets isolated, defend—don’t just try to yank it out (which could make it worse). If your defense fails, tap. No shame in it.
They’ll take what you give them.
You’ll quickly notice that safe spaces and certain death are inches apart. If you find yourself in the same bad spot over and over again, chances are you’re doing something to put yourself there. Ask your training partner what you’re doing wrong and they’ll more than likely be happy to tell you what you’re doing wrong.
One of the awesome things about the NG team is that they’re super generous with their Jiu Jitsu knowledge. There’s more than enough to go around.