So you’re looking to start your jiu jitsu journey and you’re not exactly sure what you need to get going. We’ve all been there before. With gis, rashguards, headgear, and everything else that many jiu jitsu practitioners rely on, it’s easy to get lost in the equipment, but it’ll all be second nature to you soon enough.
Until you learn your training equipment like the back of your hand, here’s a handy guide to get you started so you won’t feel (and look) so clueless on your first day of training.
The only thing you truly need to participate in a jiu jitsu class in most academies is a BJJ gi — or the uniform you’ll be wearing for training and competition. It’ll also likely be the largest purchase you make (although decent beginner gis can be found for right around $50), so it’s a sign of commitment to the martial art. Some schools and academies will have gis you can try on and/or purchase at a discounted rate while you’re there for your first class, but it’s worth calling ahead to make sure you don’t show up without one and get turned away.
Of course, if you’re beginning with strictly no-gi classes, you won’t have to worry about picking a gi up just yet. For more information and to find the perfect match for you, check out our BJJ Gi Buyer’s Guide.
Although some dojos will allow brand new jiu jitsu practitioners to borrow or purchase their white belt on the first day of class, it never hurts to go in prepared. Many jiu jitsu brands and companies also sell white belts for relatively cheap, and pretty much any of them will be fine as long as they’re the right size (generally speaking, try to get the same size belt as you do gi). On occasion, a beginner’s jiu jitsu brand will even throw in a complementary white belt with the purchase of a gi.
As you advance in your jiu jitsu career, you may opt to pick up fancier or more limited edition styles of the more advanced belts, but there’s no need to go above the minimum for a white belt. The white belt is the symbol of a novice in the jiu jitsu world, and you should be moving on from it within a year or two with at least semi-consistent training.
In most martial arts academies and gyms, shoes are not allowed on the training mats. For this reason, many practitioners — particularly in warmer climates or during the summer months — tend to wear flip flops or other open sandals to and from their training sessions. There’s no rule that says you can’t wear sneakers or other shoes (particularly for those coming straight from their jobs), but it often makes the most sense to at least pack some cheap sandals to wear around the dojo. Walking around barefoot in any athletic facility is an easy way to spread fungal and bacterial infections like ringworm and MRSA, so make sure you have something on your feet at all times when not on the mats.
If you’re not investing in a gi for jiu jitsu, you should at least buy a grappling rashguard or two for your no-gi classes. Rashguards are the form-fitting stretchy tops worn to practice no-gi jiu jitsu and many other types of uniform-less submission grappling. Although they’re not absolutely necessary for training in many less formal gyms — most beginner classes will let you get away with wearing a t-shirt or other athletic gear at least to start — rashguards are sleeker and provide less material to (accidentally or intentionally) get a finger or toe perilously caught in while sparring or competing. They can also be an important step to preventing the spread of the bacterias and fungi found in many gyms, as wearing a rashguard both during no-gi and under a gi can provide an extra layer of protection for your skin against whatever may be left on the mats and on your training partners.
Wearing a mouthpiece isn’t required at all gyms, but it’s almost always recommended. Even though there are no strikes thrown in jiu jitsu, you may be surprised at how frequently you still accidentally get hit in the face. Breathing through a mouthpiece can be challenging for many beginners, but they’re worth adjusting to in the long run. If you value your teeth and any dental or orthodontic work you’ve had done, a mouthguard is a cheap and easy investment to keep you looking pretty throughout your jiu jitsu career.
While some practitioners prefer to wear gi pants even when participating in no-gi training, most people wear mixed martial arts trunks and/or some form of athletic tights or grappling spats to train and compete when not wearing a gi. Although MMA trunks (not to be confused with standard board shorts) are best purchased through MMA retailers or major sporting goods stores, adequate tights can generally be found in the athletic section of places like Target, Walmart, and many department stores. Full-length grappling spats (tights) can also be worn under gi pants to help reduce sweat stains and combat fungal and bacterial infections.
In all likelihood, no one will ever tell you that you absolutely need a bag for jiu jitsu, but it sure helps to have a convenient way to carry all of your other gear to and from the gym. Most gis can fold or roll up fairly small, so a duffel bag or backpack is generally all you’ll need to carry everything. It’s also highly recommended to get a bag with some ventilation (and maybe bring some dryer sheets or other scent removers) to help with the stench of the sweaty equipment it’ll be holding day after day.
From ear-covering headgear to genital-protecting cups, there’s a wide variety of additional protective measures you can take to prevent some of the bumps and bruises you’ll acquire through jiu jitsu. While there’s no way to anticipate or avoid some of the injuries from participating in a martial art, wearing headgear is probably the most recommended, as it will prevent any nasty ear swelling (or “cauliflower ear”). Be careful with athletic cups though, as most gyms and competitions believe they give an unfair advantage and thus don’t allow them.
You certainly don’t need to bring a first aid kit or anything too serious in your gym bag, but it always helps to have a few smaller things with you. Due to the little scrapes and blisters you’ll likely get on your fingers and feet when first beginning, athletic tape and/or liquid bandages are well worth investing in. Eventually, your body will adjust and you won’t require them as often anymore (until you take a break from training for a few weeks), but keeping your body more comfortable as you get used to training will get you in the gym more often than not.
The bottom line is that you’re going to sweat a lot when doing jiu jitsu — and you’ll probably get a lot of other people’s sweat on you as well. In all likelihood, you won’t want that damp smelliness transferring to your car, home, or wherever else you may be going from the gym, so it’s best to change out of your training clothes immediately after the session finishes. Many academies also have bathrooms and showers so you can freshen up even more after you’re done training. Obviously, you may want to bring a towel and whatever hygienic products you require if you’re going to be showering at your academy.
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