BJJ is an intense sport that allows people to engage in simulated combat with one another. It is natural that tensions can run high in such an environment, and as such it is important to follow gym rules, AKA BJJ etiquette. Failure to do so risks alienating your training partners or perhaps getting the unwanted attention of the local mat enforcer.
This comprehensive guide breaks down all of the basics of BJJ etiquette you’ll want to keep in mind when training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Ultimately, BJJ etiquette encompasses everything from hygiene and being on time to rules for rolling, competing, and visiting other schools.
BJJ Mat Etiquette 101
Maintaining proper hygiene goes beyond merely being polite and in fact, serves an important role in keeping everyone in the gym healthy. Hygiene encompasses everything from “no shoes on the mats” to “wash your gi after every class.” As obvious as it may seem it is necessary to repeat these rules constantly.
Personal hygiene is a big deal in a sport where people get in extremely close proximity to each other. Come to class having showered, keep your finger and toenails trimmed, and do not come to class if you are sick or have skin infections. If you have time, brush your teeth before each class. If you can’t squeeze that in, at least use mouthwash or chew a stick of gum!
The attire you wear for training should be appropriate to the class (gi or no-gi) and it should follow academy guidelines. If there is a color code for the gi you wear to class, follow it. Of course, nothing but a clean gi is acceptable under any gym’s BJJ etiquette, and it is advisable that you wear a rashguard and perhaps even spats (weather permitting) underneath your gi.
Note: Your belt does not have magical anti-bacterial properties and must be washed after every class just like the rest of your gi.
Undergarments are a non-negotiable must. All kinds of jewelry should be removed prior to training, as they could potentially injure you or your training partner. If you are in a beginner’s class or a no-gi class, avoid wearing shorts or shirts with zippers or similar accessories that might interfere with training.
White belts are people too
Treat everyone with respect, regardless of what belt rank you currently hold. Even more importantly, if you have a higher rank, remember that lower belts are looking up to you, so do your best to be a positive example. You do not have to be friends with everyone, but you do need to respect everyone on the mats.
Follow the house rules
Gym rules vary from one Jiu Jitsu school to another, but they are there for a reason – to create the training environment that the instructors are after. While not every BJJ school is an ideal fit for everyone when you’ve made your choice to train at a gym, follow their gym rules and basic BJJ etiquette.
Keep the conversation on Jiu Jitsu
This is an unwritten rule that pretty much every gym agrees with. The mats are a place for training, and, while banter and general chats are normal, trying to broach subjects like politics, religion, or other sensitive issues is not a good idea. Respect the fact that people are on the mats to train and learn BJJ.
BJJ Class Etiquette
The way you act in class will directly impact how much you and fellow students are able to get out of the experience. It only takes one person to disrupt the flow of class and ruin it for everyone. BJJ etiquette during class is specific and there are certain ground rules that shouldn’t be broken.
Be on time
Regardless of class structure, coaches or instructors have a system in place geared towards providing you with the best training experience. Showing up on time is not just respectful, but essential to how efficient a class is going to be.
Don’t intentionally skip warm-ups
Even when everyone is on time, some people tend to slack on warm-ups. While this may not be the most exciting part of the class, it has an important role to play – otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing it. Doing things half-heartedly does nothing for either you or the morale in class.
Keep talking to a minimum during class
When the instructor is demonstrating, there should be nothing but silence. Every comment or joke you have can wait for the end of class. The same goes for coaching people during technique practice or drills – that is the instructor/coach’s job, not yours. Stay quiet and put the reps in.
Stick to the techniques that the coach has shown
Going off-script during technique practice is one of the BJJ etiquette violations that really hits a nerve with most instructors. Yes there are other options, and yes, there are defenses and escapes to every move, and instructors know it much better than you. There is also a reason why a specific technique is shown in a specific manner. When rolling comes, you’ll have the chance to do whatever you want.
Maintain an attentive posture when watching technique
While it is not really a big deal in most gyms, your posture during the technical demonstration can be seen as a sign of respect. While there’s no need for everyone to sit in the same position, lying on the mats as if you were on a beach is not appropriate for class. Some gyms have quite strong rules about this.
