Overcoming Your Fear of Trying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu


Titans BJJ Photo courtesy of David Brown Photography

If you’re reading this but you don’t know anything about me, I’m a 5’0, 110lb, 42-year-old woman. I am a Brazilian jiu jitsu brown belt under Renzo Gracie black belt Kevin Taylor and I am the instructor for the women only program at Titans MMA.  For years, I wrote weekly articles about Brazilian jiu jitsu for Breaking Muscle and I also wrote for Jiu Jitsu Style magazine in the UK.

And do you know what? After all of that, after almost ten years of training Brazilian jiu jitsu I still sometimes feel anxious before I go to class. I walk up the steps, I see the big Titans mural on the wall and I think to myself,

“I don’t belong here.”

I sometimes wonder, shouldn’t I be doing something different? Like knitting a dishcloth? Why do I spend most of my free time training with young, athletic killers?

And then there are my teammates, the killers, to think about. I worry about them not wanting to be my partner, not having anything in common with me, not talking to me. I worry about the students I teach in the co-ed beginner class not coming to class because they don’t want to learn from a little old lady. And regarding all of the above: some don’t. 

But some do. Rest assured, there will always be some, usually most, that do want to help you, who do want you there. 

And more than anything else, above all the self-doubt, above all of the worrying, I remind myself: I love jiu jitsu. It’s worth all of it. There is nothing else I would rather do.

I may not be able to do the same things my teammates can do but I am there for MY jiu jitsu. For MY goals. It’s MY life that I want to improve first. And when I accomplish my goals, no matter how small, I can then pay it forward and try to help everyone else the best way I can.

So why am I telling you this? What do you care? Well, like I said, when I accomplish my goals, I want to then help others. Turns out one of the biggest reasons people don’t come to class is because they have same fears I have. Fear of judgement, of not being good enough, of making a fool of themselves.

If that’s how you feel, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, a Canadian psychologist and university professor, may be able to help you overcome your fear and self-doubt so you can make your own walk up the steps.

A quick interpretation of his advice, if we relate it to BJJ is, what do you think BJJ will add to your life? What will you gain from BJJ that makes it worthwhile for you to face your fears? Is it confidence, community, fitness, health, self-defense skills? OK, so if that’s what you want, you can break down the process of going to your first class into steps.

Peterson explains, “One of the things you want to do when you’re training  yourself to face something threatening is to set the threshold for your accomplishment high enough so that you improve but low enough so that you have a pretty good chance of hitting the goal.”

How To:

Possible steps you can take leading up to training BJJ:

  • Research the BJJ schools in your area. Do they have an online FAQ page or media so you can get an idea of what to expect?
  • ​Call to see whether you can go and just watch a class
  • Watch some basic BJJ techniques on youtube. A great resource for the basics is Stephan Kesting. Find him online at Grapplearts.com and on youtube. This way, you may be familiar with some of the first things you learn and it won’t be so overwhelming.
  • ​Try to find a friend to try a class with you
  • Book a private with an instructor before joining the general classes​.
  • Start slow. Promise yourself you will go to class once a week, or every two weeks then build up to a more regular schedule.

Now think of what your life will be like if you don’t gather the courage to try a class; if you don’t take one little step at a time. Where will you be in five years if you do absolutely nothing? Will you be overweight? Depressed? Alone? What will your children learn from your example?

Will you spend your evenings at home watching TV? What if there’s nothing good on TV? Do you really want to get an email from Netflix asking if you’re OK like this fellow?


I don’t.

What I absolutely do not recommend is getting in shape to try BJJ. I remember what it was like, feeling so out of shape and feeling like I wasn’t cut out for the sport. And I was already in great shape when I started! BJJ is such a unique activity, the best way to get into shape for BJJ is by training BJJ. It will take some time, but gradually, incrementally, you will progress.


One of the best success stories I’ve seen of overcoming fear is my good friend, Sarah Kolybaba. The first time she came to Titans, she sat out in the parking lot for twenty minutes before coming in to class. She was so quiet and shy, I thought for sure I’d never see her again. Boy, was I wrong.

Sarah turned out to be one of the most dedicated, hard-working women in the program! When she left Nova Scotia to move to British Columbia, Sarah joined a new gym, Island Top Team, where she has found great success in competition. Just this weekend at the CBJJF she won triple gold! Kolybaba was the division champion in both gi and no gi and the absolute champion in gi. What an inspiration!

If Sarah and I can do it, so can you. Trust me. The time will pass anyway, what kind of life do you want? 

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