I descend the steep stairs at the front of WKO, holding on to the handrail as the deep drop between each metal platform is designed for someone taller than I am, and feel the hot afternoon air rush into me as I open the glass door and exit the air-con. The metal of the lock I use on my helmet is hot to the touch as I unchain it from my bike and I have to carefully angle the helmet as I pull it over my head, to avoid scraping the stitches that sit in a row of knots at my hairline.
With over 100 stitches, I’m used to this delicate approach. For the first year of getting these cuts, it was hard. The difficulty in seeing my face change, in understanding the permanence of scars that are also prominant because they’re on my face. I don’t notice them as much anymore, it’s only a little uncomfortable when someone who isn’t familiar with me is seeing them for the first time and I have to experience their shock – the newness of their response – because it launches everything back to the beginning, keeping the pain or embarrassment fresh.
And I thought to myself, the difficulty and pain of permanence is really only at the beginning. It’s the first few months of coming to terms with this thing that will be forever that is hard to grapple with, whereas the actual forever-ness of it is very easy. You get used to it; these changes become you. You don’t care about the scar on your face 10 years down the road, when it’s been permanent, when it is permanent – you only care at the start of permanence, before it’s really become forever. It’s the freshness that creates the struggle.
Recently I’ve been frustrated by a few small injuries. I train through injury all the time and I’m more or less undisturbed by them, but because you do have to train around it, you can feel the hindrance. First a minor concussion, which severely restricted my training, and a cut that makes it so I can’t clinch or spar until the stitches come out, and my Cauliflower Ear, which is just painful. All of these are very temporary, so the difficulty is in the impatience of it. Surely this won’t last forever, but that makes you wish it was fucking over already. And this kind of thinking has carried into my mental training as well. I’m in a bit of a slump because my last two fights were losses, the first of which was a huge loss for me and the second of which was a small but embarrassing loss to an opponent I’ve beaten many times. I’m making the same mistakes I’ve made before, things that I feel like I should be beyond by now. Like, “why am I not past this?” It’s impatience, so it’s hard.
I need to stop looking at myself with pity and just accept that change doesn’t give a shit about my patience or my imaginary timeline. You become something permanent not all at once, but all in all.
When I was getting my large Sak Yant of tigers and takroh on my back, it was a very trying 4 hours of sitting. The pain of the tattooing was cumulative, it built up and became more sensitive as the time went. In the end, Arjan Pi was filling in the Na and script between the incredibly sore outlines of the Yant, where it was already painful and became like an echo on top of that pain. It felt like it was never going to end, Arjan just kept picking his needle back up and going back into the Yant. The only thing that got me through was thinking that this pain might truly never stop, so it didn’t matter. I committed to the permanence at a moment when it was clearly only temporary – but all the time of all possible time collapsed together to just be this one moment. So whether the pain stopped or didn’t, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t the agonizing wait of “this too shall pass,” it was the contentment of all moments are this moment. Now, that’s some tripped out, esoteric stuff right there, but it does connect back to my path in Muay Thai. My flaws might not ever go away. I shouldn’t be thinking, “I should be through with this already,” with the expectation that it will make it so, anymore than thinking, “this pain should be over already” will make the pain stop. It doesn’t. People who have permanent and chronic pain, those people are really Zen about it. It’s confronting others who aren’t familiar with or accepting of that pain that makes it unbearable for those who are actually feeling it, who actually live with it – someone who uses a blow-tube to motor their wheelchair has to some degree accepted this reality in a way that nobody who looks at them with pity ever can. I need to stop looking at myself with pity and just accept that change doesn’t give a shit about my impatience or my imaginary timeline. By being frustrated that I’m not past this, I’m committing to the struggle of the newness of something uncomfortable, by allowing myself to be impatient I’m keeping it a fresh pain, rather than allowing it to blend into the neutral flow of permanence. You become something permanent not all at once, but all in all. And there’s a big difference between those two.
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