Embrace the Strange(r)

A while back, I posted what has become a fairly pivotal piece for me on my dog blog, All Around Dogs. The post was entitled Embrace the Awkward and talked about the “conscious incompetence” stage of learning where things feel difficult and, well, awkward. While the post relates it to dog training, I’ve taken my own advice to heart and have tried to apply it to every area of my life.

Learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a very literal version of embracing the awkward. The second class had me “back mounting” two people that I’d barely been introduced to. Actually, come to think of it, I never really met the first one. A back mount is as personal as it sounds – you are on the person’s back, legs wrapped around with feet locked on their thighs, arms around their chest. We also took turns practicing the “rear naked choke” and tapping out when we were the recipient. (No, I am not making this up. Yes, my sophomoric sense of humor giggles at these names)

On the night we learned the back mount, Jay observed that this was “as awkward as it’s going to get” for us. We had to get used to getting physical with strangers, since that’s an innate part of BJJ. He also said “Shit just gets weirder from here.” You would think the second statement contradicts the first, but it doesn’t. The other positions may be a strange and a bit “intimate” at times, but once you’ve gotten over the whole “mounting a stranger” part, the awkward factor remains the same or less.

In every class, I’ve walked away completely spent and with a couple of new bruises. Though I’m sure BJJ veterans would laugh their asses off if I showed them the light little flushes of purple on my very pale skin, it’s a significant thing for me to go through something that bruises me without giving up. When I rowed crew in college, my biggest issue was mentally pushing through the pain. I could deal with discomfort, but once it got really hard, I’d instinctively back off. While I know that things are far from “intense” at this stage of my BJJ journey, I feel like I’m in the right place and with the right people to make it through some tough challenges without backing down.

image In honor of my first night on the big mats.

At the very end of this Monday’s class, one of the guys asked how I liked it so far and said (somewhat apologetically, I thought) that the gym smelled really badly in the summer. I said that wasn’t really my main concern. He was off to his next round of the exercise before I could give my true-but-wiseass answer – I’m most concerned about rolling around with strange men!

In the last exercise of the night you took turns taking down and being taken down by random partners. My first take down felt awkward, like it was slow-motion and I had to be given step-by-step instructions. Surprisingly, being taken down was easy, even when my opponent was wearing a shit eating grin that told me he was getting a big kick out of initiating the newbie.

I ended the night taking down a complete stranger – seriously, I don’t know his name, a blonde guy in a white gi –  and apparently doing it well enough to earn some enthusiastic comments from the sidelines and a high five when I was done. I can’t say I remember exactly what I did (similar to what I call “ring amnesia” in dog training), I just know that putting him to the floor felt easy and… natural? What started out as an intimidating exercise ended with me wishing that class lasted a little longer so I could do it more.

I couldn’t stop smiling when I left class. Feeling awkward somehow felt great and being bruised was rewarding. When I spotted this sunset, I had to stop in the driveway and snap this shot. Sunsets are usually symbolic of things ending, but when I saw this view, I felt like I was seeing a beautiful change leading to a great new beginning.

image Say hello to new horizons.

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