Over my years of training, I’ve seen a LOT of trends come and go with BJJ protective gear. I’ve found that like most things, there aren’t many hard and fast rules. Most choices are more personal preference than necessity.
The most important ‘safety measure’ is usually the most overlooked. The number one thing you can wear to make sure that both you and your jiu jitsu training partners stay as safe as possible is a gi that is free of rips, tears, and holes. If a gi has holes or tears, fingers and toes can get caught inside the material and lead to dislocations and small joint injuries. Back when I wasn’t able to replace my gis as often as I do now, I used to throw a new patch on any spot that started ripping. There are International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) rules for patch placements, but if it’s just a gi for training at home, it’s more important that it’s not going to catch on anything than having the patches in the proper places.
Likewise, all patches should be sewn on securely and double stitched. If one of your patches starts to fall off, sew it back on or rip it off. The in between could catch on something leading to twists, cuts, or similar small joint injuries to the ones I mentioned with ripped gis.
When you’re training no-gi jiu jitsu, keep these same guidelines in mind. It’s not mandatory that you wear a rashguard and spats. A t-shirt and gym shorts or even gi pants all work. As long as there are no rips, tears, loops, or anything that can trap a finger or toe, it’s going to be safe for you to train. In time, you’ll start to develop your own preferences for what you like to wear. But as long as it’s safe for both you and your training partners, I consider it acceptable training gear.
Moving away from the absolute necessities, the piece of safety gear that I really highly recommend is a mouthguard. It’s not technically mandatory, but honestly, I see no reason not to use one. I personally wear one every single time I roll. I started out using the ‘boil and bite’ mouthguards that you can get from the sporting goods stores. When my wife and I got together, I started wearing a custom mouthguard. My father in law is a dentist so he took impressions of my jaw and to this day, he makes all of my mouthguards.
The difference between boil and bite mouthguards and custom mouthguards is night and day. Boil and bites can be a little tough to roll with, I think that’s why a lot of people quit wearing them. Boil and bites are designed to be used with ANY sport. They are pushed up on the upper teeth and when you hold your mouth closed they will naturally stay in place. Unfortunately, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you’re on your back, upside down, moving quickly from one position to another and you might have your mouth open, they tend to move around. You’re not in the same positions in jiu jitsu as you are in other sports. So, the boil and bites tend to get jostled around and can feel like you’re going to swallow them or you have to concentrate too hard to keep biting them to keep them in place. It’s distracting, so jiu jitsu players tend to spit them out.
Custom mouthguards or mouthguards that stay in place that don’t require you to bite down and hold them in are great for jiu jitsu. I highly recommend them because even though our sport doesn’t have striking, bumps can happen by accident. Basic mouthguards can help protect you against a lot of the minor dental injuries that happen from those occasional bumps.
After mouthguards, the next most common piece of safety or protective gear that jiu jitsu players tend to wear is wrestling headgear to protect against cauliflower ear. I used to wear headgear from about 6 months into my training through my years at blue belt. I started wearing it initially because I had a couple of spots of cauliflower ear developing. Not everyone is susceptible to cauliflower ear, that bloated & puffy looking ear that is a characteristic of wrestlers, but I am. I’ve never liked the look of it, and I didn’t want to deal with any hearing issues that can come from it.
One strange part of jiu jitsu culture is that cauliflower ear can be a badge of honor in BJJ, wrestling, and grappling. While I never ‘wanted it,’ when I was in my early 20’s, I didn’t really care too much about preventing it either. For that reason, during that time, I was hit or miss about wearing my headgear. When I was about a year into my blue belt, on a day I had skipped wearing it, I had a pretty bad ear injury that required stitches. It was a weird accident where someone’s ankle bone pulled my ear forward & disconnect it. I needed stitches behind my ear to reattach the cartilage. After that, I wore headgear every day to keep that protected.
