a note: if you live in Thailand you will find that antibiotics are heavily prescribed, and because they are available over the counter they are also widely taken. I’ve found many Thais who don’t really understand how antibiotics work (i.e., in cycles), so off-hand advice, even from trainers, is probably best to question.
Eventually, everyone gets sick. In some cases, you can (and should) stay away from the gym and get some rest, but in some cases you can’t (and don’t need to) refrain from training. I happen to be on antibiotics right now, for the second time in a few weeks. The first cycle was just not long enough and my bronchial infection just crept back. Taking antibiotics sucks for several reasons, but the most difficult part for me is that it just knocks me on my ass, energy-wise. My trainer, Pi Nu, said to me a long time ago that the body isn’t the same every day, so don’t worry about having good days and bad days. Just work with what you have in either case. I think that there is a very strong tendency for us to want to only have good days and any kind of bad day feels like some kind of cosmic injustice. Even if we know we don’t feel well, we get pissed that we don’t feel well instead of using that context as a particular exercise in how to adapt to unfavorable situations.
I remember about two years ago I had a pad session with Pi Nu where I just sucked. I had no energy, I was off-balance and barely was able to push through to the end of the last round. As I climbed out of the ring, Pi Nu shook his head at me and told me that today I was no good. “That’s okay,” I said, “normally I’m good.” This was an unexpected response, but probably the only acceptable one and Pi Nu smiled at me with a genuine don’t need to worry about her expression on his face. I don’t always have such a self-accepting response to these things and so I have to remind myself of how that answer came organically in that moment, then try to remind myself of it when I’m the one shaking my head and telling myself I suck.
Right now I’m only a couple days into my antibiotic cycle and already I just need to sleep, a lot, between sessions. I know it’s going to get harder as the days tick on with these drugs in my system. Of course, I’m doing everything I can to counter the fatigue from the antibiotics: eating well, resting between sessions, washing my hands and drinking lots of water and tea. But all of that is pretty easy. The hard part is at the gym. The hard part is getting frustrated that exertion comes more quickly and the mental fogginess from the antibiotics makes me feel like I’m unfocused and have no power. So what’s the “drink lots of water and eat some vitamins” version of training? It’s taking the opportunity to not rely on power and the confidence that comes from being able to blast it in sparring or on the pads. It’s finding confidence in the belief that you can get shit done even if you feel awful. Believe that even if you feel absolutely no better than you do right now (which is pretty awful), you could get in the ring and fight, or stand in front of a training partner or teacher who puts a lot of pressure on you and still make it through. You’ll have to adjust – if you can’t breathe, then figure out how to control the space; if your kicks couldn’t knock an empty beer can over, work on the speed of your counters. If you want to die after 30 seconds of movement, work on making those 30 seconds look so dominant that you could wow the judges in flashes of brilliance alone.
When else do you think to work on this stuff? When else do you get to work on this stuff under the actual difficulty of your body crapping out and your mind wanting to quit? A week ago I was over at Rambaa’s gym after my regular afternoon session for some additional clinch. The guy he put me in the ring with is named Bowee. He’s about my height but with about 15 lbs of added muscle and endless stores of tricky and slick clinch moves. He was throwing me on the ground, charging me, tipping me over, turning me, and just outright kneeing me whenever the hell he felt like it. I got my ass absolutely handed to me, but I also had a lot of fun. There was a degree to which I failed during this 30 minutes of clinch because I didn’t respond to the pressure he put me under in a way that helps me grow. What I did well was keep a good attitude about it, which is no small thing and it’s something you have to train as well – to not mentally crumple under that kind of pressure. But what I failed to do was use the opportunity of that much pressure, which is precious because it’s real – your body and mind are put into states that you can’t simulate, you have to be truly uncomfortable so your deep, unconscious reactions start to show themselves – in order to work on changing the knee-jerk reactions that you need to overwrite. So, for example, when Bowee charged me I’d put my ass back and kind of turtle up. It’s a flinch response, it’s not a decision. But given that the fear of him was real but the context of the training was in a controlled environment where I could work on it, I should have taken this precious opportunity to consciously decide to just try to keep my hips in – only that – even if he charged and threw me on the ground every time. That’s how you learn to keep your hips in. By really being in that pressure and forcing a response other than the one you do naturally.
It’s the same with fatigue. I can always get through my pad rounds with Pi Nu, even if it’s a terrible feeling. Even if I kind of think I might puke. So when I’m taking antibiotics and it becomes harder to get through the kind of pads that I can normally do on a daily basis, that’s a precious opportunity to be in a state that I might find myself in during a fight. The idea is to be able to say, “I’ve been here before.” So instead of just feeling shitty about myself for being tired and fatigued, I need to work on how to respond when my body won’t do what I want it to do. Calm down; be slow but work on timing – if you can’t throw two kicks without your whole body wanting to quit, then make what you can throw count. Control the space. Force your will over the pace rather than just hoping your padman will take mercy on your condition. If you get your ass absolutely handed to you in every way and none of what you were working on came out the way you’d hoped, then work on getting your mind right as quickly as possible so you can recover. If your body won’t do it, work on your attitude.
These are my current challenges. I just want to sleep, but I also want to train, so the important thing is to figure out both what and how to train. Your worst days can be the best days. Really.
Read from my Mental Training Archives here