After the game is before the game – Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel
The next game/opponent is always the toughest one – Das nächste Spiel/Der nächste Gegner ist immer das/der schwerste
There is something very satisfying to me about having my next two or three fights lined up. There was a time in the US when I didn’t know when I would fight again and there was a definite and marked deflation in my training as a result. I love fighting; I also love training. But in the US you “train to fight” and without that end result there is a lack of meaning in the training, whether perceived or real.
Master K told me that the ideal training period for a fight was “at least six weeks,” and that’s what I aimed for for my first fight. I don’t recall entirely now what the difference in training was for those six weeks prior to the tournament, but it likely involved more training session per week and increased running, but otherwise it was entirely constructed out of the mind: now I’m training for a fight.
After that fight I wanted to get right back into training and that’s pretty much been my M.O. ever since. I don’t take time off after fights beyond a day to sleep. If I have injuries I train around them. To me that’s part of what appealed to me about Muay Thai in the first place. Developed on the battle field, Muay Thai was implemented at the loss of weapons: you lose a spear, start using your kick; someone breaks your club, now you’re axe-elbowing his head. Same goes for the fight: if you injure your shin, use your knee; if you can’t use your left elbow, use your right, etc. The same goes for training because, ultimately, you will fight the way you train. If you train yourself to stop every time something goes wrong or hurts then that’s exactly what you’ll do in a fight. I don’t want to train my mind to conceive of my body as delicate, especially since my body has proven to be capable of whatever my mind thinks it is, even if it’s through forgetfulness – Sakmongkol kept kicking on an injured knee during a training session I had with him because he “forgot that it hurt.”
Over the past 7 months in Thailand I’ve had 18 fights, about to have 19 and 20 in the next two weeks. While saying goodbye to me at the gym an awesome and inspiring fighter from Australia said to me, “you’d better not overtake me” referring to number of fights. I asked how many he had and he answered “35.” “Oh, that’ll definitely happen,” I said, “probably in just a few months.” He was pissed, but remained jovial, telling me it had taken him 10 years to acquire his fights and now here I am getting that many in a year. It was funny to me, simply because the frequency of my fights is a given in terms of my path in Muay Thai – fighting is part of training and vice versa. I don’t train for a fight anymore, I just train and fight.
There is a huge difference between those two. With the six-week lead up, or dropping weight, or having your gym hand-pick an opponent whose tape you watch and style you address in your training, there are a countless number of things that make the training for that fight finite. In your head, you’re training for a date. How you feel on any given day within that time frame has a consequence, little pains and injuries suddenly jeopardize your performance if not the possibility of the fight itself. (It’s pretty hard to “pull out” of a fight that’s set up on a week’s notice in Thailand. And even if one does, there’s a replacement more often than not, whether or not the fighters notice any change.) But when you’re training as part of fighting, and you fight intermittently in the context of your training, then the training is infinite. “After the [fight] is before the [fight].” Your training reflects your past performance with as much measure as it affects your future performances. You just don’t stop.
As a Facebook friend of a number of fighters I see post-fight meals, splurges on sugar and calories, maybe alcohol, that was abstained from during the “hard” lead up to a fight. In the west, we train hard for a short period of time and then fight hard, then take time off to recover in order to start again a few months later with some maintenance training in-between. I find this kind of cycle exhausting to think about. I know some people do very well with it and probably even love it, but I don’t fall in that category of persons. I don’t want to cycle up and cycle down. It feels like cramming for a test or something. I eat pretty clean all the time, but if I’m going to eat waffles and whipped cream it’s within the cycle of my regular training/fighting circuit rather than an opportunity to loosen my belt after a job well-done. My longest run of the week is either the day after a fight or the day after that in order to give my legs time to recover for hard padwork, but if I’m going to eat a Snickers or waffles or whatever the only time it’s out of the question is the hours before a fight.
My last and next few fights are a perfect example for not fitting the training for or cycling up and down approach. Generally I fight every two weeks, giving me ten days of training between fights. The first part of November went pretty much like but with my last fight on the 29th and my next fight on the 5th for the King’s Birthday it is only a 6 day turn around. And Den asked me when I came back to training after my last fight if I wanted to fight again on the 14th and I said I would, so that’s nine days between the next two fights. Where’s the time for cycling? Where’s the chance to make any major adjustments for individual opponents outside of maybe being aware whether or not I’m facing a southpaw? It’s not there and it doesn’t need to be.
I love fighting this way. When I first got to Lanna and told Andy that I wanted to fight as much as possible, he kind of gave me a “you have to leave room for training” talk that was to the affect of not fighting “too often” because then you are always taking time off after fights for recovery and you don’t experience growth. “Too often” was never really defined because, I guess, it’s always being defined by the individual and there was no precedent for me at Lanna, for my size and abilities and goals. And now, after 7 months of fighting pretty consistently every two weeks (sometimes more) like this, I am the precedent. After asking me if I wanted to fight on the 14th, Den went over to look at the calendar and immediately made fun of a western guy at the camp who doesn’t fight. He pointed at me and told the guy that I fought on the 29th, will fight on the 5th and then again on the 14th. Then he just stared at the guy with this awesome smile Den gets when he’s being funny.
A few days later Andy returned to the camp from his work and stretch at Hill Camp, so he’s missed my last few fights but has heard from Den that I’m getting stronger – from Andy’s telling of it, it sounds like Den is pretty proud, which is satisfying because he’s my main trainer so his daily (twice daily, really) ass-kickings are really getting good returns. Andy held pads for me and we were both pretty happy with how that went. After training Andy and I chatted for a minute while I tended to my equipment, starting with Andy’s trick question, “how do you feel?” “Perfect,” I said, which is my one and only answer. He then went on a really nice and well-thought-out monologue about how what I’m doing is so great for progress, that I’m getting better with every fight and advancing all the time, getting stronger and staying strong by returning to training quickly after each fight and not getting sidelined by injuries or fatigue. He stopped for a moment and thought, moving his jaw back and forth in a way that is characteristic of Andy, before saying (almost to himself) that if I could do this for a couple of years I could really be something. “Just don’t go back home for a year and think you can come back to where you’re at now,” he said, almost as if remembering a string of students he’s seen do exactly this over his 25 years in Thailand. I told him I found that idea horrifying and exhausting at the same time and expressed my sincere efforts toward securing a visa for a second year. Andy nodded and smiled, then jutted his chin up and out a little bit so that he was looking at me sideways, “we’ll figure it out,” he said, “we’ll make it happen, don’t worry.”