BJJ for Beginners – Essential Etiquette

It can be confusing – BJJ for beginners, that is. There are quite a few unspoken rules that it’s so easy to commit a faux pas. TFC is the leading BJJ Brisbane training centre with a positive community. Still, it doesn’t hurt to know – which parts of BJJ etiquette are essential?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is fast becoming one of the most popular forms of martial arts in the world. The first ever UFC event made its effectiveness unquestionably clear. Royce Gracie (pronounced Hoyce) went on to win the event back in 1993 using his advanced BJJ techniques.

Fast-forward 27 years. BJJ was once was a relatively unheard of martial art. Nowadays, it has found its way into the repertoire of almost every mixed martial artist. Athletes use BJJ to initiate an attack as well as defend them. There is no surprise when it comes to ground fighting. Finding yourself entangled with an experienced BJJ artist draws comparisons to swimming with sharks. At TFC, we are the leading BJJ Brisbane training centre, helping locals learn the game many call ‘human chess’.

There’s no doubt that BJJ is an effective and potentially destructive art form. However it is has one of the warmest training atmospheres. Strangers become training partners, training partners become friends. There is an inherit culture of respect within the BJJ community.

Let’s explore the world of BJJ etiquette together.

  • 1 The bow

    Bowing as a show of respect makes it obvious that the origins of BJJ come from Japan. You could be greeting your sensei, before getting on the mat. Or you might bow just after getting off of it. Bowing is necessary in BJJ. Your trainer is teaching you techniques that will improve your life and may save your life one day. The training area is the testing ground where you sharpen your mind and skills. It is part of the BJJ culture to give both aspects the respect they deserve.  We expect everyone on the mats to show the same respect.

    It doesn’t matter if you train in the heart of Rio or at our BJJ Brisbane training centre. Showing respect will have you met with welcoming arms.

  • 2 Your shoes dont belong on the mat

    The training area is a sanctuary for a BJJ practitioner. For many, it is their only opportunity throughout their day to disconnect from the world outside. Some students at our BJJ Brisbane training centre say that it is their opportunity to feel genuinely at peace in their day. It holds symbolic value, one is to leave their shoes and with them, their problems.

    It is also a place where people make contact with the ground with the entirety of their body on a regular basis. Therefore, ensuring that the mats stay as clean as possible is essential to avoid anything unfriendly getting into our system.

    It is worth noting that some aspects of BJJ etiquette hold more importance than others. Shoes on the mat is a big no-no in the BJJ world.

  • 3 Belts matter

    The colour of one’s belt and the amount of stripes they have shows a student’s dedication. It signifies the time and energy invested into learning the art form. BJJ belts are well respected in the martial arts world. Everyone is expected to be respectful to each other, regardless of rank. However, even more care is to be taken when interacting with a higher belt.

    For those that need a more ‘’solid’’ reason, your progress in the discipline can be fast-tracked significantly. If the higher belts take a liking to you (through you being respectful), they could provide you with invaluable tips.

  • 4 Personal hygiene

    The colour of one’s belt and the amount of stripes they have shows a student’s dedication. It signifies the time and energy invested into learning the art form. BJJ belts are well respected in the martial arts world. Everyone is expected to be respectful to each other, regardless of rank. However, even more care is to be taken when interacting with a higher belt.

    For those that need a more ‘’solid’’ reason, your progress in the discipline can be fast-tracked significantly. If the higher belts take a liking to you (through you being respectful), they could provide you with invaluable tips.

  • 5 Tap means tap

    Tapping from a submission isn’t something that goes away as you progress through the ranks. It just occurs less regarding certain positions you found yourself in before that you’ve learned to avoid. White belts tap, black belts tap, we all tap. There is no shame in tapping, it is an essential part of the learning process. There is an unspoken rule of trust around tapping. Don’t be the training partner that holds onto a submission after a tap. You don’t want that reputation associated with you.

    Although BJJ is enjoyable, it is not to be taken lightly. The techniques taught can cause lasting damage, in some cases irreversible. It is your duty that when your opponent taps, you free them as quickly as you possibly can. There are times when your opponent or you are in a position makes it impossible to tap with your hands. In this case, you can either use your feet or simply say ‘tap’.

  • 6 Hold it protect it

    Regular drinks breaks are a common occurrence at our BJJ Brisbane training centre and most BJJ places around the world. It allows you to get your breath back and load up on some of that sweet H2O. If you feel like you need the restroom mid-drill, try and hold it until the upcoming break (obviously there are circumstances that require.. immediate attention). Leaving and returning to the mat can cause a distraction which interferes with the flow of the session. This fundamentally has a negative impact on all those involved. Save your business for when the next break rolls around (if you can help it).

    Buy a pair of flip flops that you use when going to the restroom while in the training centre. It is bad practice to go to and from the toilet without protecting your feet. If unprotected, your feet will act like a sponge, soaking up all sorts of stuff along the way. Transferring this onto the mat where people are training is unsurprisingly very unwelcome. It is up to you to be vigilant about your health and your training partners. Do not assume that because your training centre is cleaned daily that you are able to roam with reckless abandon.

  • 8 Pulling on fingers

    Unlike Muay Thai or Boxing, there is significantly less chance of somebody striking you in the face. However, BJJ brings with it potential risks to your body and the those of your training partners. Maintaining a level of lucidity no matter what position you find yourself in is important for your safety as well as your partners. Under no circumstances should you be pulling on individual fingers of your training partner. Due to the fragile nature of fingers, they are easy to sprain and break. This is why even in competition it is illegal to pull on individual fingers.

