What Noone Told Me About Muay Thai

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When I first started training Muay Thai, I did it for exercise, slowly falling in love with it, and eventually leading me to fight. After deciding to fight, I knew it was going to be a whole new level of the sport physically, but noone told me how much I was going to cry, or feel, or be mentally challenged.

Amongst the emotional struggles for me was frustration and anger, as well as thinking I wasn’t good enough or ready. These emotions came out as tears, which I wasn’t expecting. I have never been one to have a hard time expressing my emotions, or crying when I’m upset or angry, but in the middle of training? In front of a gym full of people? That was different to me.

I’m in the middle of fight training right now for my 4th fight, and after having time off from fighting because of injuries, I almost forgot how emotional I get. I cried in the gym two days in a row.

The first time I cried, I was sparring with Aof. He’s an experienced fighter, a young Thai man who I usually enjoy sparring or clinching with. He can go very hard, but for the most part, I always feel like I can handle him, even if I’m just defending and getting a couple shots in. This particular day, we went a bit harder than usual. I heard my main trainer, Sanook, saying things to him, and I can only assume he was telling him to put on the pressure to get me ready for my fight, which I can appreciate. But, it felt different this time. It felt like Aof was trying to get me to my breaking point. He liver kicked me twice, broke a contact lense into three pieces in my eye. He could feel my frustration. He knew I was giving him everything I could. He knows that there is no contest in our skill levels, and as a crowd formed around the ring to watch us sparring, he began to go harder, proving that he was dominant, and I could never win. To me, that was obvious the whole time. I didn’t understand why he felt like he had to prove that to everyone. It pissed me off and my anger took over. He was able to get me in a position I couldn’t get out of without him breaking it, and the whole while, I’m struggling, and he’s laughing, along with another young Thai fighter, Big.

I completely lost my ability to conceal my emotions – anger, embarassment, frustration, doubt – and by the time the tears started rolling, he finally let me go and I sprinted out of the ring trying to hold onto whatever dignity I still had, while every spectator watched. In that moment, I questioned if I was even ready to fight again. I had forgotten this part of training.

I let the jai lawn (hot heart) take over, instead of keeping a jai yen (cool heart), and that embarassed me. It’s something I actively remind myself of – keeping a jai yen. I realized I needed go back into the gym and keep going, even though I was so angry and humiliated. As soon as I stepped back on the mat, nobody had even skipped a beat. Nobody asked me if I was okay – it was as though everybody either felt bad for me, or they were shaming me for my jai lawn. Or maybe I was just completely overthinking the entire thing.

As training ended, I did abs on my own so I could get out of there early. I didn’t want to be there any longer. I cried on my way home, feeling sorry for myself and vowing to do better the next day.

Entering the gym the next day, I still felt a little bit awkward about the previous day’s event. Everyone acted normal, except for Aof. He wouldn’t even look in my direction. Training was fine, and it came time for clinching. One of the trainers joked that I could clinch with Aof and I just said “no, thanks!” opting to clinch with Big. Before we could even begin, I heard Big and Aof talking and laughing, recognizing song loy (200 baht) and sam loy (300 baht), meaning they were talking about money, or making a bet about something. I immediately didn’t have a very good feeling.

The next thing you know, Big is completely annihilating me in the clinch. Once again, I felt helpless, but continued on, not wanting to give up or give Big and Aof something else to laugh about. He unleashed the beast on me, and I crumbled, already pretty shattered from the previous day’s disasterous sparring session. I turned away, and just sat at the back of the ring, trying to control myself, as Big and Aof errupted into a laughing fit, probably figuring out who owed the other money. I was really upset and their reaction just brought on a ton of hot tears rolling down my face.

Nook, the oldest trainer at the gym, came over to me and in the limited English he knows, really tried to make me feel better, telling me mai bpen rai (don’t worry). I could truly sense his genuine compassion and I appreciated it, but was unable to say that. Sanook realized I was really upset and came over, first just asking if I was hurt because at this point I was bright red, unable to catch my breath, and tears streaming – a hot mess. I just unleashed a straight sentence of profanity, which I have never done in front of anyone at the gym or any Thai in general, not caring at all how it made me appear. I was so so angry that Aof and Big’s goal had not been to help me or teach me, but to hurt me mentally and maybe even physically.

Sanook assured me that crying is part of the process and it’s okay to be upset – that if I were to ask any trainer in the gym if they had cried during their early Muay Thai days, they would say “yes, of course.” He emphasized this point, and told me to look at Bas, our 12-year-old fighter, who cries almost everyday. I reminded him that Bas is 12 and I’m 26, but it made me realize that even though we are different in age, we are still at the same point in our Muay Thai careers – just beginners.

This sort of situation is a part of earning your stripes – being broken down in the gym so that it doesn’t happen during an actual fight. I understand this, and have understood this since training for my first fight. This time just felt different.

I’ve been at Lanna a long time, and the trainers and fighters have become my family and support system – a home away from home. I rely on them emotionally, especially when I have a fight coming up. This felt like a betrayal of sorts. I told a friend about it and she mentioned that they were just acting like “brothers”, but I’ve never had siblings, and I honestly still can’t figure out if they were trying to help me or hurt me.

As a couple of weeks have passed, and Aof and Big fail to acknowledge my existence anymore, I can’t help but wonder what really happened. Sanook says they just think I’m mad at them and don’t want to reach out to me, but it makes me wonder if there are layers of Thai culture stacked on top of this situation that I will never understand. All I know is that I would hate to return to the U.S. in April never talking to my “brothers” again.

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