Wednesday, June 20th was my 18th Muay Thai fight and 6th since I’ve arrived in Thailand 11 weeks ago.
When I first contemplated getting into the ring – actually fighting – my husband asked me how many fights I could see myself having in total. I paused for a moment before settling on ten; it seemed like an achievement of realistic and satisfying proportion to be attained over a number of years. At the time I had not actually had a fight and also had no connection to any other female fighters in New York or New Jersey, so an understanding of how many women there were for me as opponents was very limited – or understood to be limited.
To have just completed my 18th fight is amazing to me. Most certainly that original goal of 10 was cast off in favor of greater numbers a while ago, but when I first arrived in Chiang Mai 11 weeks ago my fight count was only two fights beyond that original 10. Now it’s nearly doubled and will be beyond that with another month. It’s not necessarily the overall number that is most exciting to me, but rather the frequency with which I can fight. The surprise and accomplishment of 18 fights will very soon be replaced by 19 and 20, and so on.
Despite their frequency and even though I delight in how little consequence each fight has, my fights do not blend into one another. Each one matters as a test and an act of learning, but in the long run, in the grand picture, it quickly moves to make room for the next one. This most recent fight was like many others, but it was also unique. It was scheduled in the middle of the week, so my actual training schedule was different from fights scheduled on a Friday or Saturday. I was also very nervous beforehand. I have a very calm demeanor before fights that is most accurately described as emotionally “flat.” It has been praised when interpreted as calmness and has also been criticized as being too introverted. I recognized this flatness as a lack of nervousness for a long time, so as I have slowly begun to recognize that it is a response to nervousness, I have come to understand how better to work with it. I don’t think I was actually more nervous for this fight, but my awareness of my nerves was certainly increased to the point that I said it out loud. My husband has really never heard me say I’m nervous, so he kept asking me if this was unusual – it wasn’t, but my expression of it was.
I found out maybe 30 minutes before my fight that it was a rematch with a girl who beat me at a different stadium about a month ago. It was a good fight for me, but it felt terrible. The idea of facing her again wasn’t scary, but all of a sudden the consequences of losing again or of not doing much better than I had last time became far more poignant. There was a threat that every mistake would have greater meaning if I lost this time, to this woman, than against anyone else.
Once I got in the ring, I felt much better. My Wai Kru/Ram Muay was much slower than usual, because I knew that my opponent’s Ram Muay takes a while, so I could take my time. It felt good at this pace. Master K had told me two fights ago that I was doing the Ram Muay wrong, so I practiced the corrections. Knowing for certain that I was now doing it right made a big difference. I think my confidence started to rise there.
The first round wasn’t mine. I knew I had to close distance as our last fight had basically been me chasing this woman all around the ring and she took the fight in straight knees during the clinch. Den told me that I have to kick the body at least once every round for him to know I’m getting better. So I was very focused on kicking to the middle and in order to do this I had to close all the distance that this opponent likes to make between us. I also remembered that she doesn’t like punches much, so I was trying to set up for those.
My awareness was much greater in this fight than any previous. I could hear the different voices of my coaches in the corner, telling me a few different things to do and I think I responded much faster than usual. I could also hear a man in the neutral corner, speaking English, telling me to “punch and kick! punch and kick!” when I had her backing up. So I did and most of the time it worked. I could see myself affecting her and built on it, something that I have not experienced in previous fights.
It seems astounding in some ways that it took 18 fights to get to that place. But I figure that what one learns from the process of fighting is not chronologically advanced. Perhaps you learn something quite small in an early fight and don’t learn something very basic until 20 fights in. It depends on your opponent, on your training, what you’re capable of focusing on within the fight and the fight itself. In training, I learn much faster when I get hit – you can tell me to keep my hands up until you’re sick of your own voice, but if you just keep hitting the opening I’ll keep ’em up much faster. In fights it’s different. You can make these adjustments, but there is so much self-consciousness and self-blindness at the same time that what you learn and what you fail to see cannot be predicted or explained. But it’s always the right lesson.