Suck It Up Buttercup: Getting Muay Thai Tough

Muay Thai Tough

I was not always Muay Thai tough. When I was twelve, I fell onto the edge of a broken log while running through a park. It felt like a basic scrape, something I was accustomed to getting now and then because I liked to play outside.  My mother reached out her hand to me, helped me up and instantly tilted my head up. “Don’t look at it,” she said.

I did as I was told and we started walking to the car. It didn’t hurt that bad, I told myself, but I did feel some blood trickling down my leg. “Don’t look!” My mother reminded me as we hurried toward the parking lot.

Once inside the car, my mother began driving to the closest hospital. I tried to close my eyes, but I couldn’t help myself. I looked down at my knee and saw a gaping hole in the knee cap about two inches long and an inch wide. Instantly a searing pain registered in my mind and I began to cry.

I always wanted to be a tough girl, but I never felt very tough. I whined when I was sick, cried when I got injured and felt hurt when kids made fun of me. I played basketball, but not very well and not nearly as good as the girls who started on the varsity team.

Fast forward to 2002 when I found Muay Thai, fell in love with the training and decided this would be the sport that toughened me up proper. I loved every part of it: the bruised shins, the sore muscles, the tired legs from running, even the blisters on my feet from learning to pivot on my kicks.

Muay Thai is a rough sport. Minor injuries are common even if you don’t train to fight. But another aspect of toughness that Muay Thai teaches you is mental. Most of what we consider pain is mental. Ever see a kid fall? They don’t cry right away. If it’s a small tumble, they pause and often freeze momentarily, waiting for an adult’s reaction. If the adult freaks out they cry; if the adult laughs and smiles at them and picks them up, they usually just move on and keep playing. We learn how to be tough. Even if we don’t learn from our parents, I’ll argue that we can teach ourselves later if it’s important to us.

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Finding the Right Muay Thai Gym for You

So you’ve decided you want to take up Muay Thai or Kickboxing and you have begun to search for gyms near you. It’s exciting to try something new, but where do you start and what do you look for in a gym? If you are new to martial arts or the last time you look a martial art you were in the little dragons karate program, you probably have a lot of questions and are not sure which are the right ones to ask. So how do you go about finding the right Muay Thai gym?

Finding the Right Muay Thai Gym for You

What is your reason for wanting to learn Muay Thai?

Get Clear About Your “Why”

I suggest that the first thing you ask yourself is,  “Why do you want to take up Muay Thai?” Take some time to sit down and write down your reasons.  Do you want to lose some weight or increase edurance?  Do you want more confidence?  Are you just interested in self defense or do you want to learn to spar and have plans to compete in the sport one day? If you don’t have specific reasons that’s ok too, sometimes people want to start a martial art simply because they want to try something new. Maybe you know you should be active to be healthy but clocking thirty minutes on the treadmill at 24 Hour Fitness followed by a half-hearted trip to the free weights area surrounded by grunting people wearing headphones just isn’t doing it for you anymore. That’s a good reason too.

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Why Am I Not Losing Body Fat?

 

I get my body fat tested every three months using hydrostatic weighing. The past few months I have been getting in five workouts a week, logging my food in an online app, and watching my calorie intake, but when got my results I was the same percentage of fat, lean mass and scale weight as three months earlier. Immediately I asked myself, “Why Am I Not Losing Body Fat?” Not with judgment, but just in a scientific way, the way you might ask, “Why is the sky blue?”

Most people might get discouraged by no progress, but I’ve been a fitness professional for ten years, and I know a few things about fat loss and progress. I did a quick evaluation of what I had been doing vs. what I could be doing and what I have done in the past and here’s what I quickly realized.

  1. My daily life has been pretty stressful lately
  2. My macros have not been entirely on point
  3. Some of my workouts were more “maintenance” than challenging workouts
  4. I have not been willing to change a few of my “vices, ” i.e., Ice cream, wine, corn chips and bourbon
  5. If I’m truly honest, I am not nearly as motivated to lose body fat as I was when I was fighting
  6. I’ll be 38 in 2 months

#5 is a big one. Willingness. I sat down and thought to myself about how my motivation, training, body image and goals have changed since I stopped fighting.

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Benefits of Sparring Muay Thai

Do you remember that feeling when you were a kid at the top of a snowy hill on your sleigh, and you were scared to go down it, but you did it, and it was terrifying and glorious at the same time after you got to the bottom you ran back up and kept doing it again and again for hours? No?  Okay, well maybe you lived in a warmer climate and there was some big rock your friends dared you to jump off of into the water and you were so freaked out, but finally you did it, and it was so much fun that you told everyone about it and maybe started to recruit other people to do it, and maybe you teased your friends who didn’t want to  jump.

Well, that’s kind of what sparring Muay Thai is like… kind of. At least that the best analogy I could come up with today.

muay thai team sparring

Post Muay Thai Sparring Smiles with my team at F5 Fitness

I will say that learning to spar is one of the hardest things I’ve accomplished in my life and also the most rewarding. I’ve written before about why it’s okay not to spar if you don’t want to and still train Muay Thai with pad work, but I wanted to write about why you should along with the mental and physical benefits of sparring Muay Thai.

