It’s the day before my first fight in Chiangmai and I’m lying here on my bed chewing on every thought that wanders in and out of my head. It’s customary to take the day before, of and after the fight off. So I got up and ran this morning and then went to the gym for some light shadowboxing and I’ll go back in the afternoon for an oil massage and more shadow.
I’ve been here in Chiangmai for two weeks now, as of today. Part of why my husband and I moved to Thailand for this year of training and fighting was because we so thoroughly dislike the manner in which the whole fighting production is conducted in the US. One of the many aspects of Thai fighting that appeals to me is that you can have a 2 week training camp, go have a fight – win or lose doesn’t matter – and then start training for the next one right away. There’s no 6 week mandatory lead up, no 4-6 month wait between fights, no studying of opponents or fearing that you’re being studied, and you simply cannot “build up” a fight when there is another to follow so closely on its heels. It would be like a kid freaking out over his soccer game when he knows he’ll have another the following weekend.
It’s astonishing how quickly my body has changed in just these two weeks. I’m certainly stronger – training 6-7 hours per day will do that to you, whether or not you’re consciously trying to increase muscle – but I’m also taking up the physical space around me in a different way. I impose myself, physically, without intention.
A curious thing about being an athlete is that strength, stamina and aggression are assumed after a short time and become background to very minor details. I have good power for my size but I never think about it because I’m concerned with how my standing foot is pivoting or whether or not I’m hitting with the front two knuckles of my fist. Small injuries – I hesitate to even call them that: “small hurts” might be better – help me to determine what my body is doing.
After a while my body becomes a collection of these small hurts: the blister on the bottom of my foot means I’m turning too much on the right kick; the damaged toe joint means I’m striking too low down; the skin peeled off of my knuckles means I am indeed hitting with the correct part of the fist; and the bruises all along my shins mean I’ve improved my blocks.
None of these things require attention beyond limiting any kind of further agitation: tape the blister, put Vaseline on the knuckles. Keep punching on the knuckles and stop turning on the blister. Whatever hurts now will still be there for the fight, but it’s doubtful that I’ll feel it during the fight. Not even injuries acquired in the course of the fight hurt during the fight itself.
But that damage will tell me what I did during the fight, what I didn’t do, what I need to do. All these injuries are just messages and they’re the only way to tell you what happened. They help me decipher my body and whatever damage I deliver to my opponent will help her decipher herself, it will translate my strengths and her weaknesses.
It’s so hard to see a fight before it happens, just as it’s difficult to see it as it’s happening. It’s like having your face pressed up against the canvass and all you can see are brush strokes, detailed and beautiful but without meaning. It is only afterward that you are able to step back and really gather the image of how they work together, what they are trying to depict. And you must dive back in if you are to refine the strokes.