I met Andy early at the camp this morning, at 5:00. It was still dark out, the fluorescent rods affixed to a few of the posts holding up the roof casting a bizarre and insect-like glow around the gym. The bags hung motionless, which is itself an unsettling observation, but in the dimness of morning – both in light and of mind – they appeared like ghosts holding court in the shadows.
Andy showed me some exercises that he believes to be life-altering and in the few attempts I made to imitate them I could see that they will indeed have an effect on my training, most definitely for the better. After this we hopped in his truck and headed up to the lake, just he and me in the cab and three dogs playing “stir the cauldron” in the bed of the truck. The sky was clear and dark, save for the off-white moon and a slightly rainbow-colored corona wrapped about her face.
We continued our talk about mental aspects of training and gradually settled into a discussion regarding the mind-body connection and the importance of training each for the benefit of the other. I nodded in the dark and then offered that I’d learned something of this just the day before. Andy was talking about intentionality, but I proffered that the mind and body are connected whether you are aware of it or not and that the hardest part for me, now and at this point in my training, is to understand that my attitude and emotional or psychological response to physical training is in fact training myself how to respond. I got my ass proper kicked for two straight hours in the afternoon training the day before. I’d been sparring with Den who gave me no quarter and was, I can only hope, testing me to see how I respond when put under a great deal of pressure. I hit Den maybe three times in the 45 minutes we sparred. Then we did pad work for 45 minutes and after I hit the bags for a while he called me back into the ring for clinching. That was basically me getting thrown on the mat several times per minute until Den said, “enough.”
But I kept going. I didn’t stop sparring even though I was useless. I didn’t get down on myself during pad work just because I’d been bettered moments before and I certainly didn’t stop getting up just because I was spending more time tumbling across the mat than on my feet during clinching. If I cannot demonstrate technique because I am thoroughly dominated by my opponent, then I must show him perseverance and calm because that is the strength I need in order to stay in the ring.
I have a 3-year-old Cattle Dog who gets the better of me by not staying down when I’ve put her down. She’s half my size and not even a fraction of my intellect and yet she’s winning when I get frustrated by her disobedience. So it is with this kind of training – I’m a dog in comparison to the experienced Thai fighter and if his aim is to take my will away, that is precisely what I should focus my energy on protecting. Damn my legs and my body is getting bashed anyway – but if it doesn’t matter to me it can’t possibly matter to you – my body takes punishment but I’m doing quite well in the mental battle.
Thailand has a strongly hierarchical society. My place in it is hard to discern, but there is a skeletal structure to it that I find really beautiful and it is easiest to understand through Thai language. In Thai there are a large number of words to address the second person singular, depending on their age, social status and how polite you wish to be. This is similar in most languages with the German “du” and “Sie” forms or even “Sir” and “you” or “dude” in English. What is so beautiful to me about Thai is that there is also an incredible number of words for the first person. How you choose to say “I” in Thai places you in a hierarchical position with the listener or addressee – how you call yourself when speaking to the King versus a peer or a monk versus a teacher or a close friend versus a child… it goes on.
And this is why it’s important: because the difference between humility and humiliation is where you place yourself versus where you allow others to place you.