After I got my purple belt, I stopped wearing my headgear and I haven’t had any more problems. I was at a point in my game where my ear didn’t get aggravated in the same way that it used to. I’ve talked with a few of my other friends who are black belt academy owners and we all agree that around purple or brown belt, if you haven’t gotten cauliflower ear, you’re probably in the clear. By that time, you tend to not have your head wrapped as much as you did at the beginning. When you aren’t constantly defending and you get to play your offensive style, that’s usually a sign that you might be in the clear. Hard takedowns or a lot of pressure on your head can also cause ear injuries. Most people in jiu jitsu don’t wear it unless it’s absolutely necessary because it can be hot or a little uncomfortable, but headgear is an simple and effective way to avoid these types of minor ear injuries.
The only other piece of protective gear that I’ve ever worn is knee braces. In Ann Arbor, we are fortunate to be located across the street from the world headquarters of a wrestling gear company. They make great compression wraps that have no metal pieces but still provide good support against lateral joint movement. I had a minor issue with bursitis in my knee a few years ago. When that happened, I wore braces on both knees for about a year.
People come to jiu jitsu with a lot of previous injuries from other sports and activities. The best part about Brazilian jujitsu is that we can develop any game to suit your strengths and diminish your physical weaknesses or prior injuries. But, even when we develop a game that minimizes those issues, many people feel more comfortable wearing basic compression wraps on those joints that are a little weaker than the others. Again, as long as there is no metal in the brace that can hurt yourself, your training partners, or rip the mats, you’re free to wear any brace that makes you feel more comfortable and protected.
Speaking of protection, I haven’t mentioned the use of cups. A lot of people assume that all male jiu jitsu players wear them based on the nature of our sport. Despite the physical contact that we have when we roll, cups are actually highly discouraged in the academy and they are not allowed at all in tournaments. As I said before, for the safety of your training partners, any brace has to be soft sided and not have any hard pieces. The entire cup is made out of hard plastic. They were outlawed in competition because people were taking top positions on their partners and pressuring the cups into people causing injury, even breaking noses.
If you watch competitors get ready for tournaments or even get ready to roll in the academy, you’ll see a lot of people taping their fingers, toes, wrists, ankles, etc. Some people go through a TON of athletic tape to wrap up just about everything. I know a lot of people who swear by this taping method to protect against small joint injuries. I don’t personally do it, but there is nothing wrong with the practice and it can’t hurt anyone else, therefore it’s fair game.
I hate to use this cliche’ but the best protection is prevention. If you find that your fingers are getting hurt, that’s a sign that you’re relying too much on your grips. Don’t overcommit at the expense of your fingers. You can always let go and grip again.
If you find that you or YOUR training partners are constantly getting bumped and bruised and no one else is having that problem, slow down. Focus on rolling smoother with more fluidity.
If your jaw is getting hurt because you’re tucking your chin to defend when someone is applying a choke, that’s YOU putting yourself in a bad position. At that point, you are too late, you lost, and you need to tap to protect your jaw and to tell your partner that they completed the technique. THAT’S ALL A TAP REALLY IS, a signal that the move is completed correctly.
If you’re rolling with me, I would personally never pressure your jaw for a tap, but, it is not your training partner’s responsibility to make sure that you’re comfortable during the choke and in a tournament, your opponent will pressure down on it all day long if you’re applying this ‘bandaid defense’ of a choke. Like we always say, at that point, you didn’t lose because of the tap. You lost because you allowed yourself to get into a bad position probably 2 minutes before the submission happened. If you’re finding that submissions are hurting or uncomfortable, there is a simple fix, tap sooner. Don’t let your ego cause physical pain or injury.
If you have any questions about any of the protective gear that I mentioned in this post, please contact us at URSA Academy. We would be happy to help point you in the right direction & hook you up with the appropriate gear that will allow you to practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as safely as possible for many years to come.
With summer approaching, it’s important to have a 'refresher' on proper gi cleaning and the procedures we have in place to maintain high standards of cleanliness at the Academy. The truth is, this is important all year round, but for some reason, this issue always comes up more in the summer.
First, to answer the question directly, you should be washing your gi every time you wear it. Its also important to wash your gi immediately after training. I remember a student years ago who complained that he could never get his gi smelling fresh even though he washed it before every class. I thought "before every class" sounded strange, so I asked him to go through his exact steps after each class and describe how he washed his uniform. He told me that he changed back into his street clothes after training, threw his gi in his trunk, then on the day of his next class, he would take out his gi and wash it. He thought that washing it closer to class time would make it smell more like detergent, but he didn't realize that letting the gi sit wet in his hot trunk for two days was the exact opposite way to make his gi smell better.
