Today I Feel Silly (and other useless emotions)

The long road of martial arts training has many obstacles. There are injuries, which hopefully are few and far between, but when they occur can put you out of commission for weeks. There is the rest of your life, your job, your family, things which you may actually enjoy but which take time away from your training. There are times where your motivation lags, your momentum slows, times when you just don't feel like it.

And sometimes the obstacle is you. Or, in the case of jiu-jitsu, me.

The other day I left jiu-jitsu class in a rare mood: confident. I had done well with the drills. (Meaning that I got them right pretty quickly, executed them effectively and didn't need someone to draw me a blueprint) I had a rolled with a few people and felt in control. That is success in my book. Not that I beat anyone, although I do get the occasional submission nowadays, but that I felt that I was in control. I defended and escaped when I wanted to. I tried moves when they were appropriate. I rolled like a blue belt instead of a spazzy mess. If I do that, then it was a good day on the mats.

I got a compliment in class from another blue belt with whom I had not rolled in awhile. He said I was looking much better. And he was right, I am looking better. But as I was walking home something interesting occurred to me. Although I have made many leaps in jiu-jitsu over the past few months, the one that was most important was the one that was inside my own head.

When I was new, and for a long time after, I wouldn't do much while rolling. Part of it was of course that I didn't know much. But that was a small part. Sometimes I was afraid to try a move and fail, or I was afraid to try a move on a higher belt and be in some way inappropriate. But mostly I was afraid of looking silly.  I was like a 14 year old on her first day of high school; awkward, embarrassed, uncomfortable in her own skin.  Basically, I was jiu-jitsu shy.

It wasn't the physical contact. I mean sure, having a strange man wrapped up in my guard was a little weird at first but I stopped noticing that pretty quickly.  (It is amazing how fast really odd positions become totally normal. Except for "north-south". No amount of training will ever make that comfortable. Ever.) My problem was that I was honestly afraid of feeling (and looking) stupid. So I get in a position, scan my brain to see what I know from that position, then freeze and do nothing.

The truth is I probably had the potential for success much sooner, if I could have just gotten out of my own way. If I had been a bit more confident to begin with. Some people are. Some people jump right in there, regardless of how much or how little they know. But despite twenty plus years of karate, when I got on the mats I was truly a beginner again. And boy did I feel like one!

It took me a year an a half to get over this annoying hangup, and I would be lying if I said that I don't still feel it sometimes. But I am finally growing up.  I don't know if its the blue belt (as if its mere presence gives me some kind of legitimacy) or the training hours finally adding up, or the simple fact that the dudes in my guard are no longer strangers. But if I was 14 then, perhaps I am now graduating high school?

As a fourth degree black belt in karate, I naively thought jiu-jitsu would come easily to me. When it didn't I was disappointed, frustrated, and yes, embarrassed. But now I kind of like it. I like how truly awful I was in the beginning (boy did I suck!) , it makes the small improvements I make now feel that more meaningful. Now, if I get my purple belt someday, my brown belt, perhaps even the elusive BJJ black belt, it will be a truly impressive feat to my once insecure mind.

In other words...
College, here I come!


  1. Learning jiu-jitsu is never an easy thing, Jenn. We are all very much aware of that fact. That is why I would like to commend you for your dedication and for coming this far. The training may not have been a good start for you, but you still managed to continue. Making a few mistakes and struggling with some movements and positions at first are normal. The important thing is that you did not give up and that you still managed to carry on with the training and allow yourself to improve.

    Saundra Tosh

  2. Thanks Saundra! I am definitely a work in progress. :-)


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