How to Be a Beginner

Butterflies bounced around my stomach and I nervously spun my ring around my finger. I kept my eyes down so no one would talk to me. I whispered questions to Jeff about what to expect, what to do, where to put my bag and when to take off my shoes. I felt very uncomfortable and unsure. I’d wanted to try jujitsu for some time, but finally decided I was ready to try into my first class.

Last week, I tried Jujitsu for the first time. And for the first time in a while, I got a bold reminder of what it feels like to be a beginner — to be completely new. To swallow my fear, anxiety, and nervous thoughts and walk through a door to try something completely different and outside my comfort zone.

I’m sure I had similar feelings the first time I tried CrossFit (which feels like a lifetime ago now), but as I entered the jujitsu studio I kept reminding myself that everyone I was about to meet started as a beginner at some point in their life. That just like new members that enter CrossFit Ampersand for their first On-Ramp class, my nervous feelings were normal but weren’t a reason to turn around and run.

Being a beginner is uncomfortable.

Trying something new is uncomfortable. Especially when you’re in a group with other people that aren’t beginners or aren’t as new of a beginner as you.

My experience was a whole bunch of uncomfortable moments, including:

  • Wearing the only loaner Gi (uniform) that they had in my size, that just happened to be BRIGHT PINK (while everyone else was wearing white, blue, or black).

  • Feeling like I’m putting another student out when they were paired with me to practice some drills and they literally had to teach me the entire time.

  • Apologizing over and over when I did a move wrong and had to restart and try it again.

  • Laughing nervously every time I’d forget the next step of what I was supposed to be trying.

  • Feeling the eyes of the entire class on me when I was introduced as the new member (as if being the only one wearing a bright pink uniform didn’t help me stand out already!).

  • Smashing my body into the bodies of a few complete strangers. Hi, I’m Harmony, let me hug you with my legs. Oh and here’s some of my sweat.

  • Being asked by one of the instructors if I had learned to “horsey,” if I remembered what position was “guard,” or if I had drilled “blahbidy-blah (insert-other-technical-jujitsu-term-that-I-can’t-remember-here)” and staring back with a blank face

  • Hearing "Just do what feels natural” while being folded up like a stepped on spider as my opponent stretches one arm and one leg in opposite directions and simultaneously traps my neck in their arm and continues to press my entire body into the floor… *nervous laugh* nothing feels natural to escape, except that wriggling motion I tried which clearly made my position even worse. LOL.

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BUT… I LOVED IT.

Once I decided to take it one minute at a time and allowed myself to be a beginner, it was awesome.

Everyone was encouraging and helpful. They didn’t care that I didn’t know what things were called or that I didn’t magically pick everything up after being shown once — because they weren’t expecting me to. They helped me over and over. And I accepted the help, thanked them for the help, and asked for help when I needed it.

I was still uncomfortable because it was new. But it was a really fun experience. And the fun new experience outweighed the nervous uncomfortableness.

Stepping back into CF& as a coach made me reflect on my beginner jujitsu experience and reminded me of a few things:

  1. We should try new things, and regularly. Our life is made up of our experiences. Every time we try something new it expands the boundary of those experiences and makes life more interesting, more relatable, and you become more adaptable to future challenges/experiences. So try a new sport, a new hairstyle, accept the invitation to that class your friend asked you to try, or book an appointment for some activity you’ve always wanted to do but were too scared. If you have been curious about CrossFit and wanted to try it, do it.

  2. Allow yourself to be a beginner and be okay with being uncomfortable. You can be uncomfortable and still learn and have fun. Every time you repeat the process you move away from beginner towards novice then eventually expert.

  3. Remember that everyone who is an expert was once a beginner and at one point, started where you are.  When you join in on a group class, no-one is judging you for being a beginner. You aren’t expected to master anything in a day. Give it time. Accept and ask for help from those who are further along from you.

  4. Bring a friend. All new experiences are a little less daunting when you have someone you trust by your side experiencing it with you.

  5. Take small steps. At CrossFit Ampersand we start with a No Sweat Intro, which is a one-on-one chat with a coach where we discuss your goals, tour the gym and talk about how we can help you reach your goals. Then for most people they start with a few one on one personal training sessions (On-Ramp) before starting group classes. We teach them the movements they’ll encounter in class and ensure they can move safely. This helps buffer those beginner feelings and make joining in a little less daunting.

  6. Take action. I wish I had tried Jujitsu a year ago. I think back now to all those times thinking about telling Jeff I wanted to go in. All the times he asked me to try it and I shrugged it off (even though inside I wanted to go). If I had said yes — if I had ignored the anxious fear — I would have been doing it for a year now and be out of the early beginner stage already. But I’ve started and now I’m already on my 4th class!

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