Our coaches at URSA Academy go through proper cleaning methods with every new client, but I wanted to go through them again just so everyone knows exactly how and why we do what we do. First, even before you put on your gi, it's important that YOU are clean. If you come from work at your office job, there is most likely no need for you to shower before training. However, if you're working outside in a labor job, you're visibly dirty, or you go to the gym or for a run before training, please be courteous to your training partners and shower before class.
When you arrive at the academy, please change from your street shoes into your academy sandals or flip flops. The only place we allow bare feet is on the mat. Shoe racks are available next to each mat. Please wear your academy sandals every time you step off the mat to make sure that the mats stay as clean as possible.
We clean and disinfect the mats every day, sometimes more than once depending on the classes that happen during the day. We do our part to keep them clean. We appreciate that everyone does their best to keep the dirt, rocks, and bacteria from the outside world off the mats to make for a cleaner and safe training space.
Under the gi, I personally like to wear a rashguard and spats to create an additional barrier between myself and the gi. I've found that it keeps my gis smelling better and helps them to last longer. I highly recommend that all students wear some sort of compression clothing under their gi to absorb sweat and add that additional layer between your skin and your partner. Although we all know that jiu jitsu is a close contact sport, your partners also appreciate that extra layer of sweat absorption when you're rolling.
During class, if you're a person who sweats a lot, feel free to bring a small training towel to wipe your hands, head, & neck between training partners or whenever it’s needed. This will help you to keep the grips & have a little more control.
After class, I recommend washing your gi as quickly as possible. I personally have a washer and dryer at the academy. But, before that, I used to walk in my house carrying my gi and put it immediately in the washer without ever setting it down. Carry your gi home in a bag that you can throw in the washer as well. If you're washing the gi every day but you throw it in a gross bag before and after class, you're taking one step forward and two steps back. So stay consistent and clean it all.
This brings us to the 'big controversy' about whether or not to wash your belt. Basic cleanliness standards say, wash your belt. Because even though it’s not directly touching your skin, its absorbing sweat from the gi and growing its own farm of bacteria and funk. Traditional martial arts culture says that you should never wash your belt because it will 'wash away the experience.' (The tradition is a little more complicated than that,) but it’s a strong enough belief and superstition in our sport that most people do not wash their belts after every class. The truth is, that you should. We all should. But I would be lying if I said that I did. I do however air out my belts. I have multiple belts that I wear on rotation. After every class and let my belt dry completely before storing it. When the weather is warm, I leave my belt outside to sit in the sun which kills a lot of the germs, up to 99% depending on the source of the research. I wash my belt occasionally, when my wife throws it in the washer, after a particularly tough training session, or whenever I feel like it's needed.
Lastly, the question I hear all the time is HOW should I wash my stuff so I get everything clean but I don't shrink it to doll clothes. In my experience with gis, I think they all shrink. Some brands keep shrinking for life, others stop shrinking eventually. Sometimes I notice that blue or black gis shrink a little less, but the color can fade. Ultimately washing your gi can feel like a bit of a minefield.
Personally, after the first few washes in cold water, I wash everything on warm and I dry them on low heat in about 20 minute intervals until they are about 90% dry. I like to check them every 20 minutes or so, so that I don't have any surprises. You don't want to over-dry them or overheat them. After trying everything, simply washing and drying immediately after training is the best way to get them clean. I'm not afraid of gis shrinking a little bit in exchange for making sure my stuff gets clean. Cold water sets the color and holds the sizes a little better, but my gis smelled after a while. For me, the cold water just didn't clean my gi as well as I wanted. So, I think the reward of a clean, good smelling gi, outweighs the risk of a little shrinking and fading.
