A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Challenge

bjj expert in a year

It has been a few months since we finished the original Expert in a Year challenge, and I’ve got the itch. I’m going to do another one – but this time I will learn from all the mistakes we made and it will be ten times better.

I (Sam Priestley) am going to spend the next year becoming awesome at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). I don’t just want to become “good for someone who has just started”, in a years time I want to be straight up awesome. I am not sure yet what the overall target should be (how on earth do I determine awesomeness in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? I don’t want to be world class, but I want to be as good as possible), but for the time being I am setting this goal:

Starting from never having done any form of martial art before, I want to train months and finish in the top 3 in my category at the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu English Open in seven months time on November 14th 2015.

Although I learnt a lot about ‘howto learn’ from my table tennis journey this will, in a lot of ways, be much harder. The original challenge was Ben’s brainchild and really didn’t take much thought or research on my behalf. I didn’t even have to leave the house, I would train in my kitchen and Ben would come round and coach me daily. Whenever I didn’t know something all I had to do was ask my permanently on-hand expert. I didn’t need to deal with the loneliness or the overwhelming confusion most beginners feel. I was hand held all the way from beginner to competence.

This time I am going it alone. I have no Ben. I will be training at a normal gym, entering competitions myself. Navigating the ins and outs of the UK Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu scene.

I will be taking responsibility for my own learning.

If you have never heard of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, well it’s pretty different to table tennis… it is a grappling based martial art that focuses on technique and leverage over raw power and strength.

And that’s pretty much all I know about it. As an outsider watching on it looks chaotic – and weirdly intimate – but after a few bouts you can start to see the technical aspects. It’s clear how much skill that the top practitioners have.

Why Brazilian Jujitsu?

It all started with this comment on a Facebook post about the table tennis challenge:

bjj facebook expert in a year


I had no idea what he is talking about, but winning gold sounds great. I did some research and the more I learnt the more excited I became. I have always wanted to learn a martial art so that part didn’t take much convincing – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu seemed like a pretty good choice:

  • There is no striking. I’m not going to get brain damage from the training. Which is a plus. It also means you can train at full, match speed and power.
  • As well as a sport, it originated as a self-defence. Three of the first four UFC tournaments were won by a BJJ practitioner. Which is pretty cool for a fighting style with no punching or kicking.
  • I work 20ish hours a month as a police office. Being able to restrain someone without punching them in the face sounds like a pretty useful skill to have.
  • I know a few people who do it and there is a good gym only about 20 minutes from my flat.
  • I went along to a couple of sessions as a trial and loved it.

The Challenge

So I had the sport I want to do, but I had no idea what goal I should set. One target is to do at least 365 hours of training over the year, but I didn’t have a clue how to measure my progress. I joined a gym (the same one Rlgm invited me to) that met my two main criteria:

  1. I wanted to be able to train as often as possible. The option to train at different times of the day would be ideal. There are already plenty of barriers in life to getting in the sheer quantity of hours required – I didn’t want irregular classes to add to them.
  2. It needed to be easy to get to from my flat. I’m pretty lazy and a long commute each day would really damage my motivation.

Urban Kings ticked both those boxes. it’s 20 minutes from my flat and has a full timetable. Most days there are two training sessions which means I can choose between lunchtime or evening depending on when I have to work:

urban kings bjj timetable

I signed up on Monday and yesterday I asked the resident black belt, Jude Samuel, what sort of challenge I should set. He suggested aiming for the English Open on the 14th November.

BJJ tournaments are categorised by  your weight, age and belt level. So I will most likely competing in the adult 70kg WhiteBelt tournament.

The problem is, I don’t yet know enough to asses how tough a target this is. From my research it sounds like “White Belt” competitions will be made up of competitors who are relatively new to the sport, anywhere from 1-2 years in. According to Wikipedia you need to have your white belt for at least a year before you can be promoted.

For lack of any better advice – and to get the ball rolling,  I’ve decided to set myself the target of placing in the top three at this tournament. Now I know that’s not quite a year (in fact it’s in seven months), but there are no big tournaments in exactly a year’s time and even if there was, doing well in one after a year is a lot less ambitious than doing it in seven months. If I manage that it would put in the top few white belts in the country.

If anyone has a good, challenging target for the full year, I’d love to hear from you.

The goal posts may change or there may be new ones added, but until I get a better understanding of BJJ and the tournament circuit I have a challenge, something to aim at and something to tell people about. Time to start the training…

The Online Format

To continue the ‘Expert in a Year’ brand, I will be dubbing this challenge ‘Bjj in a Year’. Similarly to the table tennis challenge I will update as I go through videos and blog posts. Look forward to my first video where I will most likely be getting my arse whooped…

I will also be keeping a daily real time diary which you can access here:


Wish me Luck!