On Her Own

AMA: Volume 2 – On getting fit and starting BJJ

Physical fitness and Brazilian jiu-jitsu also came up in my AMA, and no surprises there. As one of my followers said, we know fitness is important for self-defense and general health. I’ve talked before about how it can be an important part of being able to stop a bad guy, but also about how being fit alone can make you more able to survive and heal from the fight even if you don’t have specific skills. Besides, life can be more fun when you are physically capable of participating in whatever activities you’d like, without undue pain or struggle. Most of us haven’t been fit our entire lives, though, and being busy, stressed, and injured can lead to us sliding out of shape. How do we ease back in?

Start by thinking about what you enjoy or would like to enjoy. There are so many activities that might not sound like “real” exercise but really are or can be, like going for a hike or bicycle ride on a local trail. Or maybe you’ve always thought that snorkeling and scuba diving sounded cool, or had some idea that you would like to see the world from the summit of a big mountain someday. Drawing from things you already do or dreams you have for your future can give you an idea of the types of exercise that might be right for you. If you already visit a nearby park to walk around, slowly increasing how far or fast you walk or the difficulty of the route you take can be an, ahem, first step to getting into better shape. If seeing the Great Barrier Reef up close is on your bucket list, learning to swim could be the perfect way to, ahem, dip your toe into getting fit.

If nothing comes to mind, or the movements that would lead directly to your goals seem too challenging, then you can start small. Park in the back of the lot and walk to the store entrance. Take the stairs when you are able to. Stand up and sit down ten times during commercial breaks of your favorite show. Find five or ten minutes to do a little yoga or calisthenics, perhaps using a YouTube video or an app. You can choose a structured program if that sort of commitment will help you follow through, or you can simply add it as a task on your to-do list or calendar to make sure you do it regularly. The particular type of activity you choose isn’t as important as actually doing it. They might not feel like you’re doing much, but they’re the kinds of movements that you need to be able to perform for everyday life so being able to do them with more ease and less work is important. After you become more comfortable with moving around in general, it can become easier to pick up something more specific to self-defense or whatever else you want to get into.

Just don’t wait too long. There’s something to be said for just jumping in to whatever it is has your eye. You may need to scale your participation by reducing weight, intensity, or time, but there is still value in watching what others are doing, and in doing as much as you can and trying to increase it a little every time you go. Knowing that hopefully makes the idea of getting started less intimidating. You won’t be very good in the beginning and that’s perfectly okay. It sounds trite, but being present and trying already puts you ahead of the folks who aren’t there and aren’t trying. Hanging in there for only fifteen minutes is tougher than the zero minutes of people who only talk about showing up. Then, as I’ve mentioned in my many posts about Brazilian jiu-jitsu, there is power in showing up, over and over again, consistently. Eventually, the knowledge and the fitness to apply that knowledge will sink into you.

Speaking of BJJ, and answering another AMA question, here are my top three tips for your first day of class:

Manage your eating and hydration beforehand. You will probably do best in your first class if you have eaten a light meal a few hours in advance, generally something that is balanced with protein and carbs unless you specifically know that something else works for you before heavy physical activity. You want to have energy for the strenuous demands you will be placing on brain and body, but you also don’t want to be so full that it distracts you or makes you uncomfortable. You should also be drinking enough water in the days and hours before class that you can tolerate sweating a lot while maintaining an alert mental state that will allow you to pay attention and absorb new knowledge. Be careful, however, not to drink so much that your stomach is sloshing during class.

Show up clean and groomed. That means short nails (hands and feet!), no makeup, reasonably freshly-showered, and wearing clean workout clothes. You shouldn’t have any open wounds or skin infections either, both for your safety and for everyone else’s. If you have long hair, tie it up with a soft band or scrunchy. There is a lot of advice out there on the best ways to manage hair for BJJ but for your first day, out of the way will do. Remember you’ll also need to take all of your jewelry off, so plan ahead on leaving home what you can. All of this may seem obvious, but you might be surprised by what some folks miss. Besides, this is a part you can get right with only a little effort and attention and that’s a good thing to have in your pocket on day one.

Don’t give up. Keep moving, even if you don’t know or remember any specific techniques. We don’t expect you to when you’re new; we’d just like you to be game to try what you are just starting to learn now. This isn’t advice to use your size, strength, or other physical attributes to force an escape from under another body, or to grab on to whatever you can to try to stop your training partner by pure power. It’s also not advice to physically express any panic, anger, or frustration that might come up. It might seem contradictory to ask you to both fight and stay calm, but in there you will find one of the cores of BJJ, to always continue to struggle, but with purpose and intent to learn and discover, not necessarily to “win.”

For those of you who are already actively and regularly working out or doing BJJ, what tips do you have for folks who could use a little boost to get going?

Hi, I'm Annette.

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