Life in Chiang Mai and My First Muay Thai Fight

I haven’t written a journal post since I got back from Japan in April.I haven’t written a blog post for longer.

For some reason, I just haven’t felt that inspired to write. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so busy with school and Muay Thai or maybe it’s because I’ve been having a lot of conflicting emotions lately that I honestly don’t feel like putting down on paper.

But, I felt like maybe it was time to put whatever it is aside, and just start writing. It has always made me feel better in the past and maybe it is just what I need.

I’ve been calling Chiang Mai my home for close to 5 months now, and have been teaching amazing little 4 year old children for 3 months here.

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I adore them. Some days my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. They inspire me to be a better teacher and a better person. I always want them to have fun in my class and will do whatever it takes to make sure that happens.

I have one parent who I talk to weekly via LINE (a messenger app that all Thais use) and she told me that her daughter asks her to pretend to be me so they can practice English together at home. She also asks her mother to teach her small English phrases so that she can communicate with me more in the classroom. It seriously makes my heart melt.

I have such an unconditional love for these children. They are so innocent, sweet, and don’t have a bad bone in their tiny bodies. I don’t care if there is green snot running down their noses, or they pee their pants all over the floor in my classroom – I can handle it, and I honestly don’t even care. I would take that any day if it means I get to have the privilege of teaching and loving these angels on a daily basis.

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I sign in to work at 7:50 am, teach my kids and sometimes Thai teachers (2x a week), prep for lessons, write parent newsletters, record grades, etc. before signing out around 3:30 pm.

From school, I drive my motorbike straight to my gym, Lanna Muay Thai.

We’re currently in the middle of rainy season and the sky loves to open up mostly when I’m just leaving school to drive to the gym, so you can often find me wearing my flattering pink poncho while on my bike (insert monkey covering eyes emoji).

Once I get to the gym around 4:00 pm, I change my clothes and get ready to run. Most days, I run 6k, but if I’m feeling tired, I’ll cut that down to a 3, 4 or 5k  – depends on just how tired I am! After my run, I skip rope for maybe 10 minutes, wrap my hands, and shadowbox for 5 minutes. Sometimes I don’t have time to shadowbox and have to jump straight into sparring, which we do about 3 – 4 times a week. The sparring we do at Lanna is quite light, but sometimes us girls get to spar with the Thai boys, which is a treat because they all have so many fights under their belts. Some days they really try to kill you, which is fun and exhausting all at the same time.

We usually spar until someone tells us to stop, maybe 6 – 7 rounds, maybe more sometimes. After sparring, it’s time for bag work until a trainer calls you over for pad work. Then, depending on time, I usually go back to bag work after for a bit to work more on technique. To finish up, it’s time for abs and some arm/leg conditioning. All in all, our afternoon sessions last about 3 hours.

When I just started training back in September and was just doing it for fitness purposes, I didn’t put too much pressure on myself. That has changed. I’m not even sure when my mind changed from “I’ll never fight” to “I really want this”, but every day I’m trying to push myself to be better, learn more, run faster – the list could go on. It’s not even just the physical aspect of this sport – there is so much mental work that goes into it, as well. When my trainers started to train me for my first fight, they were relentless in making sure that I was prepared. I truly appreciate their dedication to making sure I wasn’t going to completely get my ass handed to me. But, that comes with a lot of prep work: long distance running, sprints, sparring every day, clinching every other day, crazy hard pad work sessions, endless drills on the bag, and getting mentally challenged at every turn.

I’m not going to lie, I cried and I cried a lot. I was frustrated because I didn’t feel like I was performing well, or that I wasn’t going to be ready, or that I wasn’t absorbing information quickly enough. I was taking my frustration out during pad work and not having as much fun as usual. I was pissed during most of those sessions. The trainers and the fighters could see that I was getting upset quite easily those days. Sometimes my eyes couldn’t wait until they got home to fill up, so I would get all teary eyed right there. They would joke around, but I took it more as being made fun of and I didn’t like it. They were testing me, and I didn’t know why at the time.

One day, I was sparring with one of the fighters, Aof, and he was just being relentless. I was starting to get tired and he was kicking my ass, and he kicked me in the liver, not once but twice. Anyone who has gotten liver-kicked knows the pain you feel when that happens, and sometimes, it’s hard to continue on. But I did. I was mad as hell. I came back with a vengeance, and ended up getting swept and falling really hard on my back — the wind was completely knocked out of me. That was my breaking point. Aof ran over to me but I did not want to be consoled or apologized to. I was trying to catch my breath and I knew I was about to cry — realllllly cry — so I jumped up as quickly as I could, ripped off my gloves, got out of the ring, and ran as fast as I could to the end of the driveway so I could cry by myself behind a bush. Pathetic, huh?

Bas, our youngest fighter (12yo), knew I was upset and came to check on me, and Aof followed, apologizing and hugging me. Yea, it was a shitty session. But you know what? It made me stronger. A lot stronger. And they were right to continue testing me — they wanted to make sure that I toughened up enough so that if something like that happened in my fight, I would be able to handle it and not run off crying. I understand that now and I appreciate it.

