[you can read how my first week at WKO went here]
We drove down to Pattaya from Chiang Mai with my trainer Daeng and a large portion of his family. We’d initially asked Daeng to drive us in his truck (and we’d pay him, obviously; it’s a long drive) so that we could move our motorbike down to Pattaya with us. He said it was too far for him but nominated his brother-in-law. This was a small bummer because part of our initiative for asking Daeng in the first place was a ploy to get him to come with us, just to have time with him on the drive and maybe so he could say hello to Sakmongkol or something. After a couple of days Daeng approached us and said he’d never been to Pattaya and that his brother-in-law’s van was big enough that maybe Daeng and his wife would come down with us, for a mini vacation. That sounded great. As the days went on, that became Daeng, his wife, his brother-in-law and his wife, another sister of theirs, a niece and Tor, Daeng’s son who I train with, teach English to and generally think is wonderful.
We fit all these people and all our stuff in the van, left Chiang Mai at 5 AM (there was curfew in effect at the time due to the military coup and we had to fit the drive into the hours that are permitted to be on the road), and got to Pattaya around 3 PM. I must say, I could not have asked for a better experience of getting to Pattaya than in a van full of Daeng’s family. It felt like a proper road trip and no one in Daeng’s family had ever been to the beach before, so they got a very short vacation in the process, which is just awesome. It also helped to ease the transition between leaving all that we know in Chiang Mai and Lanna Camp and just somehow arriving – severed – in Pattaya for an actual relocating, rather than the two months we spent here at the start of the year.
The next day Daeng and his family went off to explore and Kevin and I headed back to Petchrungruang in the afternoon. There’s something to be said for knowing the roads and alleys to get where I want to go that feels liberating and even more so to be riding along on my own motorbike, brought down from Chiang Mai. Making the U-Turn on Sukhumvit highway and then a left onto the tiny residential street that holds Petchrungruang gym felt like I’d done it only weeks before. As we pulled up to the front door I could see familiar little bodies of the kids who train there milling around in the front room, which is a store with drinks and snacks. The boys turned, recognized us and wai-ed casually, then went back to what they were doing. Like no time had passed at all. I was very excited to see Kru Nu’s wife at the front desk, her pregnancy a little more pronounced under her T-shirt as she swiveled around in her chair. The two cats I pet upon every entrance and exit to the gym were still there; the crazy Siamese kitty that darts from room to room or sits perfectly still with a look of total irritation all the time and the “Mama Cat” that is orange, white and black and permanently wrapped in some position around the base of the fan pointed at the front desk next to the TV.
Inside the gym were more familiar faces and my heart actually fluttered with joy when I saw Bamrung, the Patriarch of the gym and Kru Nu’s father. I adore him and he is one of the sweetest persons I’ve ever had the pleasure to interact with. He gave me a huge smile and wai-ed back to me (I’m both his junior and socially lower in rank, so I wai first and at his age he’s not obligated to wai back at all – a head nod is polite enough – but he’s just delightful and greeted both Kevin and me with total warmth). Then we saw Kru Nu in the ring and greeted him. He was holding pads and kind of prowled around the ring the way he always does but lit up with a very sweet smile when he saw us. I wrapped my hands and continued to say hello to the young boys as they moved through the space, each of them simultaneously surprised to suddenly see me and also immediately accepting and comfortable with it.
I hit the bag and went about my workout. I talked to Kru Nu about training in the morning with the boys, which is at a very early hour because they have to get their work in before heading off to school. I thought it would be enjoyable to run with the kids and really be part of the stable of fighters in this way – I’m the only female fighter at the gym and often the only female training at all (there are some school girls who putz around and one very little girl whose father is a trainer and she’s amazing; could be a little Phetjee Jaa in the making with her first fight behind her now at maybe 6 years old). But apparently the boys don’t really train in full in the morning. They run and do some conditioning – no bagwork, no padwork. Kru Nu said I could come and train with them the way they do it and get my padwork in the afternoon or I could come at the hour I came before (9 AM) and do padwork in the morning and just clinch and spar and do my own thing in the afternoon. Because I’d be doing padwork at WKO in the afternoons, getting padwork (and a normal workout for what I’m accustomed to) in the morning seemed most reasonable. So I’ve decided to come later to get work in with Kru Nu and maybe I can meet up with the boys here and there on “light” days… if I ever have them. At that Kru Nu called me into the ring to do some padwork with Fillipo, an Italian fellow who has been at the gym forever and helps with the afternoon training. He’s also who set up the Yokkao fight for me. I was already drenched in sweat – Pattaya is very hot but happily has a lovely breeze that blows off the ocean and cools it down, but not when you’re in the gym – and when the skin is already wet and makes contact with chewed up pads you can get chewed up skin. I got “rug burn” from the bags at WKO the last time I was down here and now with this padwork I scraped up my elbow and one knee. It wasn’t too bad, I just noted that I hated these pads. Two days later Kru Nu used the same pad with me in the morning and my elbow actually opened up. As much as we love to play it cool and not let it be a problem in the west, this is something that requires immediate attention in tropical climates like Thailand. So I had to jump out of the ring between rounds to clean out the skin and just threw an elbow pad that I have over it so I could keep working. Kru Nu was satisfied with that solution but warned me to clean it when I got home every 10 minutes after for the next hour or so. He got a little mischievous glimmer in his eye and asked me how my elbow had cut when I have the sak yant protective tattoo on it. I laughed and said in Thai as a retort, “maybe the pad is bleeding.” He thought that was pretty funny. Padwork was very hard though. Kru Nu is a great padholder – probably the best I’ve ever had in terms of how well he incorporates technical repetition, pressure, tests, and lessons all at once – and he can be very tiring because of that. But I felt out of shape and must have looked it, too. Kru Nu and his father talked about me in Thai, asked me if I’d been training in Chiang Mai (was it that bad??) and how many times I’d fought since they’d seen me. When I told them 9 times they nodded with consideration, discussed amongst themselves and then asked if I could fight next week. “Yes!” I actually shouted. This is the first time they’ve asked me to fight; last time I was here I was asking and asking and it was hard to get one scheduled. So I must not have looked so awful that they thought I couldn’t get it together to fight and I was happy that they were almost as ready as I am.
