Intro: The experience of having Robyn here was amazing and I had so much fun with her on every single day of her visit that it was only a few days into her arrival that we were already lamenting how quickly she would leave again. It’s never enough time. She got a lot out of this trip, more so than I think many others would because of the kind of person she is….read the rest of my thoughts on Robyn here. I hope to have more voices of female fighters on this blog in the coming months.
Stretched Thin and Growing in Thailand
[photo above: Sylvie removing my gloves after my fight.]
Sylvie and I had discussed me fighting in Thailand weeks before I had even bought my plane ticket for my trip. Sylvie was tremendously encouraging that I should fight while there. I had some short lived reservations in the beginning, mainly about learning a Ram Muay and not having ever fought with elbows before. I am an amateur fighter in the United States and I do not train at a traditional Muay Thai school rather with an MMA organization and in addition I do quite a bit of boxing training. Sylvie had a well thought out answer for every reservation I brought to light. It eerily seemed like she had already pre-played out how the conversation might go. Well played Sylvie….well played indeed. It didn’t take long…maybe an email or two before I figured the hell with it. When in Rome, right? Sign me up. Besides Sylvie is someone whom I greatly respect and admire and if she saw something I didn’t I should trust in it and I did.
Flash forward a few months and I was in “fighting shape” when I stepped off the plane onto Thai soil. I had a successful amateur title defense 6 weeks prior to my trip to Thailand. Sylvie wasted no time throwing me into her death-baton training schedule and had me out for my first run and 7 hour training day complete with private boxing lesson just shy of 7 hours after arriving in Chiang Mai. No rest for the wicked. That first day damn near killed me mainly due to dehydration, lack of sleep and severe jet lag. I quickly learned the most important thing in life in Thailand is hydration and immediately became obsessed with it. I also learned no matter what kind of fighting shape I thought I was in when I arrived it was nothing compared to trying to survive the 7+ hours of training each day in the most horrific heat imaginable. I’m sweating now just thinking about it. Thank god for non-quitting spirit.
Under Sylvie’s tutelage, I took a private lesson each available day I could with Den before my fight. Den is in my humble opinion one of the most talented trainers at Lanna and he boasts a record of over 300 professional fights. The private lessons were well worth their weight in gold. We worked mainly on two things: Elbows and Clinch. As an ammy fighter in the states in most of the places I fight you cannot throw elbows. Therefore I have had very little opportunity to practice them, utilize them or even remotely make them muscle memory. Den was fantastic. Each day we worked on each kind of elbow there is to throw, how to set them up, when to throw them, when to identify an opening, how to defend them and when to be aware you may get hit with them. Then we practiced them till my elbows bled.
During one of our privates I asked Den if had he ever seen the girl that I was matched to fight with fight before. He answered yes. Up until this point I had heard nothing about my opponent. I asked him if he could tell me anything about her. He told me, “She good, has about 40+ fights and will be a hard fight for you”. Then he paused and waited, reading me to see what I would do with the information. I smiled and said, “I’m ok with that. I train with girls back home that have 40 fights (thinking of Bellator badass Munah Holland.” Den continued, “Sylvie told us you should have a hard fight.” And then he paused again before finishing, “You will not learn anything in a quick fight. You fight 5 rounds and you will learn. Learning is why you are here.” I nodded and said “Osu”…which he had no idea what that meant but it was my way of telling him that I understood the exchange in a way greater than one can just simply say “yes” and we went back to throwing bloody elbows.
The day of the fight I completely overslept and was woken by Sylvie banging on my apartment door at 10:30 in the morning. Oops. We stuffed our faces at the best breakfast spot in Chiang Mai, Mong Pearl. I allocated a well-deserved bottle of wine for me to drink after the fight and I relaxed in my room and watched tape of female fights online in the air conditioning. I’m a huge proponent of watching tape. Some of my favorites are Tiffany Van Soest, Genesis Bravo, my dear friend Sylvie and hopefully Iman Barlow will posting more and more of her fights as her style is exciting as hell. But I digress. I wandered down to the gym around 4pm and got my hot oil rub down from Sylvie, which I heckled her threw the entire time and then I hung out and chatted with Kevin for a while. Then a hot shower followed by my usual prefight meal of sushi. Sylvie did my hair, we shared lots of laughs during it and then it was off to the gym for the ritualistic truck ride to the venue. When we got to the fights Sylvie surprised me with a custom pair of Muay Thai shorts that had my name written in Thai across the front as well as the gym name Lanna in Thai on the waistband. It warmed my heart and I wore them proudly in my fight.
