I had been training for about six months before I had my first Muay Thai fight, not something I recommend to my students today, and not something I specifically planned for either, but nevertheless, I found myself at a smoker at the Muay Thai Academy in North Hollywood. The small gym was hot and crowded with students, family, friends, random fans of a sport not yet popularized in America. The ring was small, the canvas patched with duct tape and blood stained. I geared up in the small, one stall unisex, bathroom, put my Thai shorts on, my sports bra. Took out my jewelry, which at the time took about fifteen minutes, as I had ten or so odd piercings in my body.
I remember little of the fight, hopped up on an adrenaline and buzzing with nerves all I remember is getting punched hard a couple of times and thinking, “Holy shit, this girl wants to hurt me.” It was an unsettling realization. As strange as it sounds, the fact that this was a vicious sport hadn’t occurred to me yet. I was just a girl who loved to train Muay Thai.
My first fight ended in a draw, and I went on to fight again and again winning most, losing some… If you asked me why I fought back, then I don’t know if I could have given you articulate answer. It was more of a feeling inside me. I wasn’t an athletic, aggressive or violent person. Looking back I thought that I needed the challenge and craved the life-changing intensity of fighting The training was therapy for my soul, and the fighting was a test of my will to live life fully. I was obsessed with Muay Thai… in the best way possible.
I was always nervous to fight. Getting in the ring was a scary thing to me and felt contrary to every instinct in my body. But for that reason I loved it. I wanted to be better than the girl that hid from fear; I wanted to learn how to look it straight in the eyes and dominate it. Muay Thai taught me that, with each fight, I got more confident, bolder, more direct, more clear about myself. I grew up in a way that parenting and school could never teach me. I was not a natural athlete as they say, but I was driven by a deep desire to improve in the sport and as a human being. I would train six days a week, often 15-20 hours a week in the gym or doing “road work.”
These days I look back and am so grateful for this sport that made me who I am today. I am blessed to be able to teach and pass it on. Now I get to be on the other side of the fence. At first coaching, fighters felt like a huge pressure. I wasn’t sure I wanted that responsibility, as it is a huge responsibility taking a fighter through the fight experience, but I love teaching, and I love Muay Thai, and I know how much it helped me, so I gradually accepted that role and had been learning and growing in a new way ever since.
Now some students come to train with me and tell me straight away they want to fight. They want to know what it takes; they want to have the experience of a fight that they have seen on reality TV or in the movies. I’m fascinated by this desire, but I can’t relate. I never sought out fighting. It found me. I just craved the training so deeply with every cell in my body day in and day out and eventually fighting felt like the next step. I never watched fights on TV or in the movies. I had never even seen Rocky when I first fought.
These days when a student comes to me and says they want to fight I just nod and smile. It’s one thing to say you want to fight; it’s another thing to show me you want to fight. There are many different types of successful fighters from various backgrounds and with different personalities, but I know a few basic things I look for when evaluating if someone is ready to fight, or even ready to start training to fight. Skill is only one of those things. Work ethic, drive, athleticism and mental toughness are others, but number one is: How obsessed are they? Are they in the gym every day? Do I have to tell them to take a day off? If so they might have fight potential.
Now that Muay Thai has started to gain popularity and people see and hear about it on TV they think, “I could do that. I want to fight.” Maybe they hear a story about how a mother of two started training in her late 20’s and is now a mixed martial arts champion. Maybe they hear about a guy who works as a school teacher 9 to 5 weekdays, but trains after work and fights in Glory. There are so many stories in the media that people can now relate to and think, “I could do that too.” But what you don’t see is the amount of sacrifice, hard work, and discipline that goes into making those dreams and championships happen.
I’m not writing this blog to deter people from choosing to fight. The amazing gifts that fighting has given me I wish for everyone, but rather this blog is to help people decide if fight training is right for them.
