The Week After 50th Fight – Big and Better
Fifty fights was a goal for me, but it was also a goal that I’ve intended to surpass for a while. As the actual fight approached, the landmark that would draw an intellectual line that divided walking toward and then walking beyond this accomplishment I’ve pushed toward for the past year.
This week was the first week of training on the “after” side of that line. And like most ceremonial rites that I’ve experienced in my life, there was little ceremony. Many things are like this: graduations, birthdays, jobs, etc. So what was there to do after reaching this goal than to keep going? Get up, get back to training and keep ironing out the creases. I don’t feel differently because my goals are the same – I’m looking to become something, to transform into a good fighter through the hard work of being a dedicated student. So I hit the ground running.
One thing that was really wonderful about this fight was that it happened to be a turning point for me regardless of the actual ceremonial significance of it. But it’s only really a “turning point” if I keep going in that direction, so I’m trying to focus on repeating the things I liked about my performance and experience of this fight. Things like simply walking forward, which isn’t a “skill” so much as a way to force myself to relax; I’m also still trying to get myself to step forward on kicks, which is the only way they’ll reach my target. That’s one of the rough realizations of a number as impressive as 50 – am I really going over this same ground? After 50 fights, am I really still trying to get myself to step on kicks? I mean, this is Master K’s number one instruction! But yes, I am still trying to learn this and I suspect I will be working on the same things for the next 50 fights. And here’s why I’m happy with that: because the difference between the first kick I ever threw and the kick that will eventually knock out my opponents is the comfort with which I throw it – the force, the speed, the balance and the accuracy are all determined by how many times I’ve thrown that kick, including all the times I miss.
It didn’t feel like starting from scratch, like starting over for the next 50. But there are changes. Big announced that I’d fought well in my fight, something he’s never said (in my presence or that has been repeated to me) before. And maybe because of his assessment of my performance or maybe something else, this week Big has been training me. Like, actively taking the lead in teaching me. On Tuesday afternoon I was lacing up my gloves and Den asked me if I wanted to spar with Big, just boxing. I was surprised. Big and I sparred once, probably over a year ago, and Big had bludgeoned me in a fantastic display of dominance. I’d shown heart, with tears and snot all over my face and a huge black eye to show for it days after the fact. It was a great experience, but one that had not repeated. Now Den is asking me to spar with Big and then he added, “he not want to train today,” which meant Big had actually asked to spar with me. He was scheduled to fight on Friday and was sick of hitting the bag, so he requested to spar with me as a way to get out of that. Fair enough.
So we boxed for about six rounds. I’d watched Big destroy another Thai teenager with much less experience but significantly more body size only a week earlier. Big did not show the same relentlessness toward me as he had to this other guy, but he didn’t “let” me do anything. He kept punching me if I turtled and he made and then exploited openings at will. He’s very skilled. And yet, he didn’t go harder than he need to, hitting with just enough power that I wanted to avoid punches from landing but not so hard that I might be injured. And I’d improved over this past year… significantly. I was landing counters and backing him up at times – I’m not sure I moved forward even once in our last encounter. I still got cornered and battered in the last 30 second sprints, only to be released by the bell sounding, but I was happy to start again in each round and Big seemed happy too. In fact, he gave me clinch practice the next day, actually teaching me things (which is so rare; it’s just not how it’s done out here) and allowing me to practice them a few times.
The day after that we sparred again, this time with kicks because my shins had healed. I focused on stepping forward on my kicks because that’s something Big has told me to do on numerous occasions – the single instruction handed out as he’s crossing the floor in front of me, like telling a kid to tuck in his shirt in the hallway of a school: “Sylvi-aah, kick, STEP.” I want him to know I’m listening, learning, trying. So I stepped and stepped but somehow never covered the distance I thought I was covering – the mind commanding the body to be brave and conservative at the same time. After the fourth round I told Big, “one more,” with a kind of question mark at the end of it. He said something to Daeng, who was standing in the men’s ring, leaning against the ropes to observe us. I can’t understand Big when he speaks Thai – I don’t know why, if it’s super slangy or he talks crazy or what, but Daeng translated for me, “he say one more round, ten more round, whatever.” And so we kept going, racking up 13 rounds at 4.5 minutes each. The penultimate round Den took over for Big and spent the whole round jabbing my face, crossing to my body and then dong flying kicks to bounce me against the ropes. It was humiliating and frustrating, but not unusual. Big sat on the ring with his back against the ropes and squealed with delight every time Den folded me with a body punch. This isn’t just being a jerk, although it can easily be interpreted that way. Four years ago, when I first came to Lanna for a short time, Big held pads for me on my first day. He kept punching me in the stomach with his focus mitt as he held for a punch or kick and then he would laugh, wildly. This is not a western thing and in a strange land with strange people and not enough confidence in my abilities to interpret what was going on differently, I assumed he was laughing at me. But he wasn’t. I mean, he was and he is, but it’s not that simple. Thais will laugh to keep it light. Westerners might get pissed at repeated humiliation and physical bettering, but it’s kind of hard to be pissed if you’re laughing. He’s letting you know this is funny. So with Big laughing on the floor every time I get crumpled, I know that it’s funny – if he weren’t laughing, like when you fall down and nobody laughs, then it’s just embarrassing. Laughing is the “get out of jail free” card for humiliation… sometimes.