After weeks of working so hard to prove myself, Dang, our head trainer and one of my favorite people of all time, finally told me he thought I was ready to fight.

I was so pumped. I felt like everything I had worked so hard for finally paid off. He took my picture right then and there for the poster that promotes the fight and he sent that along with my weight to the promoter to set it up. I was on cloud nine.

Dang told me I would be fighting a girl we had seen fight at the Super Fight at Warm Up Cafe a few weeks prior. Our fight would only be her second and we were the same height and weight so it was a good match up. I watched her fight and took notes and tried to put together a strategy. I saved a picture of her to my phone and looked at it before training every day. I pictured her face in my head when I would go running, hit pads or during bag work. I wanted to kill her.

Fast forward the day of the fight — I see the poster that promotes my fight, but my opponent isn’t on that poster. I messaged Dang, asking why there was another girl on the poster, and didn’t receive an answer. I knew in my gut that my opponent had changed and it freaked me out. Don’t get me wrong, I had a couple sleepless nights and some butterflies in my stomach leading up to the fight, but overall, I thought I had been relatively calm (my mom probably would say something different), that is until I saw that.

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I had been planning on fighting the one girl, and just like that, it wasn’t her anymore. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I was strategizing against this particular girl for two weeks and now I wasn’t fighting her?! I decided that there wasn’t anything I could do about it and to just relax. It’s actually extremely common in Thailand for stuff like this to happen — most of the time, you don’t know who you are fighting until you get to the stadium the night of your fight.

I bought a new top for the fight and got lunch with Joe and Amy and then rested the remainder of the day until it was time to go to the gym. As soon as I got there, I was all questions about this new opponent: who was she? how old was she? how many fights did she have? when did they find out? Dang told me he forgot to tell me and then Gaan told me she was a champion — a champion?!?! I almost ran out of there. He started laughing hysterically and I felt a little better knowing he was just kidding around.

Before I knew it, it was time to hop in the truck and drive over to Tha Pae stadium. I didn’t feel that nervous though — I felt ready. This was it, what I had been working so hard for. We got into the stadium and I just tried to listen to music and not get too worked up. I saw my opponent and she looked young, a bit thicker than me and she had some of her hair shaved off on the sides. This is something Amy and I have talked about — it’s scary to have an opponent who has a shaved head. It makes them appear more intimidating.

Anyway, I got changed and Gaan started wrapping my hands and I continued to ask him questions about her. I asked him “how old is she? she looks so young” and he responded with “that’s because you’re old” and we all just started laughing. We laughed about that for a good ten minutes. It definitely broke the tension and made me loosen up.

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After my hands were wrapped and I got a Thai oil massage, I shadowboxed for a little bit to warm up my body. Sanook gave me a pep talk, which really meant a lot to me, and before I knew it, it was time to get in the ring. Dang told me “it’s just like sparring” and that was it. I don’t have a Wai Kru (dance that fighters do before the fight to honor their trainers and gym) yet, so I did a simple walk around the ring, wai-ing at each corner. Then, it was time for the first round.

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I felt weirdly calm. In high school, I was always scared shitless before swim meets or games because I felt such pressure to perform well. I would even throw up sometimes before swim meets. But I felt ready, and I felt prepared. The first round proved that — I certainly won that round. Dang kept saying to me “she’s scared of you! push forward!” I was throwing some head kicks and she was backing up.

The 2nd, 3rd and 4th rounds are kind of a blur. I definitely didn’t black out, as some people say happens to them when they fight, but they just kind of morphed into one. She loved teeping (front kicking) me, and I couldn’t catch them or push them out of the way, which is something I’m currently trying to work on. She also was way better at clinching and throwing knees than I was.

5th round and she knew it was a close fight, so she tried to stay away from me so that I couldn’t gain more points.

By the way Dang looked at me, I knew I had lost. Usually, after the fight and before the decision, each fighter goes to the opposite corner to say thank you and get a sip of water. But Dang told me no, so he helped me get out of the ring instead and that was that. I felt disappointed, but it was also a good fight for my first one so I didn’t feel too horrible about it. You can watch the fight video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UaYT6w5r5M&feature=youtu.be

There were tons of foreigners at the stadium who wanted pictures with me, and someone even slipped me a 20 baht tip (haha!). Most of my gym came to the fight, as well as the teachers from my school, so it felt really nice to have a lot of support. I also found out afterward that my opponent had some where between 4 – 10 fights prior to ours. I felt good knowing I could hold my own fighting someone with more experience than me.

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On the way back to the gym, I sat in the bed of the truck with Amy and Adam and we talked about the fight. I felt really accomplished. I had wanted to fight for so long and it finally happened. But I also felt a little sad – I was really concerned that Dang and the other trainers were disappointed in me.

Back at the gym, we had a couple beers and snacks and then called it a night. I was already a bit sore at that point, but nothing terrible.