Hopefully, you have a coach that can answer these questions for you too, but sometimes this is not the case, and coaches are not giving aspiring fighters the real facts, and the facts are these: Fight training is hard, very hard. It will break most people’s will. It will require an enormous amount of time and sacrifice, and it is crucial to realize that fighting is a dangerous sport. You could get hurt. You could be out of work if you get hurt. Fighting should not be a “bucket list” item. There are opponents out there that are taking it much more seriously than that. Save the bucket list for things like sky diving, traveling to India, or having a threesome… all those things are exciting and involve some risk, but they do not involve the possibility of getting the shit kicked out of you for six minutes in front of all your friends and maybe even your family because you picked a sport to participate in that you were not fully prepared for.
I’m not sure why fighting attracts people who want to compete in it who are more hobbyists than amateur athletes. I could probably write a whole psychology paper on why humans have a desire to get in touch with their violent side, and that is a healthy and positive desire. But who wakes up at 30 years old one day and says, “You know I’d really like compete in an amateur skateboarding competition.” No, that doesn’t happen because amateur skateboarders are usually 21 years old and have been skating since the age of ten. I’m not saying it’s impossible for someone to start training in their late twenties or early 30’s and do a few Muay Thai fights – I know fighters who have successfully done so, but I will say that you need to take a good, hard look at your current skills, conditioning, and lifestyle and decide if you are willing to make the necessary sacrifices.
A lot has changed in the sport since I started in 2002. I was twenty-four years old when I first fought; about the very latest you should start if you want a professional career, in my opinion. The skill level of amateur fighters has dramatically increased in the past few years. This is due to more exposure to the sport, more promotions, more opportunity, more coaches, more training partners, the Internet, YouTube, and of course fighters starting their training at younger ages than before. Muay Thai is not a hobbyist’s sport, this is the real deal and should be taken seriously.
How do you decide if you are ready to train for your first fight?
Well, ultimately that is your personal choice, but here are some factors I think are worth considering:
1. Desire – What’s your WHY? This is by far the most important. Your obsession with fighting and your desire to win are the most important factors and can help you overcome any other of the factors below in this list that you lack. Take a minute to write down why you want to fight. Your desire should be a burning one. It should keep you up at night and be the first thing you think of in the morning. You will need your desire to fuel you on days when you are sore and tired and don’t want to get out of bed. If your desire is weak and your WHY not clearly defined and in your mind, you will not have enough motivation to get you through the training. Ask yourself, why do I want this? Write it down. Stick it to your bathroom mirror. Repeat it to yourself everyday.
2. Time – Do you have room in your life for a part time job? Amateur fight training is a part time job. It requires a minimum of 10 hours a week of training, sometimes more, that may not sound like a lot, but then factor in 1) time spent getting to and from the gym 2) Time spent doing extra laundry and showering – Yes, this is a real thing 3) The extra time figuring out how to feed yourself properly 4) The 2-3 hours after hard training sessions where you are basically useless to the world. Not kidding… after a hard pad work or sparring session you can’t do homework, write a proposal or balance a checkbook. It’s all you have in you to shower and make some food and then you just wanna zone out on the couch and watch TV because that’s all your brain and body can handle. Factor in all these and ask yourself, “Do I have an extra 20-30 hours in my week to focus on fight training?”
3. Lifestyle – What are your priorities? What is important to you in your life? Are you the type of person that needs to socialize with friends regularly? What are your responsibilities to your family? How stressful is your job? Are you prepared for the strain that fights training will be on your relationship particularly if your significant other does not train or fight and therefore will probably not understand when you tell them you can’t go out to dinner because you have to be at the gym? How will you balance fight training with the other priorities in your life that require your attention? Can you give up partying at clubs or going to the bar with friends for 6-8 weeks while you are training for a fight? If work asks you to meet a tight deadline and work extra hours, but you already booked a fight what will you tell them? Take a look at your life and see how your training will fit your current lifestyle, start to think what you are comfortable changing to make fight training a priority.
