What Went On In My Head: I, like a lot of slightly neurotic but mostly functional people, suffer from a tendency to get caught up in my head. When faced with something unfamiliar or challenging my mind immediately begins preparing my body for what I regretfully admit is the inevitable flight response. I am a runner. My inner dialogue is SO often my worst enemy because it regularly encourages me to run. Run far. Run fast. Run away and never look back. The hours before my first class were a battle to maintain some semblance of rational thought amidst the totally irrational dialogue playing at max volume in my head. Thoughts like: “I’m too fat to do jiu jitsu”, “I’ll never get through the warm up”, “No one is going to want to train with the fat girl”, “This will be embarrassing and awkward and not at all enjoyable,” “I’m not athletic so I can’t do this”, “I have the coordination of a new born giraffe so this isn’t going to work”, and “It’s not too late to back out” plagued me relentlessly throughout the day. The louder my inner dialogue got, the more nervous and anxious I became. I honestly believe if my boyfriend hadn’t been here, I would have talked myself out of going. I would have ran. At one point in the day I even googled “I’m scared to try jiu jitsu because I’m overweight” because I wanted to confirm that this was in fact a horrible idea. But in that particular instance neurotic tendency to over analyze everything paid off positively. I read an amazing post by BJJ blogger Jiu Jiu titled “to the fat person googling jiu jitsu” (linked here). Jiu Jiu’s article made me realize that NONE of the fears or anxieties I was experiencing we’re abnormal, and NONE of them were reason to quit before I even started. Nevertheless, my nervous energy prevailed and until the minute I shook the coaches hand, I was looking for a viable escape route and any opportunity to evade my ever-supportive and encouraging boyfriend and flee to safety.
What Really Happened: The coach was warm, welcoming, and tried to make me feel at ease. He reminded me it was perfectly okay to take it easy my first day and that it would be in my best interest not to push myself too hard. As I stood on the mat for the first time waiting for class to start, I found myself still trying to quell Inner Tasha’s negative thoughts. I mustered up all the positive self talk I could manage. I told myself everyone would expect me to be clumsy, unskilled, lost, ineffective, and completely gassed. I told myself everyone was more focused on their own training and that they were completely indifferent to my ability (or lack of ability) to perform. I did better at the warm up than I expected to. When we got into the jiu jitsu-based drills the coach made sure to walk me through the movements and encouraged me to try the ones I seemed most hesitant to execute. I surprised myself with how willing I was to just try things. After the warm up we went over some techniques. Although I couldn’t tell you what the names of any of them were right now. I tried to pay attention and when we got to try the techniques ourselves, by chance I was paired up with my boyfriend. His patience, coaching, and willingness to let me practice more than him was completely endearing. The movements felt awkward and foreign. I imagined that I looked like an elephant trying to do ballet. But I persisted in forcing myself to try things and by the end of class I found myself looking forward to repping them again in the future, hopefully with a little more confidence and lot less apprehension. Next we sparred. I was completely surprised and dumbfounded when our coach actually paired me up to roll with someone. My first partner was incredibly patient and humble. He allowed me to really feel what it’s like to try and escape someone’s full weight bearing down on top of you, and was patient with and non-judgmental of my ineffective attempts to escape from underneath him. By the end of the first session I was totally gassed. I had no idea just a few minutes of rolling could be that exhausting. But the coach encouraged me to go one more round and so I did. My second partner was generous in trying to actually teach me some techniques for escaping and also let me make some awkward attempts at reversals. By time we finished, I was in need of a break and I felt guilty that some of these guys weren’t really getting a chance to work on their skills because they were busy trying to help me, so I sat out one session. I tried to watch what everyone was doing and absorb as much as possible, and I made some absolutely futile attempts to retain all of the information that had just been dumped on me my previous partners. I’m pretty sure none of it stuck. In our final session, my last partner walked me through passing his guard. I’m pretty sure none of that stuck either. When class ended my body felt exhausted, my mind felt overloaded, but I felt exhilarated, satisfied with my effort, and excited to come back for more.
So what did I learn? I’m not sure to be honest. I know some of the techniques are locked away in my unconscious mind and will probably surface when I least expect it. What I KNOW I learned was that none of it was as bad as my inner dialogue wanted me to believe it would be. I learned that feeling awkward, lost, and intimidated is perfectly okay. I learned that all my classmates were incredibly welcoming and generous and seemed totally non-judgmental. More than anything though, I learned that I could survive. I could survive my inner dialogue. I could survive the anxiety and nervousness. I could survive myself. And I could survive the warm up. I could survive feeling like an elephant trying to learn ballet. I could survive being totally gassed and absolutely lost.
And really, I did a whole lot more than just survive. I grew. I grew the tiniest bit, in the most immeasurable ways, but I grew. And how do I know this? Because I am not afraid to go back for more. In fact, I’m kind of excited about it.