By Sara Halcumb

As jiu jitsu becomes more popular among people of all ages, we see the mats packed with beginners hungry to learn this beloved martial art. With so many new individuals starting to train, it’s always good to review the basics. However, in this article we aren’t talking about jiu jitsu technique. Even before you step on the mats for that intro class, there are some basic etiquettes specific to jiu jitsu that you should be aware of. Maybe you don’t think that knowing gym etiquette is very important to your jiu jitsu journey, think again!

Not only does your professor, coaches and teammates notice how you handle yourself on the mats, they also watch what kind of gym member you are off the mats. Being a good student of jiu jitsu requires you to not only regularly train and study technique, but also know the rules of your gym before you step foot in the door. While each gym’s specific rules may vary, there is basic etiquette that applies to most academies you will want to know before your first class.

Leave Your Ego at the Door

If you ever wanted a way to dissolve your own ego, start training jiu jitsu. If you have trained, then you know that the people who do bring any ego onto the mats usually end up humbled in some way. Walk in on any bjj class and you’ll find an assortment of people all together in one space, learning and testing their new craft on each other. You may have a high school wrestler, a police officer, a stay-at-home mom, and a college athlete all in one class together. That is part of the beauty of the gentle art. Yet, despite the differences that you have with your training partners, you are all there to learn and grow together.

Any inflated sense of self-importance will quickly be dissolved by a five minute round with an upper belt. If you can’t handle dissolving your ego every time you step on the mats, then jiu jitsu probably isn’t for you. Do yourself a favor and embrace the suck, and if you do that for long enough, then you might just be the one to dissolve the next ego who walks through the door.

No Shoes on the Mats and Wear Shoes Everywhere Else

If you only remember one rule from this article, it’s to never wear shoes on the mats and to always wear shoes off the mats. This may seem like an obvious rule, but you would be surprised at how many people don’t know, or often don’t follow the second part of the rule. Right before stepping on the mat, always take your shoes off in the designated spot. Additionally, and equally as important, when you step off the mats to get water, go to the bathroom or take a break, be sure to put your shoes on right away to walk around non-matted areas so that you don’t bring unwanted filth back to the mats.

While most adults quickly adapt this habit, it’s a little different when talking about the kids. It can be really common for kids to run off the mats barefoot to get water or take a break and then run back on the mat without a second thought. This is a surefire way to track germs and dirt onto the space where people roll around. If you are a parent of a child who trains, teach them to always wear shoes off the mats- especially in the bathrooms!

Proper Hygiene is Everything

Jiu jitsu is a close contact combat sport, so to avoid skin infections always take a shower after class. If you’re lucky enough to have a gym with a shower, be sure to utilize the facility to clean up after. If not, make sure you go shower directly after training. When it comes to your training gear, always wash it right away (yes, belt included). And never wear your unwashed or dirty training gear to class… gross!

While on the subject of hygiene, make sure you come to class with trimmed and clean nails, long hair pulled back, deodorant, and fresh breath. You are in very close quarters with people, make sure you brush your teeth, floss, and use mouthwash before class. Additionally, if you have any cuts or scrapes be sure to cover them up with a bandage or tape. And finally, if you have any skin condition, infection or rash, absolutely do not come to class until it is resolved. Many gyms have a zero tolerance rule on this one and will ban anyone from the school caught training with a skin infection.

Respect your coaches, training partners and the gym

This rule often goes overlooked (see rule one), but it is very important in order to build a positive culture at your academy. Before and after class you will line up according to rank (in most gyms), with your professor in the front of class and the line formed by highest rank at the start to beginners on the end. Respect your professor, coaches, and team by greeting everyone when you step on the mats and shake hands after you bow out. If you have to come to class late or leave early, ask the professor permission to come in late or leave early. While it should be common sense, never interrupt the coach during instruction, and if you have questions always raise your hand.

Clean up after yourself around them gym before you leave. Throw away bottles and trash, wipe down equipment and don’t leave sweaty gear lying around for the coaches to clean up. If you are one of the last ones on the mats, offer to help sweep and mop the mats after class. You will show your professor and coaches that you are a valuable member of the team and earn HUGE respect from them.

While we are on the topic of respect, the only way that a gym can survive is by students paying their memberships. Unless it’s a free open mat, always pay the drop in fee if you are a non-member (ask the staff if you don’t know how much it is- each gym is different). Never sneak in and try to train without paying either a membership or drop in fee… the gym cannot stay open without it.

And Finally, Don’t Take Yourself Too Serious

It’s easy to get sucked into the world of jiu jitsu and become enthralled with getting better each day. It can be a very addicting sport that people depend on to increase their mental and physical health. While it is wonderful to be a serious student, if you want this to be a life-long journey, you have to bring a little fun into the mix now and then.

A few ways to keep the energy lighthearted: enjoy learning new techniques and trust the process when you get it wrong, help new faces feel welcome on the mats, realize that you will have to tap a lot in the beginning, and remember that for a while you will feel like you’re learning a new language. To help sort through all those complicated thoughts, keep a journal of your jiu jitsu progress, what you’re learning each day, and what you want to improve upon on moving forward.

Worry less about promotions, stripes, or a new belt, and focus more on ways to improve your specific game while having a good time. Jiu jitsu is hard enough, the last thing you need is to take it so seriously that you start to resent the process. When you let yourself enjoy the journey rather than try to control it, you will start to develop into a really great jiu jitsu practitioner.