23 September

The first day I ever walked into a Martial Arts gym

As a 16 year old kid, skinny and with confidence issues, the thought of walking into a martial arts gym was terrifying to the point of being almost paralyzing. As a (soon to be) man it seemed counter-intuitive to intentionally put myself in a situation where every single person in the room could beat me up on a whim. I was so low on the tough guy totem pole that if we are talking about a pecking order I would have to work my way up to being the worst guy in the room. I was the base line.

After weeks of giving myself pep talks I finally gathered enough courage to walk in the front door for the first time. I was trying to behave like a man, and so a little fear couldn’t stop me, but the truth is I had already made up my mind that this wasn’t for me before I’d stepped foot inside the gym. Like a clever teenager I had already prepared 1000 excuses for my parents as to why I didn’t want to go back: the people are mean, it is a stupid sport, it’s too expensive, the drive is too far. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that 1 of those 1000 excuses was “I beat them all up”. Before you judge young Lyndon, keep in mind that self-preservation, particularly preservation of your ego, is a teenagers number one priority.

Walking in to the gym the door seemed heavier than most, the stairs leading to the lobby seemed higher, and the large welcome sign posted over the office seemed blurry and impossible to read. After my shaky hand signed the waiver I got changed and walked on to the mats to get ready for my first (and what I was sure would be my last) No-gi Brazilian Jiu-jitsu class. I was so convinced that some kind of fight or confrontation was inevitable that I refused to make eye contact with anyone on the mat, not even the pre-teen class that was finishing up before the adult class. Those 10 year olds looked like little killers.

The adults were all sitting patiently along the wall waiting for their turn to train, and as I took a few steps onto the mats I realized that there was only one seat left. Of course it was beside the guy covered in tattoos with an intense look in his eyes. My heart was racing, but I knew I couldn’t turn back now. I slowly walked towards the guy who in my mind probably tortures puppies for a living and sit down. I try my best to be invisible, to become one with the old mats. I feel the crazy man turn and look at me and I’m sure he can see into my soul. Death has to be easier then this! Seconds go by (minutes, maybe hours) and I know he knows that I can see him looking at me. Finally I decided to wave the white flag and smile in hopes he spares me in his massacre.

As our eyes connect he smiled reached out his hand and said “Hey I’m Gavin, you must be new here.” I nodded. “Great! You’re going to love it. Let me know if you need any help.”

After an hour of warming up, and practicing a detailed technique the instructor taught us, it was time to actually fight. I learned afterwards that its generally called sparring or rolling in No Gi, but I thought it was a fight. Every single person in class tapped me out many times. I was so exhausted that at one point I’m pretty sure I tapped out to eye contact. After every round though my new tattooed friend helped me up, and patted me on the back.

When the class was done everyone was exhausted, healthy happy and full of smiles. Not a single person rushed off the mats like you would at the end of a work day or at the end of a math class. Everyone hung out shared a few laughs and stories before heading home to their loved ones. It was clear very that these people all came from very different walks of life and have become friends with one another over the common bond of fitness and martial arts.
The moral of the story is don’t judge a book by its cover. A martial art facility is intimidating to everyone; guys, girls, children and adults regardless of their background. The irony for me is that Gavin, the scary tattooed guy, was once scared of a martial art facility too. Our greatest fears lay in anticipation and if you give a new gym or any new experience a chance, more often than not it’s not as scary as you thought and more fun then you could have ever imagined.

15 years after walking into a gym for the first time I am still friends with many of the people in that first class. I have even grown to learn that Gavin, the rage-aholic puppy beater, is actually a kind gentle soul, truly a person I can always depend on. For anyone remotely interested in martial arts I urge you to try at least one class. It may change your life for the better.

-Lyndon Whitlock

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