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The Horrible Awkwardness and Angst of Being A Beginner: In Aikido or at Anything

Filed under Public Relations

I’m sore all over. My Achilles heel is swollen up like a golf ball, my left knee aches, my shoulders have more knots in them than a sailor can tie.

All from training intensely for my Aikido test next Saturday.

colorAikido training
Photo Credit: Nikos Gazetas

It’s for my 1st Kyu, the test before the Shodan or black best test.

When I tell people that I train in Aikido (Japanese martial arts) they typically get a look of admiration in their eyes. Like I’m Xena The Warrior. Even when I tell them it’s nothing to be impressed about. If you saw me throw a 200-pound guy you would NOT, I repeat NOT be impressed.

trainAikido training & Martial arts training
Photo Credit: Michael Hanscom

Because…I’m not flowing, graceful, relaxed, coordinated or elegant. To the contrary, I’m stiff, tense, foot-awkward and have poor timing. I still cry after many a class with frustration.

Sometimes, in the middle of class, I panic, and think I can’t do it. My sensei always seems to catch me when that look crosses my face and he says, “Susan, you can do it.” Or “Have courage.” Or “Be brave.” Which then triggers tears that I hold back – because it’s not considered Budo – or martial to cry on the mat – and I’ll be damned if I’m going to break that man-code.

heroSelf mastery & self esteem training
Photo Credit: Philippa Willitts

The other day, I trained with a black belt after hours who hit my jo (long wooden staff) with so much force it smacked me on the side of my head so hard that I was stunned. Once I recovered my senses, I rushed to the girl’s dressing room to get some ice from the freezer and felt the tears coming – more shock than pain. But all my training helped me ground and center myself so I could just focus on the task and not the pain. After a few minutes of icing we continued to train.

Why do I keep doing it? It’s a case of love/hate.

aikido10,000 hours of training for mastery, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
Photo Credit: Maurizio Biagiotti

 Yesterday my teacher, Hans Goto Sensei said, we train to prepare ourselves for the unusual, to face things bravely, to see clearly.

Those are a few of the reasons I continue to train. And…

I strive to be elegant and skilled, to master not just my mind and body, but my emotions, fears and feelings. In so many ways I’m really far away from any kind of self-mastery right now.

Case in point. I just did a run through for “the test” on Sunday and the two black belts I was training with said I was timid. This pains me. I’m not a timid person. I’ve run my own business for over 25 years and have taught thousands of people, everyone from CEOs to celebrity chefs, rock stars to reality TV contestants, entrepreneurs, authors, speakers, coaches and consultants to speak up and not to take guff from anyone – to prepare for media interviews for Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Howard Stern, Bill O’Reilly, NPR etc. Tough shows with little room for error or timidity.

My motto is: Speak your mind. Stand your ground. Sing your song.™

singing How to be good at anything
Photo Credit: Pete Toscano

I live by it. Or rather, I’m living into it. But, for whatever reason, I haven’t been able to translate those skills that I use in business onto the mat.

When I told my sweetie, Will, that I was called “timid” he said, “You’re not a timid person. Timid is a character thing. You’re just a little hesitant when it comes to Aikido. Hesitancy can be overcome with practice.”

This gave me heart.

Because I have a second motto I live by: Keep training.

akiCommunications skills training
Photo Credit: HoangP

It’s not easy being bad at something. But it’s how we all start. And sometimes the awkwardness and ineptitude doesn’t dissipate for quite a while.

Whether it’s creating a blog post or doing a coaching call or creating a website or speaking in front of a group, or singing to a crowd, or writing a book, or doing a sketch, or cooking a cake, or flying a plane, or raising a child, or starting a relationship, beginnings can be awkward, uncomfortable, frustrating, and fearful.

cupcakesMedia training, media coaching, Speaking training
Photo Credit: Catharina Demasi

Eventually, it gets easier. Sometimes, like in my case with Aikido, microscopically.

Seriously, it’s been 5 years already.

Though now most of the time I don’t get super nervous and trembley going to classes, I still get pangs of angst. But it’s nothing like the first year where anxiety made my stomach lurch just thinking about training. And every night I’d go through a tedious negotiation with myself in my head for hours about whether to train or not. I’ve wasted so much time flipping back and forth in that limbo.

Then, if I decided to go I’d be, on the mat sitting seiza (proper Japanese sitting position on your knees), watching intensely as Sensei demonstrated a technique several times from different angles, slowly, precisely, smoothly. By the time we paired off to train I’d have forgotten how to start, or where to move my feet, overwhelmed by all the steps.

lineupSpokesperson training
Photo Credit: Caroline and Stephane

No matter how much I paid attention or strategized – watching on the feet first only for example, it wouldn’t stick.

Now, while I often still have to think about which foot to move first, some if it has become automatic. Not a lot, but enough to stave off all despair of becoming proficient.

One last thing, the most important, actually. Even through the frustration and pain and anxiety, Aikido makes me feel alive like nothing else. No matter how crabby or worried I am when I step onto the mat, I leave feeling uplifted and joyful. Crazy, but true. My teacher, Hans Goto Sensei is so skilled, patient, good-natured and joyful himself, he transmits that directly, to all of us, in every class. In him, I see what is possible.

Goto Evans Altar NiederbergerPhoto credit: Nathalie Niederberger Do everything with joy

And I see what is possible in you too. I want to give a shout out to those of you who are doing the hard things, day after day, month after month, year after year. Because it gets better, even if it’s microscopically. Even if it’s painful, angst ridden and agonizingly slow. And you get better too. This I know for sure.

If you want to shortcut the learning curve, and any awkwardness or angst, to get publicity and grow your business and your reputation (and perhaps a jolt of joy) and then join us for this free training. RSVP here.


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