Probably the number one reason people don’t come to our classes is fear of our workout. The language we use to talk about what we do at the school seems to make people uncomfortable. People that run marathons or at least jog regularly, people that hit the gym for weight training, people that study other martial arts…all of them seem to worry about how they would do in our class.

I understand where they are coming from. You mention handstands or cartwheels…that can be a pretty intimidating thought. Fencing seems a bit intellectual, which is at least not too scary. Wrestling? Boxing? From the land of the couch, those seem pretty distant and scary. Adding to the discomfort, this blog and the school website have lots of pictures of workouts and people looking fit.

And the truth is we are pretty fit. But we didn’t start out that way.

We are less a school than a process. One part of our process is to create athleticism. Not recognize or promote athleticism, create athleticism.

We do that by never assuming any student is athletic to start. It’s true for the most part. We get fat students and skinny students and strong students and very very fit students, but athletes are pretty damned rare. When I say athlete, I mean a person who can seemingly naturally do any physical activity with apparent ease and maybe even a little ability. That’s a goal. Not a starting condition.

In the time since we’ve started our training program, we’ve had some awesome success. Students start to find shirts not fitting because muscles are growing. Range of motion and ability to move improves dramatically. The more a student trains with us, the stronger, faster and more athletic they become.

We primarily achieve this by getting everyone on their hands as much as possible. It’s a simple little theory…the body is meant to be upright. Bipedal. Reverse that, and adaptions have to happen. Broad adaptions. Simply having strong shoulders isn’t enough to hold, or even achieve, a handstand. The whole body has to have ability. More time upside down, more general adaption.

Handstands are just a tiny part of that, though. The L-sit and other gymnastic strength exercises also depend on bearing the body weight on just the hands. Ring or hanging work adds another level of difficulty and required adaptation. Quadrupedal locomotion exercises add even more.

This is how we start building athleticism. We don’t expect students to be able to do these exercises when they start. We expect that learning, that trying to do these exercises and failing, will begin a students athletic development. Hell, of our four basic strength exercises the very best students have only managed to achieve the correct position in two. And that’s after over a year and a half of hard work.

Everyone in the school is growing and developing. Everyone of us, no matter our current level, started not that long ago with abject failure. The L-sit crushes everyone the first time. Handstands and cartwheels were black magic to a lot of us when we started. So when you show up to your first class, and you start to think about your first cartwheel and that “oh shit…” feeling starts in your gut? Everyone in the room has been in that place and has a fresh memory of it.

Which is probably why the room is full of smiling people. Failure isn’t something we fear or shun. We don’t belittle it. We embrace it. We all tumble, fall, and fail. Do it enough, and it become a bit silly.

And that’s how we became a strong and fit school with a reputation for athleticism. We laughed our way into it. We tossed the serious martial arts focus on blood and guts, and fell on our heads. And butts. And backs, and arms, and pretty much everything else. We learned to laugh, and laughing got us up and trying again and again and again. Laughing at ourselves we learned to push ourselves past what we thought were our own limits.

So when people seem to have a little trepidation at the thought of our workouts, we have to laugh. Because, yeah…they are damned hard. Extremely challenging at times. But you never notice until afterwards because you are having so much fun. Sure, everyone has bad days and times when things seem overwhelming. That happens. Overall, though, our training is about joy. Joy of movement, joy of attaining what seemed impossible, joy of becoming skillful at what seemed confusing and awkward.

It’s not a bad way to leave the couch lifestyle behind.