4. Sacrifice – What are you willing to give up? What are you willing to give up or put on the back burner while fight training becomes a priority? My answer, as a young athlete was everything. I gave up a being financially stable, I gave up a normal social life, I gave up being able to date like a normal girl, I gave up ALL drugs and alcohol, I gave up friends that didn’t fit my new fighter life, I even put my dreams of being a writer on hold as I pursued fighting 100%. I cut my hair into a Mohawk because it was easier for fighting. I ate, breathed, lived Muay Thai. What are you willing to give up? What are you not willing to give up?
5. Age – Sorry, but this does matter. I am not talking about outliers. Outliers always exist. In general, however, if you want to have a long amateur career and maybe go pro starting in your late teens or early 20’s is your best bet. It takes at least ten years of training to master a sport and fighters usually reach their prime in their early to mid-thirties. If you start late you have a physical disadvantage, but you also have the added pressure of all the life responsibilities that go along with being older. House payments, bills, family, etc. When I was starting out as an amateur fighter I lived in shitty apartments with roommates, didn’t even own my own couch. Slept on a pull-out futon that doubled as a couch. I owned a cheap car until I crashed it and then had no car and rode my bike around the city to work, to training. I even gave up my pets, they were too much responsibility. I worked at a bar 3-4 nights a week. I lived off about $1,500 a month in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. I was poor, struggling, driven to win and had no responsibility to anyone but myself. I built my life around fighting. This is hard to do when you are older. You can still do it, but it is harder to build your life around fighting when you already have a life. You can’t build fighting around your life, it doesn’t work that way. Your opponent will be training harder than you.
6. Previous Athletic History – Where you came from determines how far you have to go. Is this your first attempt at a sport? Did you train TKD or karate from age 6 on? Were you on varsity sports teams and kept active all through college? All these things matter. In my case I had played varsity basketball in high school and then done nothing in college unless you count dancing at raves an athletic activity. I’m not suggesting that lack of a sports background will completely determine your ability to fight, but it is a factor. You have a much better shot at handling the volume of training, handling the pressure of fighting and being able to get to a low body fat percentage so you are fighting at the right weight class if you have had athletic experience, especially at a high level. There is also something to be said for genetics. Some people are gifted with power, speed and/or strength. You can always improve on what God gave you, but good genes will take you pretty far. How does your athletic background and genetics match up to other fighters competing?
7. Sparring Partners – How do yours measure up? Your skill is of course a consideration. How are you doing in sparring? Who are your sparring partners? If you are not regularly sparring with people better than you or you don’t have access to other successful fighters to spar with you are at a disadvantage. Hopefully you can find a team of people who push you to improve, who you aspire to be like, but if you don’t currently have this go out and find it first before you decide if fight training is for you.
8. Feedback From Your Coach – Coaches have a job for a reason. You are not your own coach. If your coach says you are not ready to fight they probably have a good reason to tell you that. Sure we have all heard stories of fighters who are “self taught” or fighters who fought even when their coach told them not to and they did fine. Again, outliers. You shouldn’t base such an important decision on one person’s story. Their previous seven factors above might be entirely different than yours. A good coach will know when you are ready to train for a fight. They will make sure you get enough pad work, conditioning and sparring. They will tell you if you have what it takes, but they cannot read minds. They don’t know about your desire, your time, your stress level, your priorities. You have to answer those questions for yourself first.
Have you thought over all these factors and still want to fight? Great! I wish you the best in your training and hope that Muay Thai fighting is a positive, life-changing part of your life journey. Win or lose fighting it is an amazing experience and you will never be the same after. You might love it; you might decide it’s not for you, neither is the wrong outcome, after all, it’s YOUR journey. But above all, no matter if you decide to fight or not remember why you love Muay Thai because that is something no one can take from you, regardless of if you fight or not. Love of a sport is something you will never lose and is a positive part of a full life.