For the final round Big came back and Den ducked out of the ring. Big started punching my body right away and I was half-way riled up and half-way aware of his being closer to my size than Den is, so I went straight at him. But that was Big’s point; he was giving me the opportunity to correct what had just happened with Den, without “giving me” the openings to hit him back. I had to earn those, but he wasn’t overpowering me or overwhelming me as badly as Den had. I got to rewrite the last chapter of the night, so to speak. As the bell sounded Big let me know that was the last one for him – he was tired – and I thanked him and we hugged and climbed out of the ring.
None of this happened before and yet all of it has happened before. What’s important, just like the 50 fight goal, is figuring out how to make it happen again. I want Big to keep helping me and I want him to know that I’m grateful, that I’m listening, and that I’m getting better because of it. So, while training this week was more of the same, it was also more of more – more focus, more correction, more kindness toward myself for mistakes. With the generosity that Big has shown me this past week in giving me with sparring and clinching, I am rich with potential and gratitude. Both will be well-spent in fights to come.
Below is a little bit of a digital diary of what my week was like day to day. Diary-like updates from Facebook and training Instagram pics, and YouTube.
♦ 3:45 AM and still can’t sleep. 6:30 run probably won’t be my fastest, but I’m gonna kick its ass to prove a point: if I’m going to be tired either way I’d rather be tired having done something.
♦ Rained all morning so I did Kaensak’s 10 minute burpee-punch-teep warmup instead of a run. Never gets easier, you just get stronger.
♦ Pretty quiet at the gym when it’s raining all day, but got some good work in with Nook and worked some combinations on the bag that were ALMOST available in the fight, which means they should be more available next time.
– July 29
♦ Ran from the lake, freezing and rained upon, but when I got back to the gym and was doing padwork Den translated something Big was yapping about, which was saying I’d fought well in my last fight. Best by proxy compliment I can think of for making this morning great.
– July 30th
Big kind enough to spar with me, lots of fun. #boxing
Clinch with Big as Den looks on. If you ever need a visual example of the eternal boyishness of Thai men, Den represents.
Working towards inside arm position against pressure. It has been fortunate to have Big working with me lately, learning transitions.
♦ Only two of us at morning training, both women. We ran up to the waterfall and had some padwork with Nook and Neung, while Den and Daeng discussed in Thai who my opponent might be on August 12 for the Queen’s Birthday. I actually could understand their reasoning behind each nominee as they were talking – my Thai is getting better!
– July 31
♦ Finally no rain this morning and a sunny afternoon. With an understanding that Thailand is never *really* cold, I’m happy to not FEEL like I’m freezing on my runs.
– August 1
Me with Matt Doerflinger, a student of Brooks Miller who’s a student of Master K’s. Matt just arrived at the gym for a long stay, look forward to training with him.
♦ Ran around the lake three times this morning because Daeng told me it’s good to change up sometimes (meaning, not always running home from the lake). It’s not actually a shorter run though. As a bonus, I saw two puppies sleeping in the grass that I wanted to pet with great intensity, but knew better than to attempt with so many of their family looking at me suspiciously.
♦ Downpour during my lesson with Neung resulted in a really pleasant breeze cooling us in the ring. I asked him if he’d seen me sparring with Big on Tuesday, getting pummeled in the corner and if we could drill what I ought to do. He demonstrated what amounts to getting out of the way with a pivot… basically, stop standing there and getting pummeled, Dummy.
– August 2
My Vlog on some run variation, a change in the weather and a welcome to Matt
Big sparred with me thirteen 4:30 minute rounds today. At one point Daeng jumped in and helped with kick back counters and caught kick defense.
A round of padwork from today with Den (round 4 of 5) just to share where I’m at. Been working on my guard some, explosiveness, and responsiveness as well. Had a full day. Probably an hour straight of clinch practice with Big after this.
– August 3