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, ďIíll learn this move, that move, this one here is ok, but I wonít learn ďXĒ 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 Iím still doing Capoeira. I can do flips, kicks in the airÖ still canít do splits, but Iím 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.
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, youíre learning something new and your plunging head first into something you donít know. That fear and uncomfortable feeling in your bellyÖ 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.
For most of us, we spend our days at a desk for school or for work. Even now, Iím 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 thatís 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. Itís as though we get past crawling, we never look back, but thereís 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 youíre 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)
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 youíre 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 ďxĒ move?
How do I play ďxĒ instrument? (if instruments are available), and
What do I do when ďXĒ happens?
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 couldnít 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 hadnít practiced her cartwheels, but when she tried it again, there was a noticeable difference in her bodyís 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: ďYou can do much more than you think is possibleĒ. You think you canít do a backflip? Believe me, Iíve seen teenagers with the BMI of a 40 year old fantasy football nerd do them. You think youíll be too scared to play a capoeira game with someone? Think again. Iíve seen awesome transformations in myself as well as others. I used to be very shy in fact, but overcame that, and now Iím a well adjusted human being!
So the next time you think you canít do something like a cartwheel, just remember, youíre 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 youíre curious about Capoeira and want to learn more, feel free to contact me @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Christopher Rodriguez