Here is the list of 21 things I wish I had known when I started to train in martial arts.
Some of these tips are no-brainers, while others might be life-saving to someone, who has no previous knowledge about martial arts. However, if you remember at least some of these tips before signing up for a martial arts gym, your life can be much easier.
But how to actually survive the first year of martial arts training? Let’s get started with the first tip!
1. Everyone has been a beginner once
Keeping in mind that people don’t expect you to know really anything, as you first join a martial arts gym can help you to keep your head cool.
Nobody was born a professional martial artist. It takes time and dedication to learn, and the people in the gym know that.
Don’t be afraid of your first year of training. It is really the safest phase of training since nobody expects you to know anything. They know it’s hard work to learn so don’t be embarrassed if you have to ask twice about some technique.
2. Take care of your hygiene
Make sure your hygiene is on point from day one. The last thing you want to become is “that guy” who doesn’t take care of their hygiene and who nobody wants to spar with.
Taking care of your hygiene means showering at least once a day and taking care of your dental hygiene as well.
Some martial arts can be really close combat, so people will notice your bad breath.
3. Cut your nails before the training
Cut your nails short before training. This will not only save your sparring partners the pain of getting scratched by you but also prevent your nails from cracking while training.
This tip doesn’t really need any more explanation. Just cut your nails short, it will make your life a lot easier.
4. Switch partners while sparring
As you get to training, typically you will train with other people as well. Switching training partners should be encouraged by your instructors, but if they don’t, try to switch partners anyways.
It gives you a different perspective while training. In reality, if you compete in martial art, you will be matched against different opponents.
You will learn to use the techniques against opponents of different sizes and different skillsets. Swapping partners while training and sparring is a huge benefit as you progress.
5. Wash your training clothes always after training
Always attend the class in clean clothes with good hygiene.
It’s best to wash the clothes always right after training, so you won’t forget. The last thing you want is to wear the same clothes, that have been in your gym bag since the last session, getting some good aroma.
Make it a habit to wash those clothes right after the training session, so you can attend the next class with peace of mind.
Alternatively, you can have multiple sets of training clothes, if you train a lot and those clothes are not dry yet.
6. You don’t need to have equipment for your first class
When you first attend a gym, you typically don’t need any equipment. The first time is like an introduction visit, where you will just see how things are done and whether that is the right gym and martial art for you.
More about choosing the right martial arts gym in this post.
7. The first class is often free of charge and commitment
The first class should also be free of charge and commitment. You should not sign up for a year’s worth of training before you have even seen the gym.
All the gyms and martial arts I have practiced have had one to three classes free of charge and commitment to determine, whether the gym and martial art is right for me.
If you encounter a gym that does not offer a free introduction lesson, that would be a huge red flag at least for me.
8. Get a deformable mouthguard
No matter what martial art, a mouthguard is often recommended. It’s much better to pay 20 dollars for a proper mouthguard than pay 20 000 for a new set of teeth.
Getting a deformable one that will mold around your teeth and fit perfectly will make training a lot more pleasant, compared to a non-formable mouthguard.
As mentioned above, you probably won’t need this for your first class. But from that onward, if martial art requires one it’s good to have.
9. Arrive early for your first class
When you arrive early for your first class, you will have more time to check out the gym and introduce yourself.
It’s much easier to introduce yourself in your first class, rather than a year later as you have already seen everyone for a year.
Arriving early also comes with the benefit that you have time to find the gym. If you get lost, you still have some spare time to try to find the gym.
Don’t be that guy who arrives ten minutes late for the first class. That’s not really good first impression.
10. Compare different gyms if you have options
If your city has multiple gyms that you can choose from, do some research when choosing the one for you.
In this post, I have a step-by-step guide on how to choose the best martial arts gym for you.
You don’t have to pick the first one you attend. Go see what is available. Since the first class is typically free, there is no problem seeing the other options as well.
11. If you don’t understand, ask
As mentioned in the first tip, you don’t have to know anything when you first join the gym. Ask questions if you don’t understand something.
As a beginner, you are not expected to know everything. The instructors are there to inform you if you have questions and to teach you. You will do yourself and them a favor by asking, instead of doing something wrong for your whole martial arts career.
You could make your life a bit easier by trying to learn the basics of martial arts at home before joining the gym. This is highly optional but can make joining the gym a bit easier for you.
Here is a guide on how to train martial arts at home, to help you get started.
12. Training once a week is better than not training at all
I am here to tell you: You don’t have to train 3 to 5 times a week to progress.
Training martial arts once a week is a lot better than not training at all.
Have you ever met anyone who trained for 10 years once a week, who didn’t learn anything? I have not. You can get started by practicing just once a week.
13. Take things slowly in the class
When practicing, especially in the first year, it’s important to take things slow and do them correctly.
The point of practicing in the class is to learn and master the technique, not to make your opponent tap out.
By taking things slow, you can make sure you do the technique correctly, as well to prevent injuries. It’s much more unlikely to get your joints misplaced if you take things slow.
Leave the full speed and full strength sparring to competitions if you wish to attend those.
14. Set realistic goals
Achieving a black belt in some martial art takes a lot of time and effort. If it typically takes 10 years to get a black belt, if that’s what you aim for, set the realistic goal of 10 years.
Some people can achieve black belts in less time, for some, it takes longer.
Set realistic goals and stick to the training and achieve those. By setting unrealistic goals you might quickly run out of motivation to practice if you don’t achieve those unrealistic goals.
For example, here is a post about how long it takes to get a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
15. Leave your ego off the gym
This should come without saying, and your instructors should tell you this as well.
Leave your ego off the gym, off the mat makes practicing much more pleasant for everybody.
Don’t be a douche at the gym, who tries to make everybody tap out by using all the strength and speed while sparring.
There is nothing shameful to tapping out, don’t be the guy who refuses to tap out because their ego would take a hit. Martial arts gyms are not for ego building.
16. It takes time, effort, and dedication to progress
As mentioned before, it takes a long time to achieve a black belt in martial arts that use a belt system.
It also takes time to progress at all. Don’t expect to be a master of martial art after attending two classes. It takes a long time to progress, but every class will get you closer to your goals.
17. Martial arts have numerous benefits
This is more like a reminder than a tip, but I thought it would be good to include anyway.
No matter what is your reason for wanting to start martial arts, there are numerous benefits to training them.
Not only will they help you to defend yourself, but they can also help you to stay in shape. More about all the benefits of training martial arts in this post.
18. New martial artists are the most dangerous in the class
The newcomers at the gym are typically the most dangerous to spar with. They don’t yet know the damage the techniques could do to their opponents.
They could also use too much force and speed that makes them and their opponents more vulnerable to injuries.
Make sure you take things slow as your first start practicing martial arts to avoid any unnecessary injuries.
19. Tap out rather too early than too late
Tapping out is a common thing when practicing martial arts. It’s nothing to be shameful of, it’s part of the game.
You should not try to always win a sparring match while practicing martial arts. That is just not how things are supposed to be.
Sparring should be about learning, not avoiding being tapped out. Tap out rather too early, than too late.
If you are not familiar with what tapping out means, I have a post defining it here.
These were my top tips for new martial artists. Hopefully, this list can help you out when you first get started with new martial arts!
If you are still unsure of what martial art you should start, I have a list of the best martial arts for self-defense. You can read the list here.
Have a wonderful day!