“Okay, let’s go.”
Sounds like a benign phrase, doesn’t it?
Like you’re about to walk your Pekinese. Or take a pleasant road trip. Harmless, really.
Yeah, not on the floor of the dojo.
Not when your sweet, tiny partner’s run off to change a band-aid and your 225 pound instructor, constructed of bulging muscles, is offering to sub for her while she’s absent. (For the record: It took all I had not to smile politely, fold my hands in my lap, and say: “Oh, noooo, thank you” to him.) Granted, it was only my third class ever trying BJJ. But, it’s funny. It’s funny because it wasn’t – not at the moment. All the past trauma I’d so safely submerged from earlier years, bobbed to the surface like a fleet of malevolent, demon beach balls in the Dead Sea, refusing to be kept under. It reminded me of that quote – “Everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the face”. And, while we don’t do punching in jitz, there’s a definite mental strike that ensues when a dude who’s a hundred pounds heavier than you, and fierce AF, is on the other side of you.
Yes. That was my first thought.
Followed by, “I wish I was in JKD or Muay Thai right now instead…” Those are my favorite classes. Striking is where I thrive. But, right now? Right now, when I’m off my legs, on the floor, and outta my element? Yeah, right now my brain’s going blank. My view’s gone black. And I’m clench-cementing my mandible vice tight so I don’t yell, “GET OFF ME!” as my eyes explode into bilateral lacrimal fountains.
(Instead’ve, ya know, that whole tapping` thing you’re meant to conventionally do.)
But that’s when I realized just how much I needed this.
See, saying, “Get off me!” didn’t work the last time I was in this kinda position. Unfortunately for me, back then, there was no mat. There was no ref. No judges. No rules. What if I could’ve had the power to save myself then? I know, I know. I can’t think like that. None of us can – no matter what the respective horrors from which we’re born happen to be. But what we can do is let it make us disconcerted enough to ensure it never happens again. To let that resolve make us determined enough to learn. That motivation – that end game’s gotta be with us every step of the way. But it can’t happen when fear’s sheathing your cerebral efforts to download new skills.
(Protip: Literal martial arts downloading only happens in The Matrix.)
It’s a very difficult task. But I’ve done this before. I’ve done it in Muay Thai. In Krav. In JKD, as well. Getting hit or clinched or choked brought up the identical emotional excrement I was reliving tonight. But I moved past that in striking. How? By coming back again and again and again - until I knew how to defend myself and fire back. So, I tried to do the same now. I tried to tap into that aspect of myself. With great difficulty, I put the fear facet of my brain in an armbar, reminded myself that one of the nicest dudes I’ve ever met was here to help me, and heed what he said next: “Remember: your legs are stronger than your arms. Do you think you can bench press me?”
(Yes, sometimes those rhetorical questions make things click more than straight up instructions.)
And I’m not saying I feel good or secure about what I’m doing. Not yet. I mean all those great tips about leg-power, or to mount higher up, or to get tight, or to put my body weight into what I was doing… right now they’re all floating around in my head. They make sense when I see the belts with actual color on ‘em do it. (Then, of course, when I give it a go, it’s like trying to follow the instructions on an IKEA dresser.) I’m the performance equivalent of a Picasso painting at this point. It’s just misplaced limbs everywhere, insufficient pressure, wrong angles, and overall awfulness and confusion. So, no: I’m not gonna sugarcoat it – especially if you’re a newbie, like me, reading this and trying to decide whether to start. Because I don’t want you to think a handful’ve classes will win you over. But this is growth. And growth is uncomfortable. But it’s also worth it.
And it’s also an opportunity to ask yourself:
When was the last time you grew from discomfort?
For me, I think back to that aforementioned favorite form of MMA: striking. When I first started JKD, I almost quit. (Just like I wanna do with jitz everytime I go and leave, frustrated.) I literally thought I’d never understand this arm spaghetti practice they called “trapping”. Now, I love going to that class. Maybe it’s because I’m better. Maybe it’s because all the drills we did kicked in last summer when a dude tried to grab me to throw me in the pool, thoroughly embarrassing him. Was it my objective to hurt him or his pride? No. It was just a reflex to protect me. (Though I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me smile inwardly as I left his house.)
Right now, I’m not good. And I don’t feel good about where I’m at. And I still don’t “get” a lot of what we’re doing. (Including how to tie my belt.) But I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful because I’ve been through growth before. I recognize that terrifying scent emanating off it – the one that generates more quitters than winners. It’s by far the biggest opponent I have to grapple with – on or off the mat. (Yes, bigger even than my terrifying instructor.) But the only way I can subdue it, is to keep showing up. I mean, who knows - maybe a year from now, I’ll have the same kind’ve reflexes I’ve gained in my standup game, down on the ground. Maybe it’ll drown those internal demons for good. And maybe it’ll help me handle any external prospective ones I can’t run from or simply hit in the future, too….
So I can confidently be the one telling ‘em:
“Okay. Let’s go.”