Laurie Berenson is a student of Casey VanBrookhoven in New Jersey, USA. While I’ve never met Laurie, she wrote to me through my Facebook Muay Thai page and it turns out we know and have trained with many of the same people (including Casey, who was a favorite sparring partner for me back in Jersey because, despite his being so much bigger than I am, he sparred hard and made me work for anything I landed).
When I first heard from Laurie I was taken by how similar her seemingly-instantaneous affinity for Muay Thai was to my own. Once you feel it, you really can’t help but keep going. But what struck me in particular was something she said about how empowering it was for her and how she enjoyed the struggle of putting it all together. That made me realize for myself how much Muay Thai allows for a particularly rare experience for female practitioners in that we are empowered in every part of our body at once. Women are often compartmentalized so that we are at once emphasizing one “feature” while hiding another. But Muay Thai awards women the rare experience of loving your whole body all at once, all together and using it with force and confidence. That, to me, is something I hope every woman in the world can learn to harness and ultimately channel, whether through Muay Thai or otherwise.
Laurie and I have had some back and forth conversations over many months now and when she sent me something she’d written on all the ways Muay Thai has changed her, I asked if I could publish it. I love that she comes to this from a place so different from my own path, but her experience is much the same. I reckon that’s because no matter what the source or path toward it, joy is ultimately a universal experience.
(Laurie sparring with Casey)
Why this PTA Mom is Hooked on Muay Thai
Having trained Muay Thai for over a year now, people close to me know that I’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen about how it has improved my life. With a 7- and 9-year-old, I put my family’s needs first for the past decade, but on my 39th birthday, I made a promise to myself to get my groove back. As luck would have it, I stumbled upon Muay Thai at my son’s martial arts school and never looked back. It challenges me and pushes my limits in a way regular exercising never did — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What follows are nine reasons why I love the sport of Muay Thai:
1. Amazing exercise. Let’s get the most obvious reason out of the way. It’s incredible cardio and strength training all in one. I’ve dropped 9% body fat and lost two dress sizes since I started training, and the best part is I’m having so much fun I never consider it exercise.
2. Incredible stress reliever. Having a bad day? Take out your frustration on the bag or Thai pads. I think more clearly on days when I train. The stress from my work and personal life has an escape. It doesn’t stay bottled up.
3. Confidence boost. Sure, all forms of exercise relieve stress and provide a release, but I’ve yet to find another sport that changes my outlook on life the way Muay Thai has. I’m better at saying no and standing up for myself. I’m walking taller, interacting with others more confidently, and doing things I may not have done six months ago.
4. In a word, it’s empowering. Girls aren’t typically raised to throw punches. There’s something satisfying about allowing yourself to enjoy a sport that is a perceived no-no for women. I like having the confidence to not restrict myself to what others expect me to be doing. Jessica Richman, CEO of Brazen Boxing & MMA in Philadelphia, explained it perfectly in an interview with Knuckle Dragger magazine, “…to see a girl who used to not be able to give herself permission to throw a punch, throw a beautiful 1-2-3 and pivot off…that’s a woman who’s learned something, who’s focused on something, who’s going to approach her whole life in a different way.”
5. Unexpected. My life’s been fairly predictable. High school valedictorian. Graduated with honors from a top 20 university. Competitive job offer out of school. Fast forward to today for more of the same. Stay-at-home mom of two married to an executive and living in an upper middle class town. Statistically, I should be playing tennis or golf, so part of me relishes the fact that I’ve found something less typical. The icing on the cake is that martial arts attracts like-minded people, and I have met a fantastic group of people for whom I have the utmost respect.
6. Out of my comfort zone. Sticking with what you know is safe, but I believe there is very little personal growth to be had by playing it safe. If you ask anyone who knows me to describe me, there’s a good chance they’ll use words like quiet, sweet, and composed. Muay Thai not only allows me – but forces me – to come out of my shell and tap into a different side of my personality. As you can imagine, being sweet doesn’t work very well in sparring!
7. New interest. Prior to last year, I had zero appreciation for fight sports. No one who knows me anticipated I would ever develop a love for a full contact fight sport. I surprised even myself, and now I can’t get enough of it. I haven’t changed. I’m still the person I was a year ago. Once I learned how much conditioning, strategy, and technique is involved, I developed a genuine interest in the sport and a respect for the athleticism, training, and level of cardio required to compete.
8. It’s not about getting hit. A friend recently said “I don’t like getting beat up, so I don’t get it,” which made me stop and think. I don’t necessarily enjoy getting hit, and I don’t particularly enjoy hitting someone else. (My trainer Casey can attest to this as he’s still working on getting me to throw offensive punches to the head without hesitating.) Sylvie and I had a conversation about this exact concept – of how hitting and being hit, while the main objective of the sport, is oddly not always at the forefront of one’s mind when practicing it. Rather, Sylvie pointed out, the focus is on “flow, balance – everything that makes being in the right position to strike or avoid being struck (or take being struck) possible.”
9. Mental challenge. I thrive on performing the fundamentals properly and love how sparring awakens your senses and forces you to work through the innate “fight versus flight” reaction. It’s the epitome of thinking on your feet when you have to defend yourself while finding openings to throw your own combinations. Muay Thai is as much a mental game as it is a physical one, and that’s what appeals to my intellect and keeps me engaged.
Muay Thai is a fantastic sport on so many levels. As readers of Sylvie’s blog, we are all following along on her incredible journey fighting in Thailand. Closer to home, I strongly believe that Muay Thai can help any woman to become a stronger, healthier, more confident version of herself.
(Laurie’s custom mouth guard – ’nuff said)