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Martial Arts: Starting from Zero

This blog post is for people who never thought they would do a combat sport.

People find martial arts for all kinds of reasons. Maybe they want to toughen up, or maybe they want to compete. Maybe they just want to feel safe walking to their car at night.

No matter the reason for our journey, we inevitable all find one thing holds true: the path doesn’t always look smooth.

Many people do start with this knowledge in mind, and resign to the 10-year plus journey that will lead them – hopefully – to that black belt. However, as I mentioned above, this blog post we wrote for those who never thought they’d find themselves here and quite frankly, maybe had no idea what starting Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai would entail.

From fear to intent

The first thing we all need to accept in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai is physical intimacy, though with Muay Thai that will come a bit later as we start everyone on a punching bag. In Jiu Jitsu, it hits you on the very first day.

We’ll find ourselves in tight spaces with other people, and sometimes that can feel totally out of our comfort zone. Unless we did martial arts as kids, chances are, it’s been a while since we rolled around on the ground with our friends.

Don’t worry. The physical closeness will become normal! There’s a reason we call them contact sports. But things really open up when you begin to see it through the lens of self-defense. How will we know what to do in compromising situations unless we’ve had practice? We begin to see our fellow classmates less as strangers and more as willing opportunities to learn.

We start to see more clearly the intent.

We also begin to better understand our own intent — why we’re here, what we want out of this experience. We begin to string together words into sentences, we begin defending.

We begin to recognize what we’re good at. We don’t just string words into sentences; we know what we want to say. We lean into our capabilities, we trust our bodies, and we’ve developed bonds of trust with our classmates. We watch moves on repeat and find any videos we can to better help us understand.

Eventually, we move to exploring our game: is it fast and explosive? Or is it smooth and rolling, inverting and trapping people in spots they never thought we’d reach.

[Training Deliberately: Seeking Feedback to Hone our Game]

From fight or flight to powerful stillness

Our mind has gone from fight or flight reactions to a source of power drawn from stillness; our anxiety gets quelled by a genuine curiosity.

We go from focusing on how silly we look and how weird the sweaty bear hug with a stranger feels to thinking, “I wonder if this will work?”

The focus shifts outside of ourselves — we become less myopic, we have an outward gaze. We become not just able to keep our head above water but we begin to swim. We become good partners and see the holes to help each other learn.

But the path is cyclical. Our initial discomfort with intimacy may resurface again when we begin to live train, rolling or sparring with others. It’s not just the physicality — it’s the sheer experience of engaging in a dialogue with someone for three to seven whole minutes, like being one-on-one in an elevator with together.

What do you talk about? Where do you go from here? It takes on a whole new level of intimacy or — in many ways — surrender. It can feel weird at first, but roll by roll it becomes more normal.

I’ll get real honest with you — I’m not there yet. I’m a very touchy person; it’s a way I’ve always connected. However, Jiu Jitsu has brought to light things I never knew I feared, like true physical exchange, or honest human intimacy, or the possibility of accidentally hurting somebody. In regular life, a smile can mask many emotions. On the mats, nothing can hide.

Your path can be beautiful and strange and confusing and scary and exciting all at the same time. Ya’ll, it takes 10 years to earn a black belt. We’re in it for the long haul, and the journey looks different for everyone.

So breathe in, drop any expectations and bow onto the mat. In this game, the mat becomes not just the great equalizer but a mirror as well. And it will continue to show us new layers of our soul if we just keep showing up.

Curious to start your own journey? Sign up for a free Kickboxing or Jiu Jitsu class!

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