This is the first part of a pair of posts I wrote on why you should fight and how you know if you’re ready to fight. You can find the second article here: How Do You Know When You’re Ready to Fight Muay Thai?
A few days ago I was cursing under my breath while doing sit-ups and a fellow from the gym came and sat on the incline bench next to me. He totally ignored my mutterings and asked me if there was anything I did special in my training prior to a fight.
I sat up and stopped, pausing to consider a few things before answering. In short: not really. A few small differences: The week before a fight is when I can do increases in running, try to start a weigh-lifting regimen that I almost immediately have to abandon because my fights are close together, or bust out additional sets of push-ups or pull-ups or whatever. I always do five rounds on the pads, every day, so that’s not different (this surprised him; I guess he only does three rounds sometimes) and I do the same number of rounds on the bags or in shadow but Den has me do extra drills of kicks and jumping knees on the bag after everything the week of a fight. I told him that I’d been advised not to lift weights the same week of a fight, but that body weight exercises are fine.
He nodded along with my list and then asked, “so, two or three weeks out you don’t do much different?” I laughed and explained there is no “two or three weeks out” in my fighting schedule, but that he could look to the Thai boys to see what they do when there are longer pauses between fights. Basically, I’m always training for a fight.
Why I hate: “I want to fight well, so…”
I’d asked this guy about a month ago if he plans on fighting while he’s in Thailand and he’d said “no,” that he didn’t feel ready. I’d told him at the time that I really think he should fight, that he’d probably surprise himself. I thought his line of questioning now, on the sit-up benches, indicated that he was reconsidering his answer. Turns out he wasn’t – not outwardly so, anyway. He said his return to the US was in only another week and that he planned to return to Thailand for a longer stay later in the year, after he saved up enough money. I asked him why he didn’t just fight anyway before leaving and then he could plan for more fights on this return trip. His answer was almost verbatim what every dude at the gym who has trained but doesn’t fight answers: “I want to fight well, so I don’t want to fight yet.”
I hate this answer and I’ll tell you why. The first reason is because I know exactly where they’re coming from. Muay Thai is a performance and the Thais out here perform like nobody else in the world. You can even be an amazingly skilled fighter and be made to look like crap by your opponent. And it feels terrible to look bad. I felt this way for a long time and it is still the case that I don’t want to look bad in a fight and on that same level I want to “do well.” But the second reason I hate this answer is a follow up on the first, my slow realization (or early suspicion that has become realized over time) that in order to do well in fighting you have to fight. It’s just that simple. You don’t really want to get better at a language and refuse to speak it because you’re not going to make any sense at first – you keep speaking it until you do make sense, until it becomes casual and comfortable and finally expressive. It doesn’t happen through endless study, it happens through the struggle of engagement and the risk of misunderstanding, embarrassment and sure, yeah, failure.
So this guy says he wants to go home and work on his boxing, get his boxing much better and then he’ll be ready to fight in Thailand. His boxing is already his strongest skill, which further emphasizes his fear of looking un-supurb in the ring. Basically, he wants to continue focusing on the thing he’s already good at, already confident and competent in… and then fight in a style that will still present innumerable weaknesses because that’s one of the many things fights do.
I tried to explain to him that he was missing a great opportunity by choosing not to fight while he’s out here. He’s been training for three months and he doesn’t putz around the gym, he’s an active participant. I explained that for Thais it doesn’t make any sense that he doesn’t fight. If you’re fit and have trained enough to have skills and are disciplined enough to show up for training then you fight, simple as that. It would be like training with the soccer team every day and then not wanting to show up on game day – it’s mind boggling. And for me, because I’m from the west and the difference between fighting there and fighting in Thailand is such a profound difference for me, I consider the time spent training at a camp and deciding not to fight (even though you can and probably kind of want to but are maybe a little scared) akin to going to the beach and then not going in the water.
So why should this guy fight? Because fighting in Thailand is not the same as fighting in the west. You can schedule a fight on very short notice – you don’t have a full-time job or credit hours or kids or whatever that you have to put aside for the scheduled 6-8 week training build up to a fight. You don’t know your opponent’s name or record or what s/he looks like until you get there and you probably won’t even remember their name afterward (unless that’s important to you) and they won’t remember yours. Whether you win or lose matters for as long as you allow it to. And if you didn’t do everything you wanted to do or you felt amazing and like you could take on the world, there’s another fight right behind that one, to correct your mistakes or underline your strengths. But maybe the best reason to fight, superior to all other reasons, is simply that you can.