......But I Can't Even Do a Cartwheel
When I first started Capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art), I was barely able to do a mediocre cartwheel to one side, and to the other, I was completely terrified. I could barely put my hand down and I had zero confidence that if I did put that hand down, it would keep me up and my head from hitting the floor. Fast forward a few months that changed. Not only could I do a cartwheel on both sides (one side much better than the other), but I felt much more confident and that big ego boost helped me believe that I could do well in Capoeira.
In fact, like many people, I felt very intimidated by Capoeira and made a classic statement to myself even as I was weeks into practicing. I would tell myself, “I’ll learn this move, that move, this one here is ok, but I won’t learn “X” movement. I realize now how intimidated I was by people doing splits, singing, playing instruments, doing kicks in the air, and doing backflips. My teenage brain literally could not comprehend activities that did not include sitting in a desk and playing dodgeball for gym. For that reason, I put a limit on myself. I said, I would never do flips, or any other crazy looking move. I loved Capoeira, but I was scared shitless.
10+ years and I’m still doing Capoeira. I can do flips, kicks in the air… still can’t do splits, but I’m working on it! There was a lot of work that went into learning all the things I said I would never do, so I wanted to share how I got over some of the fears I had.
YOUR FIRST CLASS
Nobody likes being a noob, but much as you might suck at the start, the best advice that anyone can give you is to embrace the suck. Love it, you’re learning something new and your plunging head first into something you don’t know. That fear and uncomfortable feeling in your belly… thats the feeling of adventure. Embrace it and push through. Here are some tips that can help you get through that initial phase and rocket off to success.
GET REACQUAINTED WITH THE GROUND
For most of us, we spend our days at a desk for school or for work. Even now, I’m typing at a desk because that just seems normal to us. We rarely move in a direction other than forwards and most importantly, we hardly ever touch the ground. The ground is something that’s always with us and yet our relationship with it is very distant. Going back to the story of not being comfortable doing a cartwheel, part of the reason I was so scared was that I rarely moved on the ground. It’s as though we get past crawling, we never look back, but there’s something there. Touch the ground, do it now. It can be hard, soft, clean, dirty, whatever. The point is that you build your relationship with the ground because in Capoeira as well as with many other moving arts, we are constantly fearful of the ground. Falling on your butt is a big fear for people and when you’re doing something new, the last thing you need is another obstacle in your path. Build a relationship with the ground.
Some things to try are: Crab walks and tripod headstands. (like you did when you were a kid)
ASK OTHERS FOR ADVICE
Something that helped me with the initial feeling of awkwardness was to ask people who have been practicing for a few years how to do something that was confusing to me. In Capoeira, everyone is always helpful and showed me step by step how to do moves like a queixada or volta por cima (youtube search if you’re curious what those are). I always felt like I got a leg up on my Capoeira game by asking people for advice. People in general are usually willing to help you if you ask politely for their advice, so ask away!!! If you do try Capoeira, my experience is that Capoeira people have tend to be friendly, open, and hang out with each other more than other group classes and martial arts practitioners.
Some questions you can ask:
How do I do “x” move?
How do I play “x” instrument? (if instruments are available), and
What do I do when “X” happens?
YOU CAN DO MUCH MORE THAN YOU THINK
An interesting thing about the body is that it can do more than you think. Skill acquisition starts in the brain, like a computer that downloads new software. Learning any new movement requires your brain to rewire itself in a way that activates that new skill. Take for example a student of mine who swore, they couldn’t do a cartwheel... During the lesson we practiced just that, cartwheels. The student went on vacation, and two weeks later came back for her second class. During that time she said she hadn’t practiced her cartwheels, but when she tried it again, there was a noticeable difference in her body’s ability to produce the movement. In other words, the mind downloaded the software, allowing her to realize more of her potential.
This example is just to say one thing: “You can do much more than you think is possible”. You think you can’t do a backflip? Believe me, I’ve seen teenagers with the BMI of a 40 year old fantasy football nerd do them. You think you’ll be too scared to play a capoeira game with someone? Think again. I’ve seen awesome transformations in myself as well as others. I used to be very shy in fact, but overcame that, and now I’m a well adjusted human being!
So the next time you think you can’t do something like a cartwheel, just remember, you’re capable of much more than you think. The only thing left is for you to take a bet on YOURSELF and go for it.
If you’re curious about Capoeira and want to learn more, feel free to contact me @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Christopher Rodriguez