A Word of Warning
A couple weeks after arriving at Lanna I was chatting with Andy before morning training. It was probably 6:15 AM and we’d just returned to the gym after a run at the lake. Other trainers and students would be arriving in stages from 6:30 AM onward, so the bags hung still and quiet in the still-sleepy space around us.
We were talking about Big, a 17 or 18-year-old Thai who lives at and fights for Lanna. He’d fought the night before and I was asking Andy how it went for him – Andy was positive about the fight, saying that Big had fought this opponent a few times before in heated matches. Apparently the opponent was still growing (Big is not) and was becoming more of a challenge for Big physically, but Big had won with a spectacular elbow. I’ve written about Big before, how he plays in his fights and will try things – not always to great success but usually with great effect – that make for very exciting fights. This was one of those times that his “Hail Mary” was successful and Andy was telling me there’s a cost to that.
When you fight often, he said, your opponents’ gyms and audiences at the fight start to talk about you to each other and word gets around that you’re a fighter who throws elbows. He was kind of warning me that my tendency to KO my opponents with knees and fight with intention to hurt my opponents was going to become what I’m “known” for and that my opponents will grow to expect this about me and come ready for it. He was talking about Big, but also talking about me. He said that opponents know Big is going to throw crazy elbows, so they try to beat him to it and will start the first round with elbows. Basically, be ready to take what you dish out.
At the time I thought it was an unnecessary warning because it was something I understood. I’d been told by Sylvie Charbonneau two years before that elbows aren’t so much “reserved” for later rounds by etiquette, but rather that once you throw an elbow you’ve sent the invitation, you’ve broken the seal and now elbows are on the table. So some people don’t throw them until later because they don’t want to receive them either. I don’t fight in a way that I wouldn’t want to be fought – I expect elbows and knees. It’s Muay Thai.
In the Cut
But today, looking at myself in the mirror as I apply iodine to the split skin on my nose and admiring my two black eyes, I realized something else about Andy’s advice. I’m proud of my bruises and believe I won that fight because I was bleeding out of the nose, not in spit of it – it strengthened me. Andy was not warning me to not throw elbows and knees unless I want them back – I mean, he is saying that and it’s true – rather, he’s letting me know that fighting with the intention of hurting your opponent instead of defensively or for points is a long-term choice. You are deciding what “flavor” of fighter you are and that’s what your future opponents will expect and come prepared for. You can’t have a few fights with lots of elbows and knees and then decide you want a relaxed night of point-scoring; Tyson can’t walk into the ring and decide he’s going to try to out-score his opponent with jabs tonight and maybe he’ll have a stronger in-fight next month.
My nose isn’t broken. I don’t think so, anyway. It seems to me that a broken nose I would suspect is one of those things that you know is broken or it’s not – you can think it’s broken and be wrong, but seems unlikely that you think it’s not broken when it is. The swelling is worse today than it was after the fight and the blood from the swelling is slowly starting to drain into a more black-eye look. I expect it will heal up quickly, but I will have to be careful of it during training for the next week. If it’s not better in 14 days, I will be fighting with an injured nose; it’s just how it is. But this is something I will expect to reoccur, not something that causes me to reform my style. Certainly I will train to protect my head better and improve my defense as a whole, but my opponents and I (and the audience) have congruent expectations. And that, to me, is the difference between a warning and a promise.