Don’t overdo questions
Instructors usually leave space for questions and answers at the end of a demonstration or the end of class. This is a great time to ask something, but keep your questions specific to the subject of class and try to remember that other people might have questions too.
Silence your cell phone
Put your cell phone on silent during class. A cell phone ringing is the equivalent of someone talking or coming into class late – it distracts everyone. Better yet, just leave your phone in your car – there is an amazing peace that comes from disconnecting from the world when you’re training!
Get permission before filming
Filming class is a great way to remember all the details covered in class, but keep in mind that not every instructor will agree to you filming them. There is a very simple solution to this though – always ask whether you can film and never just presume that it is allowed.
If your professor allows you to film, consider uploading the classes to YouTube or a shared drive for your classmates to have access to them as well. This will prevent the class from being filled with half a dozen people all filming the same technique!
BJJ Rolling Etiquette
BJJ etiquette doesn’t end when the technical part of the class is over. In fact, there are things that you should keep in mind when rolling that really do influence how positive of an experience it is for not just you and your partner, but people around you as well.
Bring your ego but keep it in check
I am not a big proponent of the philosophy that you can leave your ego at the door, but analyzing that phrase is the subject for another article. Basically, your ego plays a role every time you slap and bump, but it is your responsibility to keep it in check.
Know that other people have egos too and rolling wouldn’t be nearly as pleasant of an experience if we let them guide our actions and, more importantly, our reactions.
Be aware of your surroundings
While pairs of people will inevitably bump into each other, you have to be careful about what is going on around you. In some gyms, lower-ranked pairs are expected to make space for higher-ranked ones if they get too close.
If you and your partner have gotten too close to a group that is squeezed against a wall or corner, you should move for them.
Spatial awareness is especially important when sparring from standing. Be extremely careful when performing double-leg takedowns or any other takedown that needs lots of space to land.
Mind your grips
Unintentional accidents, of course, are not going to be held against you. However, it is a BJJ etiquette breach if you grab fewer than 3 fingers, grab the hair, or pinch intentionally. Play fair!
In no-gi this also means you should do your best to avoid grabbing your partner’s clothing. If they’re wearing gi pants it’s an easy and understandable mistake – however you should train yourself to only use no-gi grips when training sans kimono.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, doing it harder isn’t a good idea
Spazzing is another thing that is under our control, but we are not always aware of it, especially as beginners. It is not nice nor pleasant when someone is doing everything they can to try and achieve something in rolling, not taking into account what is happening around them, or what they are doing to their partner. It is BJJ, you will lose, and you will lose a lot. Get used to it and at least adhere to some basic BJJ etiquette when rollng.
Respect size, age, and gender differences
Experience matters in Jiu Jitsu, but it is equally important to remember that size, age, and gender are real factors too. A 100kg white belt is more than capable of injuring a 50kg purple belt. Don’t think that just because someone is a higher rank than you that you are entitled to go as hard as you want.
This also applies when rolling with someone much older than you. At 25 your cardio and recovery rate is much greater than at 55!
Women can be every bit as ferocious as men, but for a given weight class tend to have less muscle. Guys: Don’t be condescending, but also don’t use this as an opportunity to pretend that you’re the Hulk. Try to match your training partner’s intensity in order for both of you to get the most out of a roll.
Respect the tap
Remember that the tap is also something both partners are responsible for. While the person caught in the submission should realize when they are past a point of no return, the person doing the submission should also not act if their life depends on tapping their partner. Rolling is a tool for learning, not competition. As far as BJJ etiquette goes, this is one of the most important things to remember.
Be humble in victory
Celebrating after tapping someone is bad form. If you get the tap, smile, adjust your gi, and slap and bump again. There is no need to act as if you’ve won a UFC title belt every time you tap a training partner. In fact, you won’t be left with many training partners willing to roll if you do.
