There are three reasons people ask me this, and each has a different answer.
1. You’re just starting out.
2. You’ve been training for a while and want to set some serious goals.
3. You are trying to find a work/family/bjj balance.
Each of these types can still vary depending on goals, which we will dig deeper into on the second half.
First, you’re just starting out. Make reasonable demands of your body and mind, and you will naturally adjust. Many people need to start out at 2-3 classes per week and build from there. You’re sore from the new movements, tired from processing the new ideas, and still making adjustments to your schedule to stay balanced. This is before most people consider competition, so the focus should be on learning at a reasonable rate. You will probably want to check your diet and sleep habits as well. Other people train every day from the start, and some do extremely well. I always warn this type to be careful. A pace like that can be prone to early burnout. If you sign up for this adventure, set a once a week minimum as your backup plan and stick with it. The classes you make yourself go to will be very helpful, and you will find yourself motivated again eventually. There are some tricks to help you out of burnout quicker, but that’s another discussion. Ideally, at least 2-3 classes per week will have you learning at a decent rate. Try to go on the same days. You want your training partners to know you. Once a week will get you some slow progress, and at least avoid losing what you’ve gained so far. When you’re past the beginning phases, the option of training every day is much easier. If you’re too sore or hurt to train the next day, you’re probably training too hard.
Second, you’ve been training for a while and want to set some serious goals. Usually you want to train at least 5-6x per week. That doesn’t mean I won’t encourage people who train less to get out and compete. There is a big difference between enjoying the benefits of competition and planning to win the Worlds this year. At every single belt level, you will find people who train every day with some of the best in the world. You want to make the most of your time on the mats, but also stay relaxed enough to be long term sustainable. You can only learn some lessons through a mountain of actual experience. You want to solve the easy puzzles with precise timing, and create time to solve the more difficult ones. MMA fighters should not go below 3x per week- plus striking. If you find yourself in any situation, your responses must be automatic and correct. When you talk about serious goals in Bjj, it’s pretty much like anything else. You’re looking at a large time and lifestyle commitment.
Third, you are trying to find a work/family/Bjj balance. This is probably the most common, and is obviously different for everyone. It’s a good idea to write out your plans on paper and look at what aspects of your routine can be moved around. I started keeping a planner to make sure I got training time worked in for the week. We have to be realistic about our goals. You can enjoy Bjj and only train once a week. You’re not going to progress very quickly, but it gets your foot in the door. Building habits from there can vary from one person to the next. Don’t avoid training until you can be here every day, that’s not usually a realistic place to begin. I also encourage parents to participate and help in the kids classes. You can get a lot from it, and also get some quality time in with your kids. If you are pursuing some serious competition goals while raising a family, your kids will probably be well known gym rats. We will probably have ongoing discussions about keeping the gym a healthy and safe place for them as they grow.
Now, a precise amount to train still varies depending on the individual. These are the common patterns I’ve seen in order of rate of progress. I used blue belt as an example of roughly the rate of progression you can expect based on the consistency of your training. Everyone varies with time, but most will settle into habits within a year or two. Keep in mind when selecting your pace that there is nothing wrong with any of these. Although I openly make fun of binge training. Don’t get your feelings hurt by the percentage I tagged on. It’s a current rate of growth, not you as a person, and has nothing to do with your current skill level.
Several hard days followed by large spans of time off. Some people jump in and train every day, sometimes several times a day, from the beginning. Most don’t last, and end up in this cycle. Don’t confuse this with legitimate tournament and fight camps that I actually do recommend. You should absolutely never train so hard that you need more than two days off. Some people have jobs that require travel and long spans off. Most decent Bjj gyms welcome travelers. Figure out where you are at the most. Pick a home gym, and enjoy consistent training.
Likely Result: Bottom 10%
You can learn a lot in a short time, but not develop the timing that comes with consistent training. This pattern often comes with a lot of drama, and this type should probably watch less tv/movies.
Once a Week:
I recommend this as a fallback to keep yourself training. If you are attempting to go 6x a week, you will want a plan for burnout and a method to reevaluate a path forward. You could also find yourself with a demanding new job. Continuing to train places a healthy question on the job. How long do you plan to work at a pace that restricts your time this much? Maybe you have a new kid in the family, and need a year to figure out a balanced schedule that works for everyone. A year at once a week will keep you from losing the progress you’ve made up to this point. Also, I recommend this for police and other people handling jobs where you want to maintain a bare minimum skill set. If you like it and want to do more, it’s a good idea. Simply having your hands on a resisting person once a week gives you much better odds of keeping yourself and others safe.
Likely Result: Bottom 50%
You will retain your existing skills and make slow progress. It serves as a bare minimum that you can make happen. If you can’t find two hours every week for yourself, it’s probably time to step back and look at what’s going on in your life. This rate of training doesn’t allow much repetition, but Bjj can still be rewarding and fun. Usually it’s about 8-12 years to a blue belt. That is still much better than not training at all.
2-3 Classes per Week:
Likely Result: Top 50%
This is a good pace for the majority of people. Three is obviously better than two, but most people also fluctuate depending on what comes up. Consistency matters here. You do want your training partners to recognize you and your game. This group can still do very well in competition, even at Black Belt eventually. It can be 3-5 years to blue belt.
4-6 Classes per Week:
This is an extremely rewarding pace. You will have time to make daily progress on learning positions, mastering timing, and identifying holes in your existing game. It takes a lot of life adjustment to keep this pace up, but many people balance it well.
Likely Result: Top 10%
You will go through phases of wear and tear more quickly than the others. The small details and adjustments are more important to you because they make your pace sustainable. You are also much less likely to make the reckless decisions of the previous groups. This group can, but doesn’t always, tend to win competitions in the colored belts. Some people train this much and never compete.
More than 6x per week:
Likely Result: We’re going to have several long discussions about the challenges of Bjj.
Pick a plan. Explore it, figure out what works for you based on the rate of progress you want to make. Don’t be afraid to adjust your plan so you can keep training in a responsible manner. Everyone will be different for their own reasons.