So I was sitting at my computer a few weeks ago and I realized that if I wasn’t careful I would end up spending every day for the rest of my natural life hunched unnaturally over my laptop, slouching in the chair and squinting at the screen from a distance of about three inches. I was starting to get creaky when I stood up. I could barely lift my laundry basket. I only left the house to get food, go to the pub, and visit my University department (where I spend my time hunched unnaturally over my laptop.) I needed a change.
Last Monday I went to a jiu jitsu class for the first time in about five years. The club was a real mix of ages–proper grown-ups as well as students–and a good mix of men and women. I could tell right away that it would be a good group because people were very welcoming when I arrived, coming to introduce themselves and then, during the warm-up, all the established club members paired themselves off with all the new people to make sure we knew what we were supposed to be doing. That immediately put me at ease, though not quite easy enough for what was about to happen.
The first move I tried was a wrist release. I really struggled with it, partly because it’s a slightly different technique than what I learned for the same move in the past. This style involves an elbow to the attacker’s face. But I was having a hard time practicing in earnest because I can’t just waltz in and elbow a kindly stranger in the face! “Hello, my name’s Caitlin” (THWACK). Not the normal order of things. Though, as the person I was practicing with pointed out, seeing as this was my very first day and he was a fairly advanced belt level, I was unlikely to actually catch him one round the head.
Continuing on a theme, we learned another move that involved subduing an attacker to the ground and then, once they were lying peacefully on their sides, kneeling on their head and chest and pulling their elbow back until they cried like little babies (or until they tap out, the martial arts signal for “that hurts, stop.”) I was very shy about this and I kept sort of crouching over my attacker and ineffectually tugginng at their arm. They all complained that I wasn’t doing it hard enough. I started to wonder if I’d chosen the right path for my new fitness regime. I don’t really think I’m cut out for inciting terror into people’s hearts through my fearsome reputation for viciousness. In fairness, you’d be surprised how much it doesn’t hurt to have someone kneeling on your head. It sounds horrible, but as long as they haven’t landed heavily and squished your brains out your ears, it’s not so bad. (And training in a martial art isn’t about developing a fearsome reputation anyway, unless you are training with the International Order of Ninjas.)
Afterwards people in the class congregated in the pub across the way. While there, Dr. Catterick, our teacher, asked about my PhD. When I explained, he asked if there were any overlap between Egyptian dance and martial arts, so I explained about the Sa’idi dance (a men’s stick dance from upper Egypt that evolved from sparring matches). He said tons of Japanese dance is like that too; a lot of cultures have that connection.
I’m trying to think of an upbeat way to end this post, but the truth is I can already tell that joining this class will be yet another outlet for me to laugh at myself as I bumble and blush my way through each week’s new movements feeling my fully awkward self, and I dread days of soreness and climbing the stairs sideways after each class. What makes it worth it is, I know that through all of that, tiny movements of improvement will shine all the brighter.