Day 11 – Fight Energy
Another difficult day today. Morning training at Petchrungruang was good and the trainer there, Kru Nu, has been trying to get me a fight. It’s proven remarkably difficult to book a fight in Pattaya, compared to the ease with which I’ve been spoiled in Chiang Mai thus far. There are fights every night of the week in Chiang Mai; there are four stadia in the direct area and festival fights or productions in areas outside of the city (literally just putting a ring in the middle of a field) all the time. So booking a fight is no problem. You can do so within a few hours’ notice. But in Pattaya it seems there are only two main stadia and they produce fights twice per week (perhaps?), so options seem far fewer here. Anyway, the trainer at Petchrungruang initially told me he hadn’t found me a fight but when we kept asking and suggested Friday (he’d been looking for Wednesday because he has three boys on the card already) he then called the other stadium and they said they’d put me on. Nu can’t go with me since they have fighters heading to Ayuthaya that day but Sakmongkol said he’d come corner for me. That’s awesome. Fight!!
I’m actually nervous. Part of me is in the fight version of the foolishness of kids on Spring Break in a foreign country (i.e. almost all the Westerners in Thailand who make us all look bad) with the attitude of “nobody knows me here so I can do whatever I want,” and then the other part of me feels like I haven’t fought in a million years and I don’t know the venue or the production or what fighters are like down here or whether I’ll pull very much of what I’ve been focusing on into the ring with me. But despite all that, it’s still Muay Thai… I know Muay Thai.
Sakmongkol was late to our private session so I ran on the treadmill downstairs before he arrived. We told him right away about the fight on Friday and he got in serious mode. Instead of clinching for an hour (which what the private sessions are for) he worked with me on movement and a mix between shadow and sparring. Then it became sparring but mostly with him in defense and me attacking. I got incredibly frustrated. I was doing the same things over and over again without really realizing my repetition and so he started just blocking everything and then I couldn’t touch him. That’s basically how sparring goes for me with Den and so all the emotions of disappointment in myself and frustration just took over. I failed mentally more than physically. Eventually Mong was just walking after me, very slowly, crowding my space and just forcing me to move. And that’s all I had to do really in order for it to be successful: just move. But I was freaking out that I couldn’t attack him; I wasn’t wearing gloves so I just took punches off the table, which is dumb because I should just throw everything and let him tell me if he doesn’t want it for the exercise. I pushed through but basically I had a shitty attitude and got very frustrated and upset with myself. For the last minute Mong just grabbed me for the clinch and just pulled me and pushed me everywhere. That illustrated his grand scheme, the big point of what we were doing, and that’s that he was giving me fight energy and forcing me to respond. Attitude/emotional-wise I failed. After the last bell I bent over with my hands on my knees, totally overwhelmed. Mong walked over and gently, supportively put his hand on the back of my head to say it was okay. It’s hard to train the mental parts.
I was explaining to Kevin afterward that it feels like “falling off the wagon.” It’s a guilty feeling. Like I’ve been 10 days off the drink or something and then I get put under pressure and go back to my old habits, the exact thing I’ve been abstaining from with pride and focus for 10 days. Obviously the right response is to just get right back on the wagon and not beat myself up for it. The fact is that this feeling of guilt is difficult because I won’t feel better until I “make up for it” in some way, but the debt is imaginary. I can only repay it with the same brain (though a different mind) that created it.
Part of 1 of pressure and movement:
Part 2 of pressure and movement:
Padwork went better. Again he wanted fight energy without really telling me what to do other than calling for 10 or 20 kicks to start or finish the rounds, just pushing me. I could have pivoted better; I could have been more aggressive, but other than that I think I did well. Against someone my size, that padwork would have kicked anyone’s ass.
Padwork Round 1:
Padwork Round 2:
Padwork Round 3:
Padwork Round 4:
Padwork Round 5:
The hard part is that the respect, admiration and friendship I feel for Sakmongkol is incompatible with the kind of pressure that an opponent makes me feel. So when someone I trust and admire makes me feel badly about myself I feel betrayed instead of doing just a little mental judo and understanding that he’s using that pressure to make me better. It’s a gift. And the right way to accept a gift like that is to give something equal in return. That’s what today reiterated for me. That’s why tomorrow will be better.
