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.