GB Student Question: “Do I need to get into shape before starting Bjj?”

A future GB student asks about preparing themselves to start doing the Fundamentals classes at Gracie Barra: “I really want to start BJJ but should I get myself into shape first?”
This is a thought shared by many apprehensive jiu-jitsu students. And we see this almost as often with lapsed students who have gotten out of training for one reason or another, saying “I want to spend a month working back into shape before I get back into class.” Unspoken, but most often there is the fear that they will get “rolled up” by former training partners that they used to dominate. This can be a significant ego deterrent to resuming training after a break.
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The short answer is that while being physically fit is an asset in practicing jiu-jitsu, the best way to get fit for jiu-jitsu is…well…doing jiu-jitsu itself!
There are a few reasons why this is so true in the case of BJJ.
1- The idea of specificity of training. The best way to develop the specific physical attributes for any particular sport is to train the sport more. Jiu-jitsu requires a certain type of strength – different from that of a gym rat with impressive beach muscles. A competitive 10km runner may have an impressive degree of cardiovascular endurance, but would quickly tire in a roll. Simply the best way to condition your body for jiu-jitsu is just doing jiu-jitsu!
2- Fatigue largely depends on our ability to relax and breathe while moving dynamically. We see athletes from other sports try rolling in BJJ class and see them straining every muscle fiber in their bodies and holding their breath while exerting force inefficiently. No wonder they quickly gas out. A large part of having a “gas tank” in Bjj comes from feeling familiar performing certain movements like bridging or escaping our hips efficiently. We start to relax the muscles that we were unnecessarily tensing and move with much greater ease. This comes from repeating those jiu-jitsu specific movements in class.
3- Timing. This is the first thing to go when we cease training for a period. We forget. We react too slowly to our opponent’s moves and mess up the timing of our own movements. The result is that we quickly get behind in the match, are battling from inferior positions, and having to expend excessive effort to try to escape while our opponent relaxes, allows us to carry their body weight and rapid fatigue.
The only way to sharpen your timing is to get on the mat and roll.
Master Carlos Gracie Jr has a few thoughts for older GB students who want to get back into training at the GB School. Perhaps an adjustment in our expectations is in order.
Most people who were kings want to be kings forever. But my friends, keep in mind that each one of us has our own era. People get older and have to work around new possibilities.
“When we look at jiu-jitsu in the long term, we must take care of our physical body and adapt our mental approach to where we find ourselves in our physical capacity.”
See also on GB Blog: GB Women: Prof. Jo Thomson on Dealing with Challenges
Writer: Mark Mullen, Gracie Barra Black Belt