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. ┬áMy 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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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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