Alice: … I was just wondering if you could help me find my way.
Cheshire Cat: Well that depends on where you want to get to.
Alice: Oh, it really doesn’t matter, as long as…
Cheshire Cat: Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go
I like getting lost. The process, anyway – not so much actually being lost, but the part of getting to it is really calming. My method for this madness is often in running, when I will veer off of a path I’ve run before and head off in a different direction, into the woods or onto another path (I live near endless hiking) and the less I know about where the road I should be on, the better. I think I like it because I just have to keep running until I can reorient myself – there’s simply nothing else to do. It’s not about pace or heart rate or distance; it’s just you and your footfall, and nobody there to hear it. This can lead to hours of running and when I’m finally spit out onto a road that I can mentally connect to a way home, I have to muster enough strength to swallow that distance under my feet and arrive at the finish. Getting lost requires no energy because there’s no thought – I feed on patience. Knowing where I am and how far there is to go can be exhausting. I don’t like the being found part.
I don’t think I know where “home” is on my fight path. That is, my finish line is not at the end of some obstacle course and it’s not at the end of the road I’m on – it’s somewhere in the abstract and I know that I’ll get to it, but I haven’t yet landed on the road that is familiar enough to let me know how far away I am from arriving at that door. This doesn’t mean I don’t have goals. I want to fight 50 fights; maybe when I get to 50 I’ll want more, and maybe I won’t. The point is that I don’t care about my pace or my distance or my heart-rate because all I have to do is keep running – keep fighting until I arrive somewhere that makes me think, “Oh, I know my way home from here.”
A few weeks ago I was offered a fight in the UK. I was one among a few candidates for the card, which is promoted by the fiancee of the woman I would be fighting. I’d heard her name before and she’s definitely a pretty big step up in class from the fight pool I’m in now, which is small and relatively self-contained. The offer was exciting. I recognize that it is a considerable opportunity and one that is not presented to all fighters in my situation. I also approached it with a level of curiosity, since I’m logically not the most obvious fighter to be approached for this kind of opportunity.
My curiosity was shared by a Facebook friend of mine who is a professional fighter at about my same size. She had fought this woman before and was suspicious of her intentions, advising me that this fighter and her promoter look for very green amateurs as opponents. I noticed that the record that was presented to me was not the same as the record posted online, but it wasn’t drastic enough to warrant too much attention – just something of which to take note. I don’t mind someone wanting to fight me because they think it’s an easy win; I don’t mind because I want to prove that assumption false. But there has to be something of interest in the fight itself. I have fought women bigger than me for most of my fights and this has become the compromise for less experienced fighters facing me – I have experience, they have size. This fight was to be at my proper weight (102 lbs) and so the advantage goes to the opponent with more experience, which would be this woman in England. I was excited because I thought that with international rules I would have the opportunity to fight full Muay Thai rules, including elbows. This wasn’t the case, it turns out, and I was worried that the lack of distinction between pro and amateur in the UK (and the bizarre specifics in the distinction in the US) might affect my ability to fight as an amateur in the US afterward.
So I canceled my participation. I told Kru Nat that I didn’t want to fly out to the UK in order to have a fight that was not Muay Thai (no elbows) when I could have a fight that’s not Muay Thai here. The promoter had figured to make the fight for a title in order to make it “worth [my] while”, but because I couldn’t care less about titles and belts, my interest was in the full Muay Thai rules and without them, it’s not as much worth my while. If we could arrange the fight in a different context, in which elbows were allowed, I would be running at the chance. And while I recognize that it is a privilege to travel for fights and it’s an opportunity I’m grateful for, I don’t want to have the excitement be simply the alternate location when the excitement could be full Muay Thai rules.
Kru Nat wasn’t happy. She respects my choice, even if she doesn’t understand it. And though I’m sure she thinks I’m making a poor choice, I don’t think that assessment is necessarily with the understanding of where I stand on the course of my path. If I wanted to make a name for myself as an international fighter, win some titles and belts, go pro and then open my own gym, this opportunity would be the optimal choice at this point in my career. But that’s not my plan. I want to fight as much as I can, as best I can, and as true to traditional Muay Thai as I can, regardless of who notices. I have zero interest in titles and belts and I don’t believe that I can go pro in this country at my size, so I figure I’ll probably only ever be “professional” as it stands being a fighter in Thailand, where the distinction is arbitrary. I don’t want to make a name for myself, but I do want to honor the names of my trainers – so it pains me that Kru Nat sees this as a mark against her role as a Kru, trainer, manager, or gym owner. I also recognize that there is a sting to my dissatisfaction with Muay Thai in the US because I am in a different situation from what Kru Nat has experienced. She is a pioneer of female Muay Thai, not only in the US but in the world. Her stage was carved and hammered and built by her hard work and now that she is helping me to stand on it, I’m telling her that I want something different. She’s worked so hard to bring real Muay Thai to the US and appreciates the little victories that I, in my newer generation, find still insufficient. I know how awful it must be to have struggled so hard to get Muay Thai here and then have your student tell you, “it isn’t here!” And I’m not ashamed to be dissatisfied because all the things I fight for now will be improvements upon which the next generation can build yet more.
I want to make Master K and Kru Nat proud, but above all I want them to feel that I have received their gifts and given something in return. But I cannot do any of that if I’m not happy in my own path.
I love fighting. I love fighting and I want to fight in the art form I have loved and trained in. In the end my footsteps may not lead anyone else anywhere, and the way home may ultimately be a road already paved. But I don’t go out for a run in order to get home. Home is the relief from the unknown, but the path, the run, the fight… that part always calls you back out.