Whether it is street calisthenics, parkour or martial arts, we look up to people who demonstrate feats of great strength, agility and technique.
20 muscle ups and 5 human flags at a go; traverses over obstacles that end with a leap across buildings; going against multiple attackers armed with weapons. These videos get thousands of hits on social media.
But beginners should get some love too for six powerful reasons.
Joelle proves she can do 15 pushups
Back in December, I initiated a “prove it” challenge. Challengers were asked to set simple goals, work on them and prove that they’ve achieved it on Japan’s Ninja Day. Joelle rose to the challenge and set targets on Karate and calisthenics – one of them was to be able to do 15 standard pushups.
While she was by no means a beginner to physical fitness – she does Karate and swims, she was a beginner at doing 15 standard pushups. This was her attempt and she made it happen.
15 or 16 pushups? Really? What’s the big deal.
Never underestimate the power of 15 pushups!
Here are 6 reasons why you should never dismiss beginner attempts.
1. Taking the first step is insanely difficult
Do you remember how you started out in fitness, parkour or the martial arts? Was it easy to make training a part of your life and commit to it?
Of course NOT.
When you take up a new physical activity, you inevitably give up your old routine for a drastically different one; a change in lifestyle and identity. You have to overcome the paranoia that everyone notices your awkward form and mistakes. You have to endure stupid criticisms from armchair critics, cynical acquaintances and, worse, arrogant veterans in your new sport.
On top of that, you have to resist the urge to succumb to negativity and laziness, or risk falling back into your old life. This is the difficult process that every newbie goes through, until training becomes a matter of habit and momentum.
Without a doubt, there are obstacles even when you are a seasoned athlete or martial artist. But the leap from nothing to being a beginner is a giant step. This is why beginners should be acknowledged for efforts.
By all means, celebrate seasoned athletes and martial artists. However, don’t dismiss people who are starting out. Look to them and give them a thumbs up. They are your fellow warriors.
2. Humility: Every small thing makes a difference
Until you fall from your past achievements, you will never truly appreciate the significance of 15 pushups.
I injured my shoulder back in August and cut down activity. Got back to training and injured it again. The MRI revealed a partial rotator cuff tear and tendinosis. I had to stop all activity involving the upper body. Some sources suggest that such injuries may never fully heal; serious training may not be possible. If so, it would be the death to my identity as a calisthenics enthusiast, obstacle course racer and Aikidoka.
Before, I would have taken 15 pushups for granted. But now, when it is all I can consistently do to trigger healing (and prevent “frozen shoulder”), they mean the world to me.
Likewise, to a beginner, 15 pushups is no small feat. Seemingly small things, make a huge difference when done consistently.
3. Perseverance and the potential to get better
Watching a beginner reminded me of potential, of the future achievement that has yet to come.
The end result you see may be 15 pushups. But behind the scenes, there is a strong commitment to success despite regular-life responsibilities.
When someone commits time and effort, and then achieve their goal, something exceedingly powerful is born within them – confidence and motivation. These factors determine how far a person will go (in their chosen activity), and whether they can brush off failure to stand up again.
This was what I forgot during those darkest moments when I replayed the worst-case scenarios of not recovering. I should persevere and believe the possibility to get better.
And this is the admirable “amulet” that every beginner is developing – confidence in their abilities and perseverance.
4. Improving fundamentals and correcting mistakes
A beginner is a reflection of your past and present. They can help identify long-time fundamental errors in your training.
Unlike people seasoned in their sport, a newbie’s mistakes and anxiety are pronounced. Helping them correct their mistakes improves your fundamentals; giving them the confidence to push on, helps you in your own journey. Furthermore, if you have trained with a beginner, you are more likely to see your own existing mistakes.
Having partnered with white-belts in Aikido, I realised that I left myself open whenever I modified my joint-lock techniques to their level. Adjustment is meant to make the technique safer but not ineffective or wrong. The issue with this presents itself when facing multiple attackers. You want your techniques to always have just enough power without gaps in defense, especially when you have to swiftly face the next attacker.
5. Inspiration to those who have yet to be
A beginner’s attempt can be a source of strength and inspiration. They represent the underdog that can beat all odds.
We live in a world that takes pleasure in mocking people. On the internet, armchair critics scrutinise and dismiss newbies. However, the courageous beginner who openly posts videos of their training becomes an inspiration to those who wish to begin.
And personally, Joelle’s video became a beacon of light when I felt melancholic over my recovery and work stress. I felt unqualified to ask others to prove their progress when my abilities were no longer up to par.
But Joelle’s act of honouring her commitment – without any prodding – woke me up. I could see her doing her best. What was I doing? I needed to do what I could to recover. I needed to believe in myself again. A “beginner” helped me see the light.
6. Oneness: We are all beginners… always
Everyone starts out as a beginner and train in the basics. In time to come, a foundation is built to train in complex moves. But you remain a beginner no matter what, even if you’re an expert.
Consider this. In calisthenics, basic training might involve pushups, leg raises and squats. That is your beginning. Then, you inevitably try higher level skills like the muscleup. Doesn’t this make you a beginner at muscleups? There is always something new to learn and progress to be made.
In fact, at every level of your progress, whether it is new kata, technique or increasing repetitions/load, you are a beginner trying without guarantee of success.
If you’ve gone so far in your warrior journey to forget this, and dismiss the achievements of your juniors, what does this make you?
The next time you watch a video of a beginner, appreciate the effort and commitment they’ve made. Encourage them. Learn from them. Go ahead and give constructive feedback for their improvement.
And if you are a newbie, take the very difficult first step to becoming a warrior. Even the tiniest steps when consistently made, adds up to make a difference. And when you achieve your first benchmark, you build this powerful amulet of motivation and confidence to become great at what you do.
Never ever underestimate the power of 15 pushups or anything lesser. We are all beginners in this journey.