A few days ago Kru Mutt at WKO asked me if I wanted to fight in China in three weeks. I don’t. But throughout my afternoon session at WKO there was a back-and-forth between us about the fight and I should have just said, “no thanks” straight away and left it at that, but I tried to be agreeable and ended up dragging it out more than I needed to. As a result I ended up making the entire session emotionally trying for myself and when Noi called me in for padwork, someone I normally really like to see because he’s a lot of fun and is a great person for me to train with, I met him with a crap attitude instead of leaving it all outside the ring and getting to work.
Because talk of a fight was in the air Noi naturally turned it up on me in our padwork. Noi is an ex-fighter of Muay Thai and a former champion of western boxing. He’s not much taller than I am but he’s stocky and muscled, probably weighing 56-60 kg. While he’s not a regular trainer at the gym, when he does come in he is absolutely part of the pack and he seems to make Sakmongkol excited when he’s around – they must have known each other for a long time. His style of training is so good for me because he focuses on pressure but doesn’t take it too seriously, so it’s a game that edges on real danger. He’s always throwing kicks at me, which he expects me to block without shinpads on either of us – or at least to just deal with them in a reasonable way if I don’t want to block – but this day he was really coming at me, low-kicking my thighs across the front which buckled me forward. Not because it hurts, which it only does a little bit – he has amazing control – but because I was responding poorly. Then, instead of correcting that response, I spiraled in that direction and just became a total brat. I was showing that I was afraid of him, showing that I was upset every time I missed blocking, didn’t catch the kick, got countered while I was striking, etc. Just the worst. I could see it happening, too, which is just terrible. It’s like you’re floating above yourself, looking down in an out-of-body experience where you also still feel everything the body feels so it’s doubly embarrassing to see what a jerk you’re being and still feel all the things that go with being a jerk in that situation. (Side note: I use “jerk” to mean a shitty attitude and kind of sulking, not a jerk like someone who is purposefully mean to people.)
Kru Mutt could see how frustrated I was and gave me an extra two rounds of padwork on just the focus mitts, just boxing and knees. He slowed it down, warned me before kicking so I could block, took the pressure down so any dumb-dumb could feel a little more confident. I was being bottle fed. It wasn’t the wrong thing to do. Kru Mutt knows what he’s doing and it was both kind and a good way to stop my spiraling; but it’s also embarrassing because I didn’t deserve it. I wasn’t in over my head with Noi, I was just being a brat and refusing to meet his energy. That night I wrote an update about what a snot I’d been and how the only way to apologize is to learn from it and not do it again.
Today when I saw Noi walk in after a group of guys mounted the stairs, the lot of them starting to greet Sakmongkol, Kru Mutt and Mohammad (who also teaches Karate), I knew I had to redeem myself for the other day. Noi and I made eye contact and I wai-ed to him (he’s older than I am by maybe 6 years or so) and he gave me a kind of chin-up, tough guy look. I went about my business doing drills and bagwork while Noi exhibited his bizarre mood for the day, flitting from the tire and bouncing wildly on it and then launching himself into the ring to shadowbox with great gusto while nobody paid any attention to him. It was pretty funny. He started antagonizing Kru Mutt, who was trying to get his pads on and fussing with his belly pad. Noi was lightly kicking him but making a mean mug and yelling the “oi!” sounds that the crowd screams at fights for their favored fighter, basically the Thai training equivalent of “I just got you so good, you sucker!” Mutt waited for a high kick from Noi and then launched his own side kick and tagged Noi right in the balls. It was hilarious and resulted in Noi quitting his antics in the ring immediately.
I walked over to my towel, which was on the side of the ring next to where Noi was standing and fiddling with his phone. I shoved his shoulder and low-kicked him, something he taught me, but it was definitely an invitation to play to someone who’d just been put in the corner, basically. Noi turned his head and put his chin up again in his “what are you gonna do about it?” expression, then made the pantomime for padwork. I nodded and started putting on my gloves while a huge dude I’d never met before, but who everyone else seemed to know well, slammed the focus mitts with Mohammed in the ring.
Kru Mutt is a biker – like a motorcycle gang biker, but the weekend type, not the meth-running type. As part of his leather vest wearing identity, he digs music that guys stuck in the 60’s-70’s in America listen to: Kansas, Moody Blues, Creedence Clearwater, and some country music I could never, ever name but the lyrics are so awful I’ve already memorized them. Some song I recognize from every Vietnam movie ever made blasted over the sound system and I immediately came at Noi with full power, hitting everything he called for and taking up his space every moment between. I grabbed his neck on a knee and clinched him, jumping between the knees to off-balance him and then pulling his head to my side and using my hip to twist and putting him on the ground, head-first. He rolled dramatically, the way he does, and I hopped over while he was still rolling so that I was standing over him when he came to a stop. There was a loud “oooooohhh!”, louder than the music, which is incredible, and I looked over to see Mohammed standing in the corner with his mouth open, they guy he was holding for kind of laughing and not acknowledging exactly how dominant this move was on my part. It’s not putting him on the floor; it’s standing over him. Noi scrambled to his feet and I came at him the moment his hands left the floor. I kicked and kneed him and he threw some steady, controlled combinations of punches at me to back me up – which I refused to do because he told me not to last time – and then a kick, which I anticipated and teeped him, putting him on the ground again. And again I ran after him as he was getting up. The bell sounded and we stopped for some water. I smiled at him and tried to wipe the sweat off my chin with my equally sweaty shoulder; doesn’t work. He looked at me and nodded approvingly, then put his hands up in the air and flexed while making eye-contact with all the guys who just cheered for me putting him down. He knows how it’s done. He was accepting my apology.