Today was utterly disorienting. It began with a restless night and ran straight into a quiet, but difficult day of training. I felt okay during the morning session and even going into the afternoon with a good nap under me and a little energy to carry me through the padwork in the ring. I’d spoken with my husband over breakfast about my increasing discomfort with not having much of the Thai language under my belt and, with my increased sleeping between sessions during the day, I was feeling ever more isolated from the culture and people in the local street, which, in turn, forces me to interact primarily with the other westerners. I’m not a fan of this. In a way, I felt, I was attempting to connect to the culture through food, since I cannot really do so through language at this time. As such, I’m completely sick of the western breakfast we generally enjoy every morning and was opting for a more Thai-style meal of fried pork, vegetables and rice… which, all told, is a perfectly delicious breakfast.
All this feeling of isolation and backwards culture shock (in being shocked by how much I disengage from my own culture) had built up in my heart a precarious house of cards, which at the close of the evening session came crashing down inside of me, nearly snuffing out the little flame of pride I keep tending in the inner recesses of my soul.
It really began to crumble far long before this sequence of events, but I felt the movement toward downfall at about the time I stepped into the ring to work on clinching with Sylvie. She asked me how my clinching was coming along and I lightly, but with all honesty, answered that it was still in a pretty terrible state. I then was tossed about the ring for 15 minutes, interrupted only by a few questions to technique and strategy posed by me and answered pretty well, but certainly not employed in any terms of practice. I became increasingly frustrated by my inability to grasp the most basic aspects of the clinch and I think this showed, as Sylvie told me I’d had enough for today and promised to return more during the week to help me out.
I jumped down from the ring, feeling very disappointed with myself, and proceded over to the bench to work on my neck exercises. I finished these and moved over to do some ab exercises and wait for the boys to clear out of the ring so that I could practice my Wai Kru, as I’m meant to fight in one week and am in dire need of repeated performance. I’d even intended to shoo the boys out of the girls ring and into the boys-only ring in order to accomplish this, but I was so disturbed by the next stage in development that I could not even do that.
In the ring – the girl’s ring – one of the young Thai fighters was teaching the camp Wai Kru to a Chilean fellow, who only this morning had decided he might as well fight, since my name was going on the board to fight next week. To add insult to injury, this is the same fellow who just two days ago had received ample clinch instruction from one of the Thai trainers after I’d been left to fend for myself in the ring and finally been kicked out. To be fair, I’d not directly asked for help in the clinch from this trainer, nor did I ask to be taught the camp Wai Kru. In equal fairness, there’s no way to know that this Chilean fellow had asked either, as information is offered to men far more freely than to women.
As I watched this unfolding in the ring, Andy came over to me and asked how I was doing. Without any warning tears filled my eyes and I was only barely able to choke them back as I explained my frustration with the clinch: my inability to relax in order to have power in quick, explosive movements. Andy looked at me with a little bit of understanding, a little worry, and a little pity as he told me not to be frustrated, that it will come. I nodded and smiled, refusing to blurt out what I was thinking – that I was fighting in one week, that I could likely learn a great deal if someone would just SHOW me or TELL me what to do. But I saved that for me; I’ll ask for help tomorrow, I promised myself.
After Andy had stepped away I resumed my sit ups and then looked back over at the ring. At this point Nok approached me and with no words, looked so deep into me that I was sure his bird-eyes would see everything. He didn’t say anything, he just kept looking into me like that and I offered to him that I was frustrated. He doesn’t know this word in English and I don’t know it in Thai, but he put his cupped palm gently on my leg and gave me a kind of pat in a gesture of comfort. My eyes were very watery at this point and I said to him, “Jai Dee” as I pointed to my heart. He smiled and repeated the words as he walked on past me and disappeared into the dark beyond the gate.
I finished my workout with furious focus and then gathered my things to launch my way out of the camp. I was fighting back my tears as I walked the 300 feet back to the hotel, hurrying up the stairs away from the sweet women at the front desk who would no doubt see my state. As I reached our room I knocked and waited for my husband to open the door and when he finally did my emotion erupted, spewing out of me in gasps and tears. I saw myself once again, clutching my equipment as I passed by the ring where the boys were learning the Wai Kru and I felt furious. I have never before felt so much locked on the outside – or, more accurately, every moment in my life when I have felt locked out is felt again, all at once in this moment of rejection. I thought of Virginia Woolf on her walk through the university in A Room of One’s Own, when she is forced off the path by two passing Beadles. It is pain I feel at the thought that our own assumption, as women, is to step off the path just as equally as it is assumed by men that we should get out of their way.
I have a Wai Kru – Master K gave it to me. I have ladders and scaffolding with which to rebuild this house of cards, but I have also means to build stone walls and wood pillars. I am crushed by the day’s events, but I am not defeated by them. It is my love of Muay Thai that causes and also allows me to feel this way, this strongly, about learning this art. And in the end I will always be locked out of somewhere. I suppose what is important is that I do not allow that fact to lock me in.