  • 9 No bragging

    Regardless of your rank it is important to remember that the mats are a sanctuary. You should show respect at all times. Whether in victory or defeat, it is part of BJJ etiquette to remain humble. Of course, you can be excited that you were able to pull off a submission. Especially in a closely fought sparring session. However, the way that you express this speaks volumes regarding who you are. It also shows how much you respect those that you train with. Remember your progression is reliant on your partners just as much as it is on yourself, stay grounded and train hard.

  • 10 Lead by example

    Once you begin rising through the ranks, you’ll inevitably become someone the lower levels begin looking up to. Just like previously mentioned, remaining humble plays a central role in BJJ. In one form or another, you serve as a role model for those newer to the art to emulate. How you carry yourself doesn’t just affect you but those around you. Generally speaking, we don’t need to remind higher belts about most aspects of BJJ etiquette. These behaviours become engrained after a while. However, they can forget one aspect from time to time. Due to laziness (or entitlement) is respect for every aspect of the training session. This includes warming up and doing technique drills. You’re never too good to not have to do these. Jump into each aspect with as much enthusiasm as you can, no matter your level.

  • 11 No talking while techniques are being shown

    The concept is pretty simple. If your instructor is teaching, you listen. You don’t need to speak while you listen unless of course, your instructor speaks to you directly. Don’t mistake this as an ego or control thing. Not only is it respectful but it will also allow you to absorb as much information as possible during the demonstration. Unless you’re having a private lesson, you’ll need to be diligent. You won’t get to see your instructor showing a particular technique multiple times until you completely get it. Therefore, focus all your attention and make the most out seeing it done ‘properly’ while your instructor demonstrates the technique. If you have a question, raise your hand and wait for the instructor to address you. Once your trainer sends you back to drilling with your partner, you’re welcome to talk again.

  • 12 Stay home if you’re sick

    Don’t follow the saying ‘just sweat it out’ when thinking of training BJJ with partners. No one wants to get ill because you are ill, do the right thing and stay home. This doesn’t mean you can’t improve your BJJ while ill. Feel free to do drills at home and watch instructional videos. Coming into the gym and spreading your sickness with the rest of your training partners is not okay. This kind of inconsiderate behaviour will soon see you asked to leave permanently. Think about the way you pay particular attention to the health of others while sparring. This is the same care you should take when you are unwell.

  • 13 Show up on time

    Punctuality is a sign of respect. Although you may feel being a few minutes late is okay, that is far from the case. Of course, you will be unable to avoid the situation from time to time. However, don’t make coming to class late a habit. It is ideal to make it to your class at least 10 minutes prior to the class starting. This will allow you time to change into your training gear and perform some basic stretches before you start class. Many practitioners also find this the ideal time to start building bonds with their fellow training partners.


    If you turn up late, make sure to make eye contact with the instructor and bow to them upon arrival. Once they have signalled that it is okay to join the training, do so with as little disturbance to the training session as possible.

  • 14 Foul language

    You best off leaving any undesirable language out of the gym, let alone the mats. As previously mentioned within the series, the mats are a sanctuary for many of the practitioners. For this reason, foul language isn’t always welcome in such an environment. If you hear others using such language don’t see it as a green light for you to do the same. If they don’t already know that it isn’t okay they will soon find out.


    Regardless of the context, there is no time where using profanity is acceptable in and around where you train. Do your best to not to allow this to happen. Once you’re out of the gym, you’re more than welcome to do as you please.

  • 15 Gas tapping

    This is almost exclusively something that a beginner BJJ practitioner needs to be weary of. What does it entail? Going all out when a spar begins and then ending up tapping when you fall into a vulnerable position. In most cases, there is no shame in tapping. However, ‘gas tapping’ is frowned upon and you should avoid it at all costs. It is better to spar in a controlled and calm manner using technique. The opposite of this is to go all out and tap when your plan didn’t work. At the very least ride it out and learn from your mistake.

  • 16 Trim Nails

    Combat sports are dangerous enough without the worry of cuts from long nails. Whether it is your finger nails or your toe nails, keep them short. There are so many situations where sharp nails can cut through the skin of your training partner. These incidents don’t just causing a laceration but also the chance for an infection to take root. Before coming to a BJJ session, ensure that you hygiene is in check. You don’t just represent yourself when you come to training but also represent the gym. If people aren’t coming to your gym without their nails cut neither should you be.

  • 17 Natural weight during drills

    You want to give your opponent an accurate simulation of what a particular technique will feel like. For this to happen, ensure that you allow for your body to move naturally. Do not super loose like a wet noodle. It doesn’t help you or your partner (even though it may seem like it does). Additionally, do not be rigid like an ironing board. Again this is a problem because it’s not a realistic simulation of how a body will react to the technique. Allow your body to flow freely and naturally somewhere in between the two spots mentioned before.

  • 18 Do not try coaching upper belts

    There’s no need to offer your advice when it comes to BJJ to a belt that is higher than yours. You may be able to point out something that is glaringly obvious, but it isn’t your place to do so. Wait for a person of the same belt or higher to provide such advice. When you watch higher level belts rolling, take this as an opportunity to learn rather than critique. You can learn lots of new things when you watch higher level belts roll. You will find your own game improving significantly simply by watching. Especially once you start learning from their successes and failures as well as your own.

  • 19 - Be aware of surroundings

    When sparring is taking place there will be many pairs sparring at the same time usually. It is important for you to remember to be cautious about where you and your partner are located so that you do not bump into other partners. This is especially the case if the pair you bump into are of higher belts that you and your partner. The space on the mat when sparring is given priority to higher belts, ensure that you are providing adequate space for them to spar while rolling with your partner.

  • 20 BONUS 1

    Check our article on starting out in martial arts here!

  • 21 BONUS 2

    Check out this hilarious comic on the ‘commandments’ of BJJ. You can find it here!