BJJ Competition Etiquette
Talking about BJJ etiquette in competition is somewhat of a tricky subject. Trash talking has made its way into grappling with the rise of professional tournaments. That, however, does not mean that opponents shouldn’t show respect towards one another while on the mats, even if they have personal disagreements off of them.
You don’t have to like everyone, but you should show people respect and professional courtesy if you will. This goes for opponents, referees, tournament staff, the opponent’s team, and corner, etc. Coming to compete does not mean you should be confronting people left and right.
Know the rules before you come to the tournament
You don’t have to know everything there is about a certain ruleset, but be familiar with the tournament rules. This extends past just what is legal and illegal and also encompasses gi requirements, weight classes, and weigh-in protocols.
Be there for your teammates
There’s no better sign of BJJ etiquette than to be there for the people that are on your team when you’re not on the mats. From cheering them on to running around providing whatever it is they need, to consoling them after a loss, you should always aim to be a good teammate.
Oftentimes people at tournaments will come up to you after a match and ask you what you did to them. Regardless if you win or lose, share what you know. Nobody is going to steal your secrets off of one demonstration and you might just gain a friend in the process.
Wear shoes off the mats
Whenever you’re off the mats, even if it is between matches, wear your shoes or flip-flops. There’s that one really huge rule of BJJ etiquette again.
Acting out can get you disqualified
There are many ways to get a DQ in a BJJ tournament but one of the worst ones is to get kicked out for celebrating inappropriately. It is alright to celebrate a win, but screaming and running around, and acting in a similar fashion might end up costing you everything you worked for.
Do not stand in the way
Tournaments, especially multi-day continental or world events are huge affairs. Make sure you are not in the way of staff, and more importantly, other competitors. There is a schedule and designated areas for warming up, waiting to be called upon, and specific routes to maneuver through to get to your mat. Try to do so in as efficient a manner as possible.
In smaller competitions you may be allowed to stand in front of the mats, but always try to make room for people coach or filming the current competitors.
BJJ Etiquette When Visiting a Gym
Finally, let’s look at how you should be conducting yourself when visiting a BJJ academy. Of course, all the BJJ etiquette points we covered about behavior during class and rolling still apply, but there are a few more things to consider when you’re a guest.
First of all, do not be on time, but rather, come early. This is a new gym and you will need to familiarize yourself with it, and the rules and customs they have. Moreover, it is a good option to meet up with the instructor and/or some of the students and get to know them a bit.
Do your research on the gym you are visiting beforehand
Imagine if you pop up to a 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu gym in a gi. Make sure you know the basics about the school you are visiting and also be aware if it is a no-gi class, gi class, wrestling class, or an open mat.
It is generally a good idea to contact the gym before arriving. If you need to rent a gi this applies even moreso! Also, you’ll find out if classes have been rescheduled or cancelled, potentially saving yourself wasted time!
Ask to pay for the class at the end, even if you are not asked to
Some gyms have drop-in fees, but most will offer a free class or two for visitors. Still, it is respectful to ask if there is a fee to pay
Mind your rolling etiquette
All the regular BJJ etiquette of rolling applies here, perhaps even more-so than normal. Expect that as a visitor, people will probably go a bit harder on you than they would normally. Resist the temptation to respond in kind – otherwise you risk every roll looking like a finals match at Mundials.
You should just roll, not trying to murder everyone in the gym or prove a point. Stick to the ground rules of rolling and enjoy your time on the mats.
Don’t teach unless specifically asked to
Most people do not enjoy their partners teaching as they roll or do techniques anyway. If you are not specifically asked to teach a class when visiting, then remember that you are just a student, and shouldn’t be giving advice.
BJJ etiquette extends past just saying “oss” and bowing to people. In fact, those two are not very high on the list of important things to consider when you step on the mats. How you conduct yourself in every part of training, in competitions and when visiting gyms all come together to form an overall impression of you as a grappler. Try and make it a positive one!
Ogi is a brown belt and very passionate about Jiu Jitsu.
He is also the head coach of Carlos Maia BJJ Macedonia and Globetrotter.