I sat quietly, wrapping my hands in the main room of the gym, facing the ring. The light in the mornings pours in with impunity and sometimes it’s hard to focus on the farther edges of the space. But I can recognize shapes of people who are always there, the silhouettes of the “main cast” as they move around: the cleaning lady, who lives with her two children just on the other side of the gate; Bamrung, the patriarch of the gym, singing and strolling with his grandson – about to turn 1 year old – in his arms. I wrap my right hand for the first time in days, even though I won’t be using it. It might be broken, so I don’t even wear a glove on that side and just offer a smile to all the strange looks I get from the Thais who pretty much think it’s ridiculous. They think I should still wear the glove, just don’t use the hand – it’s all about appearances.
When I move into the other room of the gym, all the lights are off. It’s always hot in there, which is why Pi Nu insists on conducting padwork there. He thinks that sweating more is good for you, but really he thinks it will help him lose weight. He’s got this ex-fighter complex that is typical among the men his age I’ve trained under; they remember their bodies in their most perfect, minimal form and so anything beyond that chiseled shape is uncomfortable. I feel for them. It can’t possibly help that they’re surrounded by teenaged boys in fighting shape, keeping warm that visceral memory of their own youth. In the dark room, right now, Pi Nu and Filippo – also an ex-fighter, Italian – are chatting with their smart phones in their hands, sharing photos or video or whatever else. Looking at them from across the room, I can tell immediately that this morning is going to be awful. I feel nothing but an overwhelming desire to curl up under the covers and sleep until tomorrow. I’m already ready to quit.
But I don’t. I listen to a few stories about various men who have come through the gym and made asses of themselves, smiling politely at the appropriate punch-lines throughout each anecdote. Pi Nu is looking at me. I can see that he sees I’m not right this morning, but he doesn’t say anything. He sets up the timer on his phone and we get to work.
Even in the first round I’m on the verge of tears. There’s nothing specifically wrong but I’ve been struggling with emotional waves coming from my family and I just feel mentally exhausted. Pi Nu sees my struggle but he has no idea where it’s coming from. He pushes a little harder, giving me more pressure to deal with and I kind of limply respond. I can feel, almost like an out-of-body experience, how lame my energy is. The bell sounds and I get a drink of water while Pi Nu pretends to look through a glass wall at the “Golden Oldies” station his father has on the TV. But he’s watching me; he can watch with his back turned. And he decides in that one minute that he’s going to push harder.
At about three minutes into the round he forgets that my hand is hurt – I’ve worn the damn glove for appearances, even though I’ve only been throwing elbows on the right side all week – and he slams his pad down on my right hand, thinking he’s holding for a cross. I must have forgotten also and kind of met the pad with my fist, rather than keeping it in my four-block guard. There’s a sickening pain that runs all through my fist and up my arm to my elbow, like a knife being swallowed by my forearm. I wince and take a little lap as Pi Nu realizes what just happened and makes a sound of apology. I rip the glove off my hand and circle back to continue with the round, using the pain I’m feeling as a kind of enforcement of energy to crash back against the pads. Now I’m probably crying a little, but I’m so sweaty and red anyway you probably couldn’t see it.
For the next two rounds Pi Nu can absolutely see that I’m in a very bad way. He probably knows it’s emotional; he deals with young, teenaged boys so he has seen years of “bad days” at the gym from his fighters. The thought of stopping and saying I can’t do this today runs through my mind many times. But just as you might not have the courage to tell someone off, I don’t have the courage to quit – I’m too scared of the outcome, so I just keep going. And what Pi Nu decides to do about this, right here with me, is why I trust him to transform me: he pushes even harder. He looks at me and sees that I’m about to break. And what does he do? He decides that I can handle that; let her break. She can take it.
We finish with the last round and I thank him, then throw off my gloves in the other room and nearly run to the bathroom to let myself cry. I thought I could hold it in, honestly, but there was just no way. I sat in the dark on the tile floor and just sobbed for probably 10 minutes. Afterward I went in the house and asked for ice, slightly mortified that I had to face Pi Nu’s wife with my face all red and clearly having been crying and Nu himself was standing there asking what I needed ice for, like he’d forgotten about my hand already. But he let it go. I even considered telling him that I was having a problem at home, from my family, just so that he knew what was going on, but in the end I just went back to work on the bag.
Another part of my emotional wreckage that morning was that I can’t get fights in Pattaya. It enrages me that men can walk into the gym and be completely disrespectful to the gym and negligent to their own training and still get a fight, seemingly without any merit at all, just down the street at Max. I see those fights; I know what they are, that the promoter has made a decision against women, and I get why that’s not my reality. But it makes me feel un-valued. However, the way Pi Nu treated me that morning. That he saw how close I was to breaking and instead of backing off and giving me a lame-ass workout to go with my lame-ass attitude, he pushed me to the very edge. He didn’t even back off a little. It is a sign of his respect that he was willing to let me break; that he believed not only that I could take more than what I already had on my shoulders, but that if it was too much, that still I could recover. Even if I broke, failure wasn’t too much for me. I get a little emotional thinking about it right now, as I write this, because it means that he sees me as a fighter, even when he’s not getting me fights. He believes in me. Perhaps more than I realized.
I write for my patron supporters too:
ARTICLES – Patreon Magazine
- Patron Only Articles – These articles are written specially for my patrons and are my attempts to expand as a writer. They are full of richer descriptions, and take on themes not always talked about in the experience of being a fighter. At least one is published a month, if not two.
Pi Nu’s Hands – What is Good? – My meditation on the lesson I learned about the nature of being “good”, as taught to me by my trainer Kru Nu. It was one of those Kung Fu master moments that you might see in a movie, when the teacher explains something so profound, yet so simple. This can change your life.
Little Blue Champion – The Next Generation of Fighters – I’m just taken by a little blue fighter at a local fight in Chiang Mai, round, pudgy, a complete visual underdog. It speaks to coming of age as a fighter. read it here
Alley Tears: The First Time I Cried After a Fight In a Long While – it had been years since I had cried after a fight, maybe even ever, but something in me broke down after a loss to a World Champion several weight classes above me. read it here
The Storm That Overtakes The Boy – Giving In | The storm within us, the storm outside of us. It is our choice. Or, this could be called “Learning to ride the donkey, and not look for the donkey.” read it here
Arjan Surat: The Unbreakable Breaker of Bangkok | Maybe the toughest, hardest man in Thailand. Arjan Surat is 63 and made of the stuff that feels like it’s from 100 years ago. The unbreakable breaker. read it here
The Perfection of Festival Fights in Thailand | A trip to the clinic to receive a boosting IV leaves me drifting through thoughts of belonging, as I listen to my kru talk about me to the nurse. read it here
Cheet Yaa – “if there were no cuts it wouldn’t be Sylvie”| A trip to the clinic to receive a boosting IV leaves me drifting through thoughts of belonging, as I listen to my kru talk about me to the nurse. read it here
Jai Rohn – My Story of Blood, My Pride and Stitches | My heart was racing, I was upset at my performance, and then there was the pain of stitches, more painful than any stitches I’ve had before. read it here