The second time Tawin held pads for me he would periodically stop, take a step back and look at me with a kind of stern consideration. I asked him what he was doing and he said, “I’m trying to figure out your style.” At the time I laughed. I don’t really have a style that I’m aware of and certainly not one that I am deliberately practicing. Master K has tried for years to make me fight toward a particular aesthetic which involves a lot of hopping, moving in and out and basically being incredibly agile without ever really getting hit. I haven’t been able to accomplish this style even remotely.
I’m on the light end of fighters so I have consistently been told by trainers that I need to be faster. If you’re small, you’re fast; heavyweights are allowed to be slow powerhouses because of their mass. It’s been frustrating for me because I’m not a “tricky” fighter. I don’t feint a lot, even though I’ve been able to engage those tactics a little bit more lately. I’m not in the Mayweather school of boxing without ever being touched, especially since I need contact in order to actually get into the rhythm of the fight. I’ve written about it before and to some extent it’s a problem that I mirror my opponent, but for whatever reason getting hit is the “on switch” that gives me permission (so to speak) to get aggressive in a fight. It’s a “Sylvie SMASH” kind of thing.
My last fight here in Thailand I was totally unable to solve a fighter who was smaller than I and whose tactic was to keep me back with teeps and counter punch whenever I got close. By all accounts – everyone who spoke to me in both English and Thai – I should have been able to win that fight. The girl was afraid of me. In fact, her coach was afraid of me and would have called the fight if I’d hit his fighter hard even just a few times. My own experience of the fight was that I couldn’t solve her teep (front kick) and get in, but when I watch the fight I was actually dealing with her teep pretty well, I just wasn’t following it up with effective strikes or getting in from sweeping it. So her teep was effective psychologically and it looked like it was affecting me to the judges because I thought it was affecting me even though it wasn’t physically landing almost any of the time.
The result of losing that fight the way I did is actually a positive one in that now my trainers have seen my weaknesses and know what to work on with me. My mom put it really well when she said that it’s a good thing for my trainers to see my weaknesses but it must be hard to see them in myself. I think the hardest thing is that I believe them. Having a focus now in training has been a really positive experience though. It’s been decided that I will be made into an “inside fighter” because of my strength and most of my padwork for the past week has revolved around fighting my way in and then delivering knees, elbows and short punches between bouts of clinching. It’s a little bit funny that I’m being made into a clincher because I’ve had such a hard time learning the clinch for so long – because of how I train and the difficulty of women learning the clinch in general, not my own particular inability to learn it. And I’m learning quickly.
Being an inside fighter makes sense for me. This isn’t the first time that a trainer has wanted to work on my inside game. Master K wanted me to get in since the beginning, but he wants me to get in and get out, which isn’t an inside game. Ray Velez, my boxing coach, decided very quickly that because of my height and strength I should be able to “stand in” on my opponents and be a close fighter rather than dancing around or trying to counter from the outside. And ultimately, the fights that I’ve won have all been from fighting on the inside. Actually having a focused process of turning me into an inside fighter is new though. My time with Ray was short and I’m sure he would have continued with this process, but having my trainers working to develop my style as a fighter now is new and exciting.
The inside vs. outside fight game is not a coin-toss. I’ve had a problem for all the years I’ve been training that I am “too polite” in the ring. This is partially my mirroring issue, but it’s not simple. I thought for a while this morning about what kind of person is an inside fighter. I’m an introvert who has practiced externalization with choosing to work as a bartender and making videos that are viewed and intensely personal journal entries that are read by the public online. In the main, however, I do not impose myself in social interactions. I was a weird bartender – not so much social and chatty as skilled and authoritative. My online videos and journals are able to be so personal because they don’t come from a place of exhibitionism.
On the one hand this fits nicely with being an inside fighter. Eating punches and kicks in order to get in and fight up close is not a “showy” fight game. Outside fighters are exhibiting technique and style in a way that is far more performative than the aggressive “in” fighter. Mike Tyson has notable skill and there’s unbelievable beauty to his movements and his fights, but it’s not showy and it’s not a performance in the way that Ali’s dancing or Mayweather’s superfast slips are. Of the three, Tyson is the introvert.
But fighting on the inside is also necessarily a matter of imposing one’s will on another. It’s not universally true, but an outside fighter is most often not going to be able to deliver the kind of powerful blows that an inside fighter can, simply for the fact of physics. Looking great tap-tapping away at your opponent can win fights, but getting in and potentially burying good strikes that may be missed by the judges is a different fight game entirely. It’s the hurt game.
This whole week I’ve been focusing on not stepping backwards – never. Even if standing in results in eating multiple punches, kicks and knees from my trainers, which it has many times. But even in the scenario of padwork, where one person is directing almost all the combinations, I can feel how my standing in and constantly moving forward affects my trainers. They’re calling the shots 99% of the time and I’m making them uncomfortable; it changes things.
It’s like a wave. There’s the swell of water on the outside of it and the point where it breaks. The inside/outside divide is right at that breaking point. An outside fighter can keep her opponent at a perfect striking distance with reach or well-timed jabs, teeps, high kicks, etc. The wave never breaks because it can’t get in. But then there’s the break, when the inside fighter gets in and all that mass of water comes crashing down together. The way to avoid the power of a breaking wave is to dive under it, move into it to take away its power. If you stand there at its breaking point you get tossed. If your game plan is to keep Tyson away from you all your energy is going to be pushing against that wave to keep it from breaking. Once he gets past that little line though, there’s nothing for it. It’s just “Oh shit, he jimmied open the door!”
It feels good to have a focus. It feels good to look at my padwork for the day and consider it a good lesson because I didn’t move backwards. For a long time my goal has just been to “be better” which doesn’t have any meaning. It’s like asking for a “good wine.” “Good” is not a quality, it’s a judgement. The mental challenge of being better is too grand for my mind to assess. Was I more aggressive? Was I stronger? Did I stay in? Did I punish all the strikes landed on me? These are things I can measure and these are the things which remain constant, through wins or losses.
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