Kru Nu climbed back into the ring to hold for another student who had shown up while I kept on with my bagwork, breathing heavily but bashing around happily on the bag because now I had a fight scheduled. That afternoon as I was clinching with Alex, the 37 kg Italian kid who was my sometimes-partner last time I was down and is currently my main sparring and clinching buddy until I get meaner, Kru Nu called me over to show me that he’d taken the leather off the front of the pad that had grated up my elbow. It was just the canvas now but held together really nice and actually improved as far as I could tell. It seemed to me as though he was far more bothered about the pad cutting me than I had been about it, which was quite sweet. While it seems very obvious to solve that problem the actual feeling I got from his concern, immediate remedy and then bothering to show me the solution was that of an older brother valiantly chopping down a branch that had scratched his little sister. Stupid branch.
As the week has gone on I’ve definitely gotten stronger. I don’t feel it a great deal because training never becomes easier; you just get better and so you push harder and you end up doing more. But having someone who can objectively point out that it’s more helps put it in perspective. So Kevin has been keeping me in check. Kru Nu sometimes tells me in the morning, “better today,” when I’m strong or alternately letting me know that I suck. That’s okay. The body isn’t the same every day, you just have to keep your mind as even-keel as possible. But as much as he shakes his head at me when I’m not kicking hard, basically asking me “what’s the point?” of kicking if I’m going to tap like that, he still betrays his interest when he sits on the ring behind me when he’s commanded me to do knees, kicks or teeps on the bag, or just to watch my bagwork. Once, when I let out a sigh before commencing the much-more-difficult side of 50 kicks after padwork he cheered me on, “you can do it, Sylvie; you’re very strong,” he said. Another time he sat on the edge of the ring looking over Alex’s workbook (Kru Nu is teaching Alex how to read and write in Thai; he can speak perfectly well but couldn’t advance in school due to illiteracy) and watching my bagwork out of the corner of his eye. He said to Alex, in Thai, that I am pu-ying mai tamadaa – which is to say that I am an unordinary woman. He says this because he is continually surprised by how I train.
Sometimes he’s inspired by it and kicks the bag next to me, something Master K would do also when he got all riled up when training me and his fighting heart had to hit something. But when Alex said something about me being tired, maybe repeating something that Kru Nu and his dad had said the other day, Kru Nu explained to Alex that I train like a “professional.” He pointed out that Alex only runs and does situps in the morning and then does his padwork in the afternoon and that I do all of it at both ends of the day. It was a quiet explanation but a kind of putting-in-his-place of Alex as a kid, which was interesting. I could see by the expression on his face that he was a little embarrassed by being ranked thusly, given that Alex had probably mentioned it out of the impulse that kids have to “tell on” each other when talking with adults but the result was being told, “you’re not the same.” It was remarkable to overhear and something that let me know that I have something to offer this gym simply by being strange.
“One of these things is not like the other one” is certainly the chorus of being a western woman training in and fighting for Thai camps; but as much as it is a struggle to push against that currant all the time, it’s a long drink of water to the soul when that same phrase comes as praise.
My Work Out and Living Schedule the last Week
7:00: 6 k run
8:45 – 9:15: arrive at Petchrungruang. 10 minutes of shadow, begin my 5 rounds on the bag (4 min), until Kru Nu calls me in.
9:15 – 9:30: 3-4 rounds of pads (3-4 min).
9:30 – 10:30: 100 kicks monitored by Kru Nu, 100 teeps, 300 knees, a “play knees” round (taught to me by Sakmongkol). Finish my 5 bag rounds (whatever is left). 10 minutes of shadow and 250-500 shadow blocks. Clinch pulls ups, standard pullups, squats, 150-200 situps 11:00 – 11:45: make and eat breakfast, catch up on Internet communications
11:45 – 2:30: nap time 2:30: up to get ready for WKO
3:00 – 3:30: arrive at WKO. 10 minutes of shadow. Start some bag work if not immediately called for pads, sometimes clinch or spar with Noi or Kru Mutt 3:30
4:00: 5 (3 min) rounds on pads with Sakmongkol (or Kru Mutt). These are “energy” rounds.
4:00 – 4:15: 150-200 situps, 200 knees on the bag, a round of play knees.
4:15: Leave for Petchrungruang
4:45 – 5:15: begin my 5 rounds on the bag (4 min)
5:15 – 5:30: sparring with Alex, a 37 kg Italian boy who fights out of the gym.
5:30 – 6:00: clinching, man-in-the-middle with various Thai boys.
6:00 – 6:30: finish my 5 rounds on the bag, 10 minutes of shadow and 250-500 shadow blocks, 150 situps, then squats, clinch pullups, standard pullups, yes-no’s-maybe’s.
7:00: arrive at home then a 7 k run.
7:45 – 9:00: shop for, cook and eat dinner.
9:00 – 11:00: cool down. Catch up on electronic communications, maybe write a blog, watch some shows/movies on the computer with Kevin. Tea or snack if I can muster it.
11:00-12:00: fall asleep.
Videos From the Week
My First Day of Pad Work With Kru Nu
My video update on how the week was going
Video of our Pattaya Apartment Just as We were Unpacking