Training with Invisible Illness and the Belief of Coaches and Tough Love

One of the beautiful things about the new Roundtable forum is that the conversation between us can get deeper, this seems especially so in the women only section.  One...

One of the beautiful things about the new Roundtable forum is that the conversation between us can get deeper, this seems especially so in the women only section.  One of our threads is discussing invisible illness or injury and how to deal with that, being misunderstood or being unable to communicate fully, with coaches or trainers.  It’s not an easy thing to communicate and a great number of difficulties people face in their personal lives are both what push them toward Muay Thai and also what can cause them struggle within it. The things I thought about while responding in this thread today are big things, things I go through and think about in terms of my relationship with my own coaches. It seemed worth it to share those ideas here, too. In order to respect the boundaries of the group, I’m only sharing my response to the thread and any personal identifiers are my own self and my own trainers, with a small bit of editing to make it all flow.

It’s a very difficult line between what’s “tough love” coaching and what’s destructive or stunting. Your gut instinct is the best way of navigating that line, it think. If you don’t feel that your coach is advocating for you in your corner, then he isn’t.

My relationship with Pi Nu is really strong, and really complicated. When I first trained with him, he liked me because I train hard. I was like this weird exotic animal that had wandered into his gym. Then I lost a fight and got cut up badly in it. He basically freaked out, worried for me, and without knowing me super well told me I should maybe just stop fighting. To save my face, really. When I came back to the gym, like, moved to this gym, he was a bit wary around me. And I was with him, too. I liked him a lot, he’s the best padman I’ve ever had, and now I can see what an incredible teacher he is too. But I didn’t trust him entirely because my interests weren’t important to him. I wanted to fight and he was kinda like, not on board. I just went around him, with his blessing, and found fights through other people. So I got what I wanted and he got to see that I was very serious; he saw me grow, so he got on board and now he believes in me in a way I’m not sure any other trainer ever has. But it took a while to get here, and I kind of got here by going after what I wanted whether he supported me or not. He just decided it’s something that he likes and could just as easily gone the other way. He still makes fun of me and sometimes it’s rough, but it’s in the context of the support and belief he has in me, so it doesn’t hurt me. It’s just kinda “tough love.”

My other trainer, at the other gym, he doesn’t have the supportive heart. So when he makes fun of me, it’s not funny. It’s cutting. I know he likes me and he’s happy when I make money for him and make him look good by winning, but it’s a “fair-weather” relationship. I get what I want out of him and basically try to ignore the rest; it’s not the same as my other trainer. And it doesn’t have to be. We kind of use each other.

I know my first coach is taking care of me, even when he’s hard on me, even when he tells me “no” and it pisses me off. And I don’t tell him everything; when I have a bad few days and he tells me I suck, I just smile and tell him, “but I don’t always suck,” and he’s okay with that. But I’m not dealing with the kinds of struggles we’re discussing in this thread. The thing about invisible illness or even invisible injuries is that they’re not fully invisible. People see the ripples of them. They see how you are responding to them, how you respond to the pain or the inability to get out of bed some days. They don’t see why and they don’t see all of it, but there’s this shadow that they do see and it’s confusing or maybe even scary and keeps them at a distance. So they see that part, but they don’t necessarily see how much you struggle, and they definitely don’t see how fucking strong you are when you push through it and come to the gym, work through injury when you’re still healing, leave the house when it seems the hardest thing in the world to do. They don’t understand it in that context.

You’ll see these fighters on UFC or after a boxing match or whatever and they give this laundry list of ailments that they took into the ring with them. A torn rotator cuff, broken toes, this or that. Their performance is put into context when we see what they were fighting through. And then there are fighters like Rousey, who won’t even tell you that she was injured; she won’t even barely acknowledge how much pain she has gone through throughout her life as an athlete because she doesn’t even recognize it for herself as a handicap. But we know it’s there, we just trust that she can deal with it. I think coaches are afraid of having to deal with that kind of difficulty, the invisible kind and the emotional kind. They just want the tough athlete who has already conquered it. The trick, of course, is that that athlete is always fighting through it and with it; it’s not in the past. It doesn’t go away. So, I guess what I’m saying is that the unsupportive or non-understanding coach sounds like kind of a jerk, but he’s not necessarily unusual. In fact, maybe he’s just un-extraordinary. But you can be extraordinary. Whether Coach sees it or not. And if a fool thinks that the diamond in his hand is just a rock, it’s better off in someone else’s hands anyway.

This conversation is in the women only section of the forum. If you are a woman and you’d like to sign up to read the rest of what we are discussing and join in, please do. If you’ve struggled with chronic pain and/or invisible illness in your training maybe you have something you could share too. Of course everyone is invited to be a part of the general conversation on the forum, and we can start a thread on the same topic there, too!

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Muay Thai

A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see


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