Obviously, sparring makes you better at the sport of Muay Thai, but what can it do for your life in other ways?

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How Being Wrong Made Me Become a Better Coach

 

I hate being wrong. When I was a little girl if my mother was looking for a misplaced item, like the kitchen scissors and she asked me if they were in my room I would reply, “No!”, even if they were sitting in my desk drawer. Then I would pretend to help her try to find them, sneaking into my bedroom when she wasn’t looking to get them and then running to another location in the house and eventually proclaiming I had found the kitchen scissors in the bathroom and say, “Isn’t that odd? Why would someone put them there?”

My mother never called me on this tactic, but I wish she would have. It allowed me to continue trying to be right, even when the stakes were low. Let’s be honest, most of us love being told we have the right answer. We loved raising our hand and giving a teacher an eloquent explanation of the problem on the chalk board, and when we were wrong, it stunk. The class would giggle, we’d feel deflated, stupid, and embarrassed.

When I started coaching people in Muay Thai and became a personal trainer people asked me questions and expected me to have answers. It’s hard as a coach to say, “I don’t know, sorry” or “Let’s find out together!” It’s a shame that comes with being wrong and the burning desire to be right that cause people to look for a hard and fast answer to everyone’s problems.

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How to Become a Champion Fighter

muay thai fighter tattoos

I was not a likely fighter. I was twenty-four, soft, nonathletic and felt pretty uncomfortable in my own skin, let alone a boxing ring when I first started Muay Thai. I did however have one thing going for me; I was ridiculously disciplined. I would show up to train every day. I worked hard. I did my road work. I didn’t complain (much). This discipline was enough to develop skills and techniques that would make me a good fighter. But that was it, I was just good, not champion material yet. To be great, to be a champion and a professional I needed one more quality – Conviction. Conviction for me took time to develop. Due to my lack of previous athletic skills I was used to seeing myself as the same girl that was picked last in dodge ball and who sat the bench at varsity basketball games. These views of yourself take time to change, but eventually with enough hard work, self discovery and winning fights my confidence improved. I started to go into the ring thinking, “I got this!”, instead of “What the fuck am I doing in here?”

There are three qualities that make a great fighter:

Discipline, skill and conviction.

Now that I coach fighters I find I am often thinking about these three qualities. In my opinion to be a champion you must excel at all three. Of course desire is the fourth that all fighters must have, but I leave that out, as it’s obvious that the desire must be present or the fighter won’t even want to fight.

There are some good fighters out there that excel at just two of the above three qualities, and are simply average or sub par in the third. They can skirt by for a while, but eventually they get beaten by those that have mastered all three as they rise up the ranks.

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Depriving Yourself for Fitness Success Doesn’t Work

“8 out of 10 dieters fail.”
“95% of people who diet gain the weight back.”
“New Year’s resolutions fail.”

You’ve probably heard all these alarming and pessimistic statistics and maybe even felt quite defeated by them. Well, if you’re a nerd like me you’ve looked up a few scientific studies on diets, weight loss and willpower and while the results regarding the possibility for diet failure (i.e. regaining the weight) are inconclusive, the studies often lacking in proper sample size and sometimes using unreliable methods, there is one thing I am certain about: You are not doomed to fail if you decide to make positive changes in your life.

Unfortunately, many diets don’t focus on positive habits. Instead, they remind people they need to sacrifice, just try harder, give up things we love to get smaller and ban certain foods altogether. Even if there are certain bad habits and poor choices in our lives, we will do better without, I have found that focusing only on trying to quit them is not as effective as you would think.

There is a huge difference between dieting vs. creating new healthy habits. Dieting is depriving yourself ample calories so that your hangry outbursts make your friends want to shove giant chocolate croissants in your mouth to shut you up, becoming a cardio bunny who runs for hours on the treadmill and eats nothing by carrots, lettuce, ice cubes, Balance Bars and fat free Jello pudding snacks, and telling yourself that your favorite foods are now “Off limits!” which lasts until about 7 pm when you then eat the fridge and then in a final act of “fuck it” thinking make a trip to the 24-hour drug store for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.  Positive lifestyle changes i.e. adding healthy habits into your life that modify the way you make decisions is a much saner, happier approach.

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Overcoming Pre Fight Nerves

sealing the ring muay thai

“Sealing the Ring”

You can feel your sweaty palms underneath the gauze and tape your coach masterfully bound over your hands. You tried hard not to let your hands shake while they worked. You begin to stretch and warm up, shadow box and you notice your mouth is dry. The gloves get taped on by a commissioner, and you realize now there is no going back, not even another bathroom break. Maybe at this moment, you have a twinge of doubt. Why am I here? This is crazy! I could get hurt. We have all thought something like this before.

