Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – Warm ups in a nutshell

You decide that you want to try BJJ, you show up to your first class and the first thing you’re told is “Hi, go to the ring with Craig/Brad/James and they’ll show you how to do the warm ups.” They walk you through some movements like spiderman crawls, different kinds of shrimping, and sit-throughs. It all seems pretty straightforward, and you have a good time, so you decide to come back for a second class. Class starts, everyone lines up, and soon everyone is tumbling and hopping down the length of the mats. Then it happens. They do one of the weird motions you were shown in your first class. You’re next and you get down onto the mat and your brain goes totally blank. And you’re trying to do it but it’s hard to remember and you’re really slow and you feel clumsy and oh no people are watching and you’re holding up people and can’t you just get out the way and skip this?

Stop. Breathe. Calm down.

Here’s what you need to hear about the warm-ups.
They’re weird. They’re supposed to be. I’m not going to claim to have some sort of sports science background, but I’m going to make a pretty innocent claim here: Most of us do not move in a way that’s like rolling every day. In fact, most of us probably sit for 75% of the day. BJJ and rolling are weird things to do, you’re trying to tie people into a pretzel using your body and sometimes some clothing. The warm-ups involve a lot of strange motions to try to establish some kind of baseline physical awareness. (If you can shoulder roll you can figure out a rolling back take, as an example.) They’re literally being used as a way for you to practice learning to move your body in new and fascinating ways. So if the warm-ups feel weird at first just remind yourself that’s good, that means it’s working. (Fun fact: One of the things I have noticed to be incredibly consistent is that dancers pick up the warm ups instantly. Makes total sense right? They actively practice moving their bodies in unique and unnatural ways, usually imitating something they’ve seen once.)

They can be kinda tough. Most of the “regulars” will have a light sweat at the end. Again, they’re supposed to be. Yes, BJJ is the martial art whose big claim to fame is “The little guy can beat the big guy,” but that doesn’t mean “The little guy will never have a heart rate above 60 and he won’t strain when he beats the big guy.” Just like the tumbling and shrimping and stuff is meant to feel sorta weird the warm-up is intended to be a little difficult. It establishes a baseline level of fitness for you to be able to get something out of the class and rolling other than “Oh my gosh I rolled for ten minutes and all I remember is endless bottomless exhaustion.”

Everyone there has been in your shoes before. Everyone there was a beginner at one point of another. No one is judging you. Seriously. People are more likely to help you than to be upset with you. So calm down, everyone remembers what starting was like. No one expects you to be perfect, we just want you to try.

YOU DON’T GET BETTER AT SOMETHING BY NOT DOING IT. In stark contrast to point 3, this is something I want to yell at people when I see them sitting out. If you’re self conscious about being bad at one of the warm-up things then you need to do it. Full stop. No one has ever gotten better at something by avoiding doing it, ever.

If you’re hurt and can’t do part of the warm-up then do something else. Do a line of shrimps. Do some sort of stretch. Don’t just sit and wait! You’re supposed to be warming up!

They take time to become automatic. They’re weird and hard and new at first. Do twenty classes. Make yourself do every part of the warm up in every class. I guarantee that after the twentieth class they won’t be weird or hard or new anymore. They’ll be just a thing you do, part of your routine.

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