My fight on Friday night ended quickly, within the first round. As such, my fight wasn’t even 2 minutes long and the opportunity to fight again this coming Friday presented itself and I took it. So I got back in to training the day after the fight – in the afternoon since we were out so late the night of the fight and I couldn’t sleep – and I’ve been training hard these past few days.
I’ve been trying to ignore a little head cold, mostly in my throat and one of my sinuses. It’s irritating more than anything, but it does make breathing more difficult and I’ve noticed fatigue in my muscles which I haven’t felt in training thus far. So I’m just training through it, trying to feel it out for what’s a necessary push in my body to improve and what’s pushing hard enough that I’m going to get sick – riding the line, so to speak.
This morning I awoke from a pretty rough night of sleep and checked my digital watch. It was 5:00 AM, which is when I’m supposed to be at the gym to meet Andy for the morning run. I hurried out of bed and got dressed, pulling all my various equipment from around the room, off the balcony, tied my shoes and ran out the door. I got to the camp just a few minutes later and Andy was doing exercises in the ring. I joined him for a few of them and then off we went to the lake.
The lake seemed extra dark and the temperature was at least a few degrees lower than down at the camp. The dogs lept from the back of the truck and fanned out across the path, ducking into the lower shrubs of the surrounding jungle. I tried to fill my lungs and coughed; annoyed, I started to run.
When we got back to camp Andy continued on with a few exercises of his own before we wrapped our hands. I grabbed on to a long bag and began swinging my knees into it, hitting the same dent with each knee, landing only briefly on each foot as the opposite leg curled up and winged out for another knee. The sound of my knees against the bag was the only sound in the gym, replaced by the sound of my own breathing whenever I stopped between sets.
Padwork was intense. Andy built me up with each round and worked diligently to keep me moving, striking hard and keeping my momentum in an aggressive mode until I wasn’t stopping between strikes at all for a whole round. Immediately after, he began pressuring me with strikes and I had to respond with whatever I could, which often wasn’t enough. Between rounds I began to feel an ache in my shin and as we began again I was surprised by how tender my right shin felt. I’d noted a bruise prior to the fight, likely from blocking, and just yesterday it had begun to ache when I kicked the pads with Thay-Win. I figured I was hitting the edge of his pads and it wasn’t enough of a discomfort to alter how I kicked. Today, however, the tenderness made me want to pull my kicks. So I started kicking harder, figuring that if I’m going to hit it at all it’s going to hurt anyway so I might as well hit it flush.
After all our rounds I went immediately to jump on the tire, up on my toes and bouncing with my hands up in guard. After this I went over to a bag and practiced teeps, hard and rhythmic with the kind of focus that comes from knowing this technique is a weakness of mine. As I counted the teeps, the trainers began arriving at the gym. Sleepy and relaxed they wander in and I greet them as they come into my line of vision. There are now two men at the gym getting ready to train and both trainers ask me if I’ve already “kicked pads,” which I affirm. It feels good, though, that I am awarded some kind of priority.
I sat down on the side of the ring and began rubbing the knots on the top of my shin. They weren’t bad, but there was definitely fluid collected there. Nook (who I’ve been calling “Nok” for years now and only realized yesterday is short for Sanook, which means “fun” and is a perfect name for him) walked over to me and asked, in Thai, if my leg hurt. I replied that it only hurt a little and he began poking it with his fingers. Then without pause or any kind of verbal consideration to me, Nook took his elbow and began rubbing it hard against the knots on my shin, draining the fluid away. I mean, sure: if you’re going to be treating a really hard part of the body you’ve got to use another equally hard part of the body, right? Like cutting diamonds.
The pain was intense. I gripped the side of the ring with one hand and covered my eyes with the other. One of the men there to train watched in horror from across the ring and I began to giggle because it seemed a similar release to crying. Nook worked diligently for a few minutes before standing upright, patting me on the back and saying, in English, “Sauna. Massage. Good: sauna, massage.” I thanked him and ran the pads of my fingers very gently over the top of my shin. The flesh was gummy now, rather than hard and swollen as it was minutes before. I knew that he’d done something very good for my shin and I knew I wouldn’t have had the balls to accept such a treatment if he’d asked my permission first.
I finished out my training and then headed home. A few beads of white sweat were pooled right on top of where the knot on my shin had been, as if that area was producing its own kind of sweat. I kept laughing to myself as I walked through the street, now busy with locals buying their breakfasts at the food stalls. I wondered to myself what this shin was going to feel like this afternoon, as I’m determined to keep training. The fear one feels at certain pain seemed comical. It seemed as if Nook’s elbow scraping down the side of my swollen bone had carved out of me the apprehension that comes with the promise of pain and left in its stead something else: something harder and more unyielding.