Day 12 – Train Your Face
This morning I had the gym to myself for about 40 minutes before two guys came up the stairs. I was surprised (after the fact) by how irritated I was to have my solitude broken. I was working steadily on what was so difficult for me yesterday with pivoting and something wonky happening with my right kick that’s causing my left ankle to hurt (a tendon, not the actual ankle – it’s definitely an angle and turning issue), but even though I was focused it really pissed me off to have these two guys come in and do a little paddy-cake with the focus mitts. Was I mad because they did such lame work? Was I irritated because they were definitely looking at me between rounds? Or was it simply that I was no longer alone and having company meant I had to put my T-shirt back on? Probably it was a lot to do with that last one, but in any case my aggressive energy is making itself known. I just have to channel it a little better. These poor dudes trying to get some man-time don’t deserve my animosity; that’s just being a jerk.
When Sakmongkol and I met for training at 2:00 he had me doing a lot of shadow work. He really just wants me to relax and move. “You can kick, you can punch, knee, elbow – everything,” he says, “but you no move.” Makes sense. While I was moving around he asked me, in Thai, what technique I know I’m good at. My first response was that I don’t know, which he didn’t like, so he asked me again. I said I know my knees are strong and he got excited, telling me to train my knees. He has told me this a few times, you just move around and throw everything but when you find something that feels good – like, “hey, I really like how it feels to throw a right cross” – then you do that over and over again. It’s good advice.
Today he wanted to start with padwork, reversing the normal order of things. Because I have a fight scheduled he really puts it on me to try to tire me out during these rounds and it does work; throwing everything I have into a succession of kicks is really good for me but it’s not easy. But then the work becomes how to move in order to regain calm, relaxed, ready breathing and movement. It’s like Pi Nu said (my trainer at Petchrungruang in the mornings) when my husband laughed and told him that his padwork gets me tired, “she breathe good,” (he knows how hard his padwork is; I haven’t seen any of the dudes he holds for go past two rounds), “but tired in training is good.” It’s JR’s motto, too, “train hard, fight easy.” There was one point when I had my back against the ropes and Sakmongkol was coming after me. My job is to stay steady and block if he kicks, but kick or knee him if he doesn’t attack. I was blocking in the air without him striking and must have looked really pathetic because Mong immediately backed off, put his arms down at his sides and said, “No!” He imitated me for effect, (I f*cking hate it when my trainers imitate me because they make me look so dumb), and then showed me how he wants me to stay ready at the ropes, kind of faking and moving my body as if I’m threatening to strike. But the real point was my face. “Sometimes you attack good,” he said, “but…” and then he made a defeated, kind of jerky face. Then he started making the movements he wanted again and made his face look very ready, like a wrestler maybe. Take the stress out of my face. Got it.
After this he had me work on my footwork in partner shadowboxing, where he moves with me like we’re fighting but without really throwing any strikes. Maybe swinging open-hand slaps at me like hooks that I have to dodge, but that’s about it. I’m supposed to shadow little twitchy attacks like kicks or knees, “pulling the trigger” he calls it, but without actually striking. Just moving, moving, moving. Then he left me to it, moving on my own in this shadowboxing. He didn’t tell me to stop or for how long I should go and only once or twice offered any kind of correction. I went for maybe 40-50 minutes, part of the time while he held pads for another guy training. He didn’t say so, but the idea is clearly to just let me work it out – figure it out, through fatigue, through repetition and just going until the relaxation takes hold through fatigue or absent-mindedness or whatever. It’s like running. You can run poorly for a mile or two with tight muscles, bad form, bad breathing, whatever – but you can’t run 10 miles this way. Your body just finds a way; you have to relax into it, your breathing becomes steady and you just lose the tension because it’s the same thing over and over and over again. Fighting is complex – footwork and strikes are endless rhythms and patterns and they change – but if you just keep going, like miles, the tension leaks out and away. He’s giving me miles and telling me to sort my face out at the starting line.
15 minutes of shadow with focus on kicking distance and repetition:
First 2 rounds of padwork:
Last 4 rounds of padwork:
Dynamic Fight Context Shadowboxing:
This is part of a near-daily Muay Thai series Training with Sakmongkol wherein I describe my training experiences with him at WKO Pattaya. For those interested I recount my decision to temporarily leave my training in Chiang Mai to take the opportunity to learn from one of the best Thai fighters of his generation and a uniquely gifted teacher in my post: In Search of Sakmongkol. In these posts I try to include as much extensive video as possible so that others can see in detail how and what he is teaching me.