Ever since Den hit my nose in padwork and it started spurting blood like a B-movie, he’s been asking me before every training session whether I think I can fight on the 17th. “If not,” he says, “we wait.” I always say, “I think the 17th is fine,” and when he stares at me flatly I offer, “but we can confirm on Friday.”
Den explained to me that the promoter wants to make a poster for the 17th and so Den doesn’t want to offer him my name unless we’re sure that my nose is better. Thing is, I don’t know how long it’s going to take for my nose to feel 100% better and I’m unwilling to wait a month or three that is suggested by online resources diagnosing “broken nose” with zero reference to my own particular situation. So I figure my nose is going to feel about as good as it does now and maybe, maybe a little better in a week. It’s not swollen anymore, the cut is almost gone and while it hurts like hell when it gets bumped in training the pain dissipates after a few minutes now, whereas it used to be many, many minutes later.
Judging the Situation
On Thursday morning I greeted Den at the gym and put my stuff down to head out for my run. He did his regular thing by holding my head between his palms and inspecting my nose. Then he touches his own nose and asks me how it feels. I say, “fine, it doesn’t hurt,” and he gives me an uncertain look. He tells me he can see the outside is healing but he cannot see the inside. I say, “I think the 17th is fine,” and again he offers that flat stare.
The truth is that I’m not sure. I’ve only been hit square in the middle of the face a handful of times in fights. The major difference to me is that my nose probably gets grazed or bumped in all kinds of previously ignorable ways – in clinch for example – and now that the sensitivity is so high I will not have the privilege of ignoring it. And the smaller chance that I’ll receive a good whack right on the nose can result in a worse break, which would potentially mean a lot of time away from fighting. But taking time away from fighting “in case” feels much worse than taking time away because of a legitimate injury.
That same afternoon I came back from my run and got called into the ring by J.R. He’s a brilliant trainer and I saw his fight on Tuesday night with the eyes of a kid watching a super hero. He was spectacular, fluid, confident and strong. I was kneeling right at the edge of the ring recording the fight, getting sweat sprays when the fighters would clash near me. I’ve honestly never watched a fight like that and it was thrilling.
Last week J.R. told me that what I need to work on is my power. I found that remarkable since what I thought I needed to work on was speed and fluidity, but I considered (maybe determined) that what he meant by power was something other than my natural association with the word. So when he holds pads for me now he wants nothing but full power – every single strike against the pads is maximum exertion. And maybe that’s my limited understanding at this point, maybe it’s not meant to be exertion at full blast but the power from relaxation and coordination resulting in power. As it stands the padwork is exhausting. He started chiding me, asking me why I was tired when he’d seen me kick pads for five rounds, no problem, with other trainers. Uh, because they’re not making me go full power, J.R.!
I tried to push through and keep every strike snappy and strong. I started trying to relax between strikes in order to reserve energy, maybe bring some relaxation to the combinations themselves, but J.R. felt my slowing down and started hitting me, kicking my legs and pushing through me so that I had to either back up (which he doesn’t allow) or start throwing short-range weapons as defense. I opened myself up while trying to deal with a flurry of punches from him and got clipped in the nose. My eyes immediately started to tear and the pain shot up between my eyes and into my sinuses. I stayed calm, not betraying my pain and instead pivoted to the side to avoid further punches, covered up with my guard and started trying to knee his belly pad. This bought me some time – maybe 5 or 10 seconds – and sure enough the pain disappeared. I’d beat it. No matter how much I’d just been bettered by points, I’d won that tiny victory of keeping secret the distress I’d experienced.
After four rounds with J.R. he cut me loose, ordering me to do 20 pushups before exiting the ring. I did so, leaving a perfectly detailed sweat print of my shins and toes on the mat from when I took a short break between sets of 10. I hopped out of the ring, got some water and started shadowboxing. Den was in the ring holding pads for a woman visiting from China. After one more round he came to the edge of the ropes and sat down, putting his shoes on to go for a run. I walked up to him, breathing steadily and said, “Den, I can definitely fight the 17th, no problem.” He smiled at me and nodded, his eyes light and he said, “good, go write it on the board.”
Den was waiting for my confidence. Here’s the thing about my Thai trainers, and maybe many trainers in Thailand: they keep a poker face and watch to see if you’re bluffing. They’ll “see” your bet no matter what. If you’re not really ready to fight but you say you are, they’ll put you in there with the same trepidation you have for yourself. But if you enthusiastically want to fight they’ll enthusiastically meet your energy and “raise” you in your training. It’s wonderful.