A lot of people use special detergent, borax, scented drop in crystals, white vinegar, and just about any kind of laundry booster you can think of. After years of trying everything, I finally landed on using just regular laundry detergent. It works fine. When I first get a new blue or black gi, I add white vinegar to the first few cold water washes just to set the color, then I switch to warm water. But for me, I've found that the key to gi longevity is just having multiple gis and rotating them out. If you have one gi, it’s going to need to be replaced faster if you wash and wear it every day. Either it will smell over time, even with proper washing, or it will start to fall apart because of the washing.
If you've committed to training jiu jitsu a lot, it’s important to have multiple gis. If you are training in more than one class per day, bring multiple gis to the academy. I teach more than one class per day and I typically wear 2-3 different gis per day depending on the intensity of the class. Again, it’s all about making sure that I'm keeping the mats as clean as possible and being courteous to my students and training partners.
A little bit of effort goes a long way to make sure that the academy stays as clean as possible and we limit the possible exposure to standard contact skin issues. This is an issue that we take very seriously at URSA Academy. If you have any questions about our standards for cleanliness or the cleaning and disinfecting procedures that both our staff and our professional cleaning crew follow, please contact any member of the URSA Team.
As a brand new beginner watching your first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, it's easy to look at a room full of students and feel like you've got some conditioning work to do before you step on the mats. It's important to know that when you see the students in any given class, you're watching people who are 90 days in, 7 months in, 4 years, even 8 years deep into their jiu jitsu journey. What you're not seeing, is what they looked like on their first day. The truth is that they probably looked a lot like you.
People find jiu jitsu for a lot of reasons: self defense, competition, team camaraderie, the desire to find a healthy hobby, and the love of the art itself. But the number one reason that most people begin Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is to get in shape. Many students are trying to lose weight, some are trying to build muscle. But overall, even those who are actively working out in a gym are looking to improve their level of physical fitness.
I took my first Brazilian Jujitsu class in 2001. The desire to become a black belt academy owner someday was not what made me step on the mat the first time. I started because I was a golfer, and it was getting too cold to play. I also wanted to lose some weight. In the first four to six months of my training, I lost around 35 pounds. My desire to want to fuel my training and better at the sport led me to finally change my diet. (I always tell my students, you'll only ever eat Taco Bell before training one time.)
Between the consistent training and the diet changes, I started seeing results that I hadn't been able to achieve running and going to the gym on my own. That's the truth. If going to the gym on your own, running, and holding yourself accountable to getting in shape were easy, we would all be in perfect shape. But the truth is, that doing it on your own is hard. It doesn't work for everyone and most of us need some help.
When I first started URSA Academy, we only had one level of class, our brand new beginners were in classes with the advanced guys. We only had one level. It was tough, because that tough old school method of training was all I knew. What I started to realize was that there were a lot of people who would really benefit from training and truly NEEDED jiu jitsu, but the initial conditioning was scaring them away or making them quit. I honestly believe that jiu jitsu is for everyone. And I quickly realized that if I wanted to make jujitsu accessible to anyone, I needed to create a system that addressed the conditioning component that was holding so many people back.
At URSA Academy, we have two levels of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes. Both of them teach real BJJ techniques, they just approach things from a different angle. In our first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, we focus on flow drilling, positional grappling, movement, survival, self-defense, and conditioning through BJJ specific training. All of our new students begin in this program to understand the 'Pillars of Jiu Jitsu,' the techniques & the mentality that will be the support for your game from white to black belt.
We also drill in short, intense rounds, never more than 3 minutes at a time. Across the world, the majority of BJJ students are men, although at URSA Academy, we have a statistically larger amount of women training than most academies. But this format of small bursts of intense activity works very well for men. (Women naturally better than men at endurance training, but interval training works well for everyone.) Playing into the natural strengths of our students helps them to increase their conditioning in a way that's challenging & empowering, but it's not going to crush people.
In order to introduce as many people as possible to the sport, help them experience the benefits of jiu jitsu, and set them up for a long successful jiu jitsu journey, BJJ Professors need to build people up, not weed them out in the 'old school way.' Conditioning is the first step of that building process and it's the responsibility of any jiu jitsu professor who truly cares about the long term success of his or her students.
So, no matter what shape you're in right now, whether you're working out in the gym once a week, once a month, or you haven't been off the couch in ten years, we've got a spot for you on the mat and we'll give you all the tools you need to succeed.