Saturday, June 25, 2011

You have no idea what your body can't do.

I say this to other couch potatoes. I say this as a natural couch potato. No, not those of you who were football players in high school and college and got lazy after your daughter was born, or even those that were karate champions at age 10, but gave up after the priorities of friends and fun took over. 

I'm talking to those of you who hate moving and have always hated moving. Those who only moved during P.E. or on Wednesdays when your parents forced you into a ballet class. I'm talking to those of you who were more interested in D&D, WoW, Magic or Pokemon than...tag. Yes. I'm speaking mostly to my nerdish and bookish brethren. 

We have many reasons for disliking movement. Maybe you're like me and were set against outside play from birth because a grass allergy discouraged you from playing in the lawn with other kids. Maybe your parents were overprotective and wouldn't let you leave the house. me, maybe your knees hurt and your chest burned like fire when you exerted yourself. Maybe you were just clumsy and embarrassed by movement. 

When, at age 12, I took the Presidential Physical Fitness Test and couldn't get my hands past my knees because of tight hamstrings, no one told me that could be changed. No one told me that the fact that I got winded within minutes of running could be remedied. Not even a hint. Teachers focused on the athletically gifted, tolerated the mediocre and the rest of us were expected to survive. One crucial thing they didn't teach me in PE that, for whatever reason, was hammered into students in every other field through homework and writing and repetition...

You can do better.

I had no clue what my body was capable of and no one, from what I could tell, seemed to think it was capable of more. I just assumed that the genes that had my athletic father, uncle, cousins and grandparents on both sides playing college and pro basketball, running track and playing baseball had skipped me. 

Actually...I take that back. I think there can be a draw back in focusing on what a body is capable of. First off, a person has to believe you when you tell them what they "could" do. After the pre-teens, self-perception is pretty much set and everybody involved ends up fighting a losing battle. Even now, let's say my body "could" run a five minute mile. Even if I believe you, so what? Do I need that skill in my daily life? If I don't have a desire and there's no use, why should I even try to reach my full potential?

I don't care what I'm capable of if I don't need or appreciate those capabilities. 

What Brazilian jiu jitsu HAS taught me to care about though, is what I'm NOT capable of. It's a small twist on perspective, but it's made a huge difference for me. I know that I'm not capable of squatting with my feet flat on the floor. I've learned to notice times in my life when I couldn't go about my daily business without an increase in heart rate. I've learned that I couldn't handle my own body weight aside from basic walking and jogging and stair climbing. That last one...really disturbed me. Even if a person never becomes an elite athlete, I believe they should be able to handle diverse spectra of movement of their own physical being. I would have known none of these things had I not started practicing. 

Learning the not and conquering the not, has made me aware of the could and want the could. 

I believe we are a special and uncommon student. I believe that we have a chasm to cross that most other people in gyms don't. I can't name one other person at my gym that isn't an athlete or former athlete or at least a former tomboy. Breaking the negative association with or dismissal of physical movement is a task unto itself, and one I think BJJ is especially well equipped to complete.


Deborah Clem said...

What's great about the "could" is that it feeds on itself and grows like a weed. The "could" lives in the desert without water and flourishes with the most minimal care and feeding, oh the possibilities when it is nurtured...

jen said...

Excellent post Megan.

Megan said...

Thanks Jen!

Exactly Dag...I think what's special about "potatoes" of all kinds is that there's a wall of can't keeping them away from the could. That wall can be a rough one to cross...or even identify.

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting. I do notice more mental limitations are acceptable for movement versus thought. I'd always think it would be easier to learn something physical over intellectual until I explored both and I realized their complexities and openness in both.

Good post.

Strive2Shine said...

I have your blog on my feed, and have really enjoyed reading it. I don't think I've ever commented before, though? So hi!

I love this post! It speaks a lot to what my life has been like.

Growing up, I was severely asthmatic. I only got it under control about 5 years ago, but until that point, my breathing ruled me. On my bad days, I had trouble breathing just sitting still - on my good days, I still wheezed and got out of breath quickly.

Because my ability to breathe was so uncertain, I couldn't play as much as other kids. I didn't have the time to learn hand-eye cordination, to increase my endurance, etc. Plus, exercise sparked asthma attacks - so, even on good days, I had to be careful.

Gym became the stuff of nightmares - a constant reminder of how incapable I was, compared to other kids. But I didn't realize back then that it was because of lack of training, I thought it was something inherent in myself. I just wasn't good.

I take Taekwondo now. When I came to sign up, I almost turned and bolted - because I knew for certain I would fail, and it would be just like gym. And that there'd be that level of humiliation, as I tried to keep up with the athletes.

Slowly, I've been learning that I can do more then I thought ... and that I can keep improving. As you said, if we work at it, we can do better. Somedays, on the bad days, I have to keep reminding myself of that... that as long as I keep with it, I'll eventually get better. But if I stop now, I'll always be this bad.

And I definitely agree about the chasm. For me, it's also part learning to be aware of my body - I've tuned it out for so long. Before Taekwondo, I literally walked into walls. Frequently. Because I wasn't aware of my body's movement. Sometimes when instructors explain something to me, I feel like I have to assure them I'm not deliberately being dense - I just don't get physical stuff that well.

Do you ever get really frustrated with being the natural couch potato of the bunch? How does that affect your experience?

Do you see any benefit to being the natural couch potato? The only one I can think of is this: I'm determined, more determined then someone who is doing what comes easy to them.

Um ... yeah, ok, you can see that I tend to ramble a lot when I do write. I'll close it now, instead of talking your ear off more. ;) Again, loved the post!

Megan said...

Trudy, I've always thought the same way. My mind has changed a lot over these last two years. you said, I'm probably more determined than the average student. I think I get a bit of extra respect, but that assumes people knew. With me, being tall and Black, EVERYONE assumes I played basketball.

I do get frustrated, especially on an endurance level. I hate how easily I sweat, and that doesn't seem to be changing. Don't get me wrong, I'm LIGHTYEARS ahead of where I used to be. I used to feel like a charity case non-stop, but I'm getting a little more skilled and that's fading, though it does resurface sometimes.

A weird twist is arising now though. I'm not the new-girl-that-surprisingly-came-back anymore. I'm usually the highest ranking student in my beginners class, and the new guys didn't see me laying on the mats trying not to pass out after class or fumbling, unable to do forward rolls. I'm just another higher belt to them, and something very interesting.

Ramble on!