A few months ago I wrote post titled Game Day: Why You Should Fight Muay Thai in Thailand. This is a follow up or “part two” to that post on the subject of how you know when you’re ready to fight, in Thailand or otherwise.
When Are You Ready?
Not long ago a fellow who I met through my Facebook page and who made it out to Thailand to train at a gym that is also in Chiang Mai came by Lanna to train with us. After a full session including sparring he started talking about how he expected to wait 12 weeks before taking a fight in Thailand. I thought 12 weeks seemed like a very long time and then, when he went on to explain that the reason he wanted to wait 12 weeks was due to a combination of advice from others at his camp and his own determination to “be ready” for a fight, I began to converse in my head about the potential pitfalls of waiting a specific length of time or toward an abstract moment like “being ready.”
The danger, I feel, is that it is pretty rare to ever feel ready for a fight. There’s always something that makes this moment not right – you didn’t sleep well, you feel tired, you didn’t do exactly the right things or enough things in training, you ate too much, something hurts, you’re sore, you’re scared… all of these are feelings that can muddy up the waters right around the time when you have a fight coming up, but all of them are feelings. You will never be without some of these things nagging at you when you have a fight coming up and waiting for that perfect moment when all the circumstances fall into place and everything is perfect means you will never fight.
So how do you know when you’re ready? The answer, to me, is really simple: you’re ready when you want to fight. My first fight was about a year into my training with Master K and he didn’t want me to fight. I basically forced him to allow it, telling him I was going down to Virginia for this tournament and it would be great if he would come, but that I was going either way. I didn’t have the right training to be prepared for the ring – I’d sparred twice (total) and had never really had contact or been hit; I’d never really done extensive bagwork for combinations or flow and I’d never rehearsed any of techniques under pressure. But while I was not prepared for this fight I do count myself as having been ready because I really, really wanted to fight.
And that’s what it still boils down to for me. No matter how nervous, how tired or sick or whatever I’m feeling on the day or night or moments before a fight, none of it keeps me from being ready because ready is a state of mind. I want to get in that ring and I want to fight. If i waited until I wasn’t tired, had slept well, didn’t have anything that hurt and felt really confident and perfectly prepared to get into the ring with another person whose intention is to make things difficult for me, I’d always be waiting. Waiting is the worst part of fighting – I hate waiting.
Preparation for Being Able to Fight
Obviously there are things that need to be addressed in one’s training and general preparation before stepping into the ring with another fighter. You want to have training that prepares you both physically and mentally – you want sparring and clinching and to have enough technique at your disposal that you can defend yourself to a reasonable degree. But that degree can be pretty minimal so long as you are mentally and emotionally geared toward having a fight experience. You can be really skilled, really well trained and if you don’t want to fight you’re going to have a hell of a time in the ring against someone who does want to fight. And on the flip side, you can have some pretty major technical deficiencies and get in the ring and have a very positive fight experience. The best and worst things that could possibly happen in a fight are in your head.
I started writing this post on Monday and on Tuesday a guy who has been training at the gym for well over 6 months and who I frequently ask when he’s going to fight said that he was really thinking he might fight soon. I asked “how soon?” and he responded that he had to do a visa run in three weeks. My face lit up and I smiled, saying “Oh good! So you can fight in two weeks before you go!” He looked mildly horrified and then said that he intended to fight when he got back, not before. I offered that he ought to do both, fight before he goes and then again when he gets back, but he was pretty certain that fighting before he left for the border run was some kind of crazy whereas waiting until after the border run made perfect sense.
We went back and forth about it for a while – it was clear to me that he was using the border run, mentally, as a spacer for himself to keep the thought of fighting on the other side of something rather than just choosing a date. He wasn’t sure that it was enough time to prepare for a fight, these two weeks, obviously not considering the months he’s already put into training – as if once you make the decision to fight those weeks of a “fight camp” are the only training which counts. This is not true, in my opinion, in the west and is even less true in Thailand where you’re training twice a day and nearly every day. I looked at Den and asked him how long he thought this fellow would need to train for a fight and Den shook his head, “one day,” he answered.
I argued with this guy for about 20 minutes and then told him to just think about it. He said he would and then as I was leaving stopped me in the driveway and admitted that he was afraid he’d be matched against someone “with 30 fights.” It was oddly specific. I explained that because of his size he would likely have an opponent with more experience – there aren’t Thais his size, generally, and there are very few adult Thai men who have no fights at all and are just getting into it. And for whatever reason, western vs. western fights in Chiang Mai don’t seem to happen. I understand his fear of being overwhelmed by someone with a lot more experience in the ring, but at the same time I couldn’t tell him flat out that this wouldn’t happen – it might; you never know who you’re facing. But it’s a fight. The promoters and trainers do their best to make good matches because nobody wants to see an ill-matched fight, but yeah, sometimes you get put in with someone who is just more capable on that night, at that time, under those circumstances. Another fear this guy has is that his left kick isn’t online yet and he can’t land his right cross. Hey Fella, I’ve got 41 fights and I never land my right cross and neither of my kicks are winning any fights for me. It’s a process, not an end result.
I asked him who his favorite fighter is and he named Diesellek, who is a damn fine fighter. I offered that Diesellek had become a great fighter by fighting, not by waiting for the perfect time to fight – by fighting a lot. And this is what makes me pester people at the gym to fight – there is nothing special about me that makes me able to fight with the frequency that I do. The only thing that allows me to do it is the desire to fight, which really isn’t special at all. The reason it’s easier for me than it is for the guy with no fights or three fights or whatever is that I’ve done it before. I’ve had more experience losing than they have, so it doesn’t cause me fear. If you’ve never lost, it can feel scary or overwhelming or like you could never move on from it. But the fact of the matter is that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you in a fight is in your head. The likelihood that your worst case scenario will come true is very minimal, injuries heal and your attitude determines how long after a fight the failure to perform how you wanted to, a loss or a physical injury will persist. And when it comes down to it, you have more control over how you feel about a fight than you have control over any given thing within a fight.
I’ve read comments online on boards regarding fighting and whether or not someone “should” or “is ready” or whatever that fighting is a personal thing and not everyone is cut out for it and you should make the decision carefully and blah blah blah, something about training for X number of years first or having Y qualifications as determined by someone other than yourself. I agree, not everyone should fight. But this is as personal a decision as it is in my mind: if you want to fight you fall into the category of persons who can and should fight. If you don’t want to fight then you fall into the category of persons who probably shouldn’t, but still can fight.