When you begin to hit pads your body feels “gooey,” legs a bit heavy, timing slightly off. You notice how that first couple minutes of pad work leaves you more breathless than you are used to in training, but you power through until the punches feel crisp and your kicks feel strong. Second wind, they call it. Once you have broken a sweat, you wait on deck for your name to be called. You hear the crowd cheering for the fight before you, maybe you glance at your opponent who is waiting too. What are they thinking?

Stepping over the ropes into the ring, you hope you don’t fall, you feel the knot in your stomach, the bright lights are jarring to your eyes. After the ring is sealed you are called to the center; now it’s okay to stare at your opponent. You look them straight in the eye, trying to project confidence, trying to instill fear. You take a good look; your mind is racing, you probably don’t even hear what the referee is saying, you just nod. Your mouth is still so dry. Clean fight, good fight. Okay, got it.

Back to your corner. This is it. The bell rings. Fight! There is only one winner. Will it be you?

…The answer lies in your ability to excel at overcoming pre-fight nerves.

No fighter is exempt from fight nerves. Some fear, some anxiety is a good thing. After all, you are about to do something dangerous, courageous and difficult; it’s important your senses are heightened, and you are extremely alert; something that a being a little anxious will do for you. The important part is how you deal with the fear. Will you use it in a positive way, channel it into your punches and kicks or will you let it own, making you tired, weak and ineffective?

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How to Create a Success Mindset in Work, Life and Fitness

“Success isn’t just about what you accomplish in your life it’s about what you inspire others to do.”
– Anonymous

I think about success quite a bit and how to create a success mindset and tools. As far back as I can remember, I have wanted to make something of myself, I just didn’t truly know what that something was until I found Muay Thai in 2002. The idea that I could be anything I wanted as long as I set my mind to it was something my mother gave me at an early age and I am grateful for her optimism. Unfortunately, limitless possibilities and big dreams where some of the only tangible tools she gave me in regards to success and I had to figure out the others on my own; it’s a good thing she also taught me the importance of independence at an early age. In my youth I encountered quite a few road blocks to success. After spending most of my teens and early twenties pulling a crashing world around me due to my love of all things pleasurable and my inability to delay gratification I was saved by finding Muay Thai. I attribute much of my success in sport, work, love and life to my passion for Muay Thai, but underneath that love, for a long time I still had a ton of fear. That fear is still with me, there is just much less of it now. Each training session, each fight, each victory, each lesson I would squeeze out a little bit more of the fear every day as I worked on my self development both as an athlete and a person.

My journey is not nearly finished. I want to keep growing until the day I die. There is always more I want to learn and accomplish, but the tools that have helped me succeed this far, I’d like to share with you now…

 

aquarium_fresh1. Create the space in your life to grow bigger

I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately. I compare this thought to a fish tank. A few years ago my boyfriend wanted a big fish tank. The kind you see in movies, artistic placed in the middle of a room in a big, baller mansion. I was hesitant at first and thought they would be a pain in the ass to keep up with and clean the tank (I was right), but they are also pretty to look at (he was right) and they have taught me an important lesson.

When fish are in a small tank, they won’t grow to their full potential, instead they remain small to fit the tank and it’s limited resources. Many types of fish if you put them in a bigger tank, will grow and flourish to the size of the tank provided. However, some fish, even different ones of the same breed just never grow. When I asked our pothead fish cleaning guy (yes we had to hire a cleaner because I was tired of arguing over who would clean the damn tank) why one Angel fish got really big and another stayed small he just replied, “Oh, well some are just like that… maybe they don’t wanna get bigger.”

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What I Learned About My Fitness on Vacation

Fitness on Vacataion, Moderation, Fun

Fitness on Vacation – Moderation and Fun

It starts out stressful, the planning, packing, scheduling: “What’s the weather like at night there?” “Do I need high heels and a blow dryer?” “How many swim suits is too many?” “Did I remember my toothbrush?” “How many hours do I have to be at the airport before my flight?” “Did I remember to forward all my calls, clear my inbox and set my email vacation auto-reply on?” “What about international calling? Do I need that?” “Oh, fuck I forgot to figure out who is feeding the cats while we’re gone.”

Nope, I am not the best traveler. I’ve been traveling and moving since I was three years old, my mother made me visit all sorts of places in my youth and I’ve moved countless times, but I am not a good traveler. I get stressed. I however want to be a good traveler. It’s something I’m working on, because God knows I need more traveling/vacationing in my life.

The past several months I have accomplished a lot for my business Function 5 Fitness, and although I have tried very hard to balance my life, I feel I worked myself into the mentality of an over-stressed, neurotic, modern city dweller. Prior to my recent vacation I had not taken a full week off to relax in 16 months. I started to find myself wound up tighter than Rhonda Rousey’s hair buns on fight day.

In short, I haven’t been proud of my stress induced thinking. Instead of asking, “How can I better help people?”, I’m too often getting caught up in thoughts like, “Are my emails categorized properly or “Did I get to everything on my to-do list today?”

Vacations have a purpose, they don’t just refresh us with extra sleep and social time; they help us remember or redefine our purpose and passions.

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