I’ve done things that have taken me out of my comfort zone before. Nervous first trips to the other side of the planet…leaving the church I was raised in only to show up alone at another…taking up Salsa with absolutely no dance experience. I was extremely uncomfortable each time.
Five days after my thirtieth birthday, I took a step out of my comfort zone, beyond whatever comes next, and into what I’ve come to realize is my discomfort zone. A place where you experience not only the shock of the loss of peace and familiarity, but where you also reopen old wounds, revisit old pain. For me, that discomfort comes in the form of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).
Why the discomfort? Well, because my whole life I’ve been a thinker. All my hobbies, all my life, have revolved around developing my mental abilities. Funny considering that in addition to the literature enthusiasts, I come from a family of basketball players and am myself six feet tall and of large frame. I was built to be an athlete of some sort and have no doubt I could have done well at a sport if I’d been introduced to them with more of a focus on personal improvement as opposed to the typical focus on domination of an opponent. I am after all, an INTJ, and we like developing ourselves more than we do defeating others.
Even as I sit here, a solid twenty-four hours before my next class, I’m experiencing flashes of anxiety at having to run laps and do drills. I hated running even in middle school and have never had to handle the weight of an adult male as strength training. Doing these things now is simultaneously and frighteningly foreign and familiar. I worry that someone will notice how tired I am after finishing and think that I’m weak and have poor endurance, which I do. I wonder if some of the men resent my coming there since I’m the only woman in that class.
I’m hoping still, that drive begins to drown out fear … thank goodness the trainers at American Top Team are so professional and open. If they weren’t, I don’t know if I’d have just gone and bought more sports bras. I genuinely have been taken aback by how calm and encouraging they are. The students too…all have been amazingly accepting and patient. Coming from three years of dance classes (where even heterosexual males were comfortable moving their hips and dancing with the same sex), I expected that men who spend their time beating other men (or getting better at it) would be incredibly harsh. My mistake. Their even temperedness and patience with those (like me) who, short of a miracle, will never become professional fighters (that’s what the club is best known for producing) has me deeply curious about what drives them.
I’ve been hit with a few other surprises after just two classes. I’m not half as sore as I expected to be. I was honestly expecting to have to take a half day off work to recuperate. I also don’t find the positions to be all that awkward (there is NO personal space), even though many women wince at the idea of being that closely entangled with a man whose first name they don’t even know. The class is also doing some odd things with my perception of my femininity. I’m suddenly more interested in keeping my toes painted and I’ve noticed I’m paying more attention to my makeup (not while sparring). After a solid hour of sweating, grunting and moving my body weight in ways I never thought I’d permit myself to even attempt, I feel softer. I’m not sure if that’s a result of exposing some very ancient weaknesses, a need to compensate or a freedom of femininity I feel safer to enjoy because of the promise of exploration of physical aggression.
Another funny thing I’ve noticed. I’d set goals for myself to accomplish by thirty … a mix of targets in formal education, finance, personal education, and spirituality. I’m quite satisfied in all those areas. I know now that very young, I’d painted a picture of the grownup I wanted to be and put a great deal of effort into becoming that person. What makes taking on BJJ so surprising, is that it’s the first step I’ve taken in life that augments my target self … not in the art itself…as I said before, I’ve always wanted to study martial arts. I just never considered the level of physical fitness it would require of me and that is where I’m finding refreshment.