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Now, I’m still dealing with a rib injury from that fight that will not seem to go away. It keeps getting tapped in training and it’s starting to act up again. Putting a hot compress on it and rubbing tiger balm into it seems to help, so I’m hoping it’s just an injury that will take a bit of time to heal and not something that is serious.

Since my fight, I took a couple days off to heal and go to Koh Samed with school, but now I’m back on the grind.

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The past couple of weeks, I have felt so exhausted and it has been really affecting my training. Running 6k and hitting pads just feels hard for me – I feel slow and my legs feel heavy. In addition to that, someone who left Chiang Mai on bad terms with me back in November is back for some time and is training at the gym, which makes things a bit awkward and brings up unsavory memories. Gotta love gym dynamics, huh? As they say, don’t shit where you eat.

My Lanna Muay Thai family is my core group here — they see me at my best, my worst, my sweatiest, and everything in between. They know by one look if I’m having a rough day or by one laugh if I had the best day ever. They are constantly pushing me and I love them for that, even if some days it may not seem like it.

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Between school and Muay Thai, I don’t have time for much else, but I love my life here. I like my routine and I like that I get to do what I love, whether that’s teaching or training.

That being said, it can also be difficult. When people from school are going on an adventure on a Saturday or going out for drinks on a Friday night after school, I usually have to decline. I don’t drink too much anymore because I don’t want it to affect my training but I also train twice on Saturdays (6:30 – 9:30 am and 4:00 – 7:00 pm) so going out the night before or trying to squeeze something in between is tricky.

This may make me appear to be uninterested in making friends or whatever they may think, but it’s not like that at all. I’m just focused on what I need to do. And sometimes that hinders me from fostering new friendships. Luckily for me, I have an amazing best friend here named Amy. She’s from Florida and her and her boyfriend, Joe, moved here about 3 months ago to train full time. We were a little wary of each at first (girls, right?) but quickly became close friends. I see her every day, talk to her via messenger when we’re apart, and I just enjoy her company. She teaches me new things all the time, she’s an amazing sparring/drilling partner, and our little dance breaks during training are my favorite (even though we get in trouble for messing around sometimes — hehe). I can talk to her about anything and I know that we’re equally there for each other no matter what. We just click — we get each other. It feels really good to have someone like that here because it’s been a while since I’ve felt like that.

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Lately, I’ve been really missing home. I miss having people around me who have known me and loved me for a very long time.

I miss watching movies, drinking tea, and sneaking chocolate with my mom on lazy Friday nights. I miss eating hot dogs and drinking beers with my dad by the pool. I miss snuggling with my fluffy little puppy. I miss going out for drinks with friends down the shore. I miss waking up to the bay right outside my window. I miss constantly having people to just hang around with.

It’s hard to constantly be in ‘making new friends’ mode — sometimes you just want to be around the people who understand you the most. Sometimes you don’t want to make friends with people because you know they’ll be leaving in a few short weeks anyway so you think to yourself, “what’s the point?”.

I’ve also had to learn the hard lesson that some people I thought were my best friends maybe were just my friends out of convenience. Between the time difference and the distance, it takes effort to keep friendships alive when you live so far away. I am very lucky that I have wonderful friends who try to catch up when they can, but I do have others who seemingly can’t be bothered with trying to make an effort. It’s one of those things that nobody quite tells you before you move far away.

Don’t be fooled though — overall, life is great here.

Sure, I have my bad days just like everyone else — but when I’m driving my motorbike home after a particularly awesome training session, or when I’m in the mountains with friends and see elephants peeking through the trees, or when my students run over to hug me, or when Thai people see me running down the street in my Muay Thai shorts they give me a thumbs up or an encouraging smile, I feel really lucky to be here doing what I love to do.

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4 thoughts on “Life in Chiang Mai and My First Muay Thai Fight

  1. John Serra says:

    Dearest Gina, thank you so much for sharing that wonderful, beautiful story! You are experiencing and learning about life in a way that only a few could imagine and appreciate. You are so dedicated, to your students, training, boxing and more important, yourself! Mom and I love and miss you so much, it’s difficult to talk about. I talk about you at work everyday. Pictures on my walls, stories to go along with those pictures. You have not only introduced us, but many people, to a world of beauty, unbelievable people, beautiful landscapes and truly inspirational stories. We all thank you for that. Without hardship, without tears, without feeling homesick, there wouldn’t be this incredible love that you have discovered for a place that you were meant to visit and work to try to improve and educate their children. “An experience of a LIFETIME” that will be with you forever!!! You are my little girl who I think about constantly. I have to stop myself from calling and saying “come home” but I know as a father and a friend, that I can’t do that because you are doing what’s necessary in your life. I love you, pray to God that you are safe and I just become more patient everyday till you come home, whenever it may be, to have that hotdog and beer together in the back yard. Thank you for the great story. Love your blogs baby. Hugs and kisses. Dad.

    Liked by 1 person

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