Starting BJJ as a complete beginner

My name is Alec and I’m a Brazilian jiu jitsu brown belt in Toronto, Canada.

This blog is largely about my journey from white belt to brown belt, and hopefully one day it will continue on through black belt.

I say “largely” because in addition to the stories I’m going to share with you – from overcoming clinical depression to visiting a judo-based social project in Brazil to meeting some of the nicest-and-most-badass people on the planet to almost opening my own gym – I’m also going to inject some travel, food, tattoos, and cats.

I’ve also got plenty of BJJ tips for beginners and workout advice that will hopefully help you progress through your own jiu jitsu journey.

Why write this blog?

Looking back to when I started Brazilian jiu jitsu in 2009, I compare it to when Harry Potter found out he was a wizard. There was this whole world of amazing possibilities and everyone was doing stuff I just couldn’t understand; it might as well have been magic.

I had this feeling that if I could just find the right questions to ask, I could learn their secrets and be a wizard too.

It turns out that I wasn’t entirely wrong, but in hindsight I definitely overestimated what kind of structure exists for learning BJJ. I was used to traditional martial arts, having done some tae kwon do and karate as a teen and in university. Especially at the early levels in those, you are just learning moves and sequences and there’s a clear path to progression. When you can do the kata sufficiently well, you can show and name certain techniques, you do a test and get a new belt.

My jiu jitsu belts. White, blue, purple, and brown.
Brazilian jiu jitsu has five main belts: white, blue, purple, brown, and black. There’s a red belt too for true masters that have dedicated their lives to the art.

Brazilian jiu jitsu, as I discovered, was a lot more complicated. There were only four belts to gain after white belt (which I got just for showing up!), and it was a long road between each. It turns out that there wasn’t much of a standard for what made someone ready for a promotion across gyms. It felt arbitrary compared to what I was used to and that was uncomfortable.

I knew I was in love with jiu jitsu, but I felt like I didn’t know where to start or what questions to ask. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and was just kind of going to class and muddling my way through.

I’ve been stuck many times along the way. Frustrated, even. There have been highs and lows, and I am writing this in the hopes that others out there will relate. Maybe hearing my experiences will help you in your journey and hearing back from you will help me to continue mine.

What you can expect

I have some big ideas for the future but I’m definitely a white belt at blogging so I’ll start simple and we’ll see where this goes.

Gandalf is a cat in São Paulo, Brazil.
He’s a little blurry but that’s only because he loves rolling on the floor.

From reading this blog you can expect stories about my training. Over the years, my attitude and approach to training have evolved in the face of various challenges. They talk about jiu jitsu being an ego killer, and I definitely have some stories to share about that! I’ve been to the worlds tournament twice, trained in Brazil three times, changed gyms after 10 years of dedication, and met a lot of really cool people along the way. You can expect to hear about those too.

You can also expect some content about the parts of my life that cross over with jiu jitsu like travel, food, and tattoos. Oh yeah, and cats too. Like this little guy, Gandalf the Grey, who I met in São Paulo. You’ll get his story in due course.

You can also expect honesty and introspection. I definitely don’t have everything figured out so some posts will be an exploration without the promise of a definitive conclusion. That’s why this is online instead of in a journal. Not to get too heavy, but I hope that this can become a community where we are open with one another and can perhaps reach those conclusions together.

And finally, you can expect updates and engagement. A part of my plan is to dedicate time each day towards this blog and towards jiu jitsu. My hope is that building a routine will create productive habits that yield results over time, and that this practice will translate to both training and my professional life.

So I hope you’ll join me on this little journey, and we’ll see what happens together!

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