One of the biggest challenges for this fight in my opinion was the mental game. It would have been easy given the circumstances to fall into the trap of psyching myself out. I’m very blessed that I do not get nervous before fighting. And I was quite pleased I managed to keep my mental game in check while I was there. I did this by doing two simple things. The first thing was to keep the fight very small. I always say (along the lines of Gertrude Stein) a fight is a fight is a fight. It doesn’t matter if it’s a golden gloves boxing match in the basement of the Palo Alto fire hall in the middle of no where Pennsylvania or a fight at the IKF Amateur World Championships in Orlando, Florida or if it’s at Kalare Stadium in Chiang Mai. The same thing is going to happen….I’m going to get in a fight. A fight I have trained very hard for. The fight is only between me and her and nothing else and no one else matters. The second you allow your brain to start to say things like: She has more than twice as many fights as me or I won’t have my regular corner here, or what if I traveled 9,000 miles and lose, and what if I let Sylvie down, and I’m all by myself here, and what if I don’t represent Lanna well, what if I get hurt, or what if I let down the people from the gym who came to watch me, or what if I don’t do well?? They are all seeds of poison that once planted in your brain will inflate a fight to epic proportions. In realty it’s just a fight between two people. I keep it simple. The second thing I do is I put very little pressure on myself. I try to make one or two little goals per fight. For this specific fight I wanted to cut hard angles and land an elbow. If I can do those two things then I’ll be happy. In the words of my beloved boxing coach Ray Velez, if I just do what I do all the other things will come i.e. knockouts and or greatness. And as a rule I never fight emotional. Emotions lead you to places where you make poor choices.
My fight was a good fight. When I was in the corner waiting to be called to the center Den gave me some sage advice. In his very calm manner he said, “You’ve trained here a short time and you have learned lots of things. Do not try to change the way you fight. Fight the way you fight but use some of your new tools if you can.” I appreciated his non-pressuring wisdom and tried to do exactly as he suggested. I managed to cut hard angles and I landed an elbow….more than one actually. I didn’t start letting them fly until the fourth round. Between the third and fourth Den said to me in the corner, “If you are close enough to throw the uppercut you are close enough to throw the elbow. Throw the elbow.” For whatever reason it clicked. I ended the fourth with some hard elbows followed by a hard knee to the head of my opponent giving her a standing 8 count. She rallied back hard in the 5th and about halfway through I KO’d her with a well-placed elbow. Den was right…..I learned way more in 5 rounds. And Sylvie was right as well….I wanted/needed a hard fight.
My fight was an amazing experience, life changing actually and I walked out of that ring in Kalare a different person and fighter than I did when I walked in. The same can be said for my entire trip to Thailand. Aside from the world class training, I swam with and then rode an elephant in the jungle, I got blessed by a monk, I saw amazing temples, watched one of my best friends knock a girl out, snuggled a few Bengal tigers, met some really awesome people from all over the world and stuffed my face like a fat kid on the most delicious food I have ever eaten. I made the trip solo and stretched myself thin in enough places that I grew……and I grew immensely.
But the best parts even with all that said was the time I spent with Sylvie. Trading face punches and liver shots. Laughing so hard we were crying while jetting around Chiang Mai on her scooter. Making fun of silly tourists and telling outrageous stories. I can’t even begin to explain how much I miss having dinner together. As I get older I value and cherish the relationships I form with people more and more. Especially when you’ve lost relationships with people you valued it makes you hold on to the ones you care about even more so. I loved having Sylvie in my corner when I fought. I loved hearing her frustration every time she yelled right kick and I didn’t do it. The annoyance in her voice was fantastic and she yelled my name twice as loud before she commanded me to throw it again. Eventually I’d throw the right kick. I was proud to be her first person she cornered and I hope she does it again because frankly she was quite good at it. She would be doing herself and others a disservice if she didn’t keep up with it. I was so happy to have shared the entire experience with her. I never thought before this trip I’d ever to go Thailand or let alone fight there. Now I know I’ll never NOT go back. It’s just a matter of time besides…..as long as Sylvie’s there I’m going to do my best to always visit her. She is in the end the Batman to my Robyn and I owe her a lifetime of gratitude for encouraging me to be my best me and helping me get there. 🙂