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“Can I try martial arts if I’m not in shape?” by Shelley Lopez

I both love and hate this question. I love it because it gives me an opportunity to set the record straight. I hate it because it is so inherently limiting. It is a question that reveals how much we doubt ourselves and what we think we can achieve. Regardless, I am always so happy to answer it.

When I started training, I had the same fear and insecurity most people have, but I continued to train. I had periods of time where I trained intensely for grappling tournaments and even my first kickboxing tournament. I also had periods of time where I was really inactive. Sometimes it was because life was going really well. At other times, it was because life was crashing down on us hard. Through it all, I somehow always found my way back to training.

On February 15, 2020, I finally made it to Combat Night. It had long been a dream of mine to compete with them. I had attended many times. I have watched countless teammates and friends compete, including my husband, Tim “Roadhouse” Lopez. Somewhere deep inside of me a nagging insecurity had always held me back. “Am I really good enough to fight?”

It is a compliment to those who have achieved success in combat sports that we hold them in such high regard. The average person looks at MMA, BJJ, Kickboxing, etc., and thinks, “I could never do that.” It is a testament to the level of skill and dedication it takes to excel in combat sports. I wish I could say that I went into my match brimming with confidence, but it would be a lie. I wish I could say that six years of training made me feel adequately prepared to step into the cage, but it did not. I was NERVOUS. I can’t emphasize that enough – INCREDIBLY NERVOUS.

I trained diligently for months and still felt woefully under qualified to embark on this journey. To my surprise, the fear left the moment I began to walk to the cage. It seems intuitive to assume that this would be the moment of panic, but it was not. It was at this moment that there was absolutely no turning back. I was now marching toward the future with absolutely nowhere else to run. My team was behind me. They had poured countless hours and energy into my preparation and now it was up to me to put it to the test.

And then it was over. The feeling of getting my hand raised at Combat Night was one I had wanted for so long that it felt like a dream. It finally happened. I continue to be astounded by the people who congratulate me and use words like “inspirational.” I do not think they mean that I am a phenomenal or exceptional fighter.

What I think they mean is that they see themselves in me. I am not going pro. Fighting is not my full-time job or my only focus. I certainly do not LOOK intimidating. No, I think what they see is an average person, who trains as a hobby, who struggles with their weight, who juggles competing responsibilities, yet somehow managed to make it into the cage.

They see the person who showed up to an MMA gym one day and asked, “Can I try martial arts if I’m not in shape?”

That’s who most of us are. We are ordinary people that, for whatever reason, want a little taste of something extraordinary. Fear doesn’t just delay our goals; it will destroy them if we let it. The good news is that you can have the extraordinary.

The first thing you have to do is show up.

The second thing you have to do is keep coming back.

Shelley Lopez

Photos via Combat Night

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