The Fighter and Unconscious Tension – Recognize and Release

I just had to do my annual visa run, which requires sitting in a van full of total strangers for the 11 hour drive up to the border with...

I just had to do my annual visa run, which requires sitting in a van full of total strangers for the 11 hour drive up to the border with Laos, an overnight stay, then the 11 hour drive back down to Pattaya. It’s grueling. Sitting in a car or a plane for this number of hours takes a toll on anyone. It’s astonishing how tired sitting on your ass makes you. I’m not very social, so I always put as many hours of podcasts and audio books as possible on my player so I can leave my headphones in the whole time. This should send the clear message that I’m not interested in chatting, but if you’re a young-ish woman this won’t stop men from trying to get you to talk with them anyway. I hate it.

On this trip I was assigned the worst seat in the van, which is a middle seat in the middle of the cabin. This was my assignment because I was the smallest person and that seat offers absolutely no space. Fine; whatever. There is a small gap between the seat on the left and the middle seat, but the middle and right seats are connected, so my “seat-mate” refers to the man sitting to my right, next to the window. He was maybe 68-70 years old and I could tell it was hard for him to sit for so long, so when he adjusted in his seat I was sympathetic to how uncomfortable he must be. However, every time he moved he’d put his hands down on the seat to help shift himself around, which due to the proximity meant he was touching my leg every time he did this. Not a lot of space, sure, it makes me uncomfortable but there’s just no room. As this continued, however, he seemed to take my non-response to mean he could start purposefully invading my space. He started touching me on purpose, not while shifting around. I was already on the farthest sliver of the seat, having tried to create distance between our bodies over a period of hours as it is, and he just kept eating up that space so that now our legs were always touching. After one pit stop he tried to start a conversation with me. I tried to end the attempt with my responses but when he didn’t take those cues I just put my earphones back on and ignored him. Even this didn’t get him to stop and as we started going again this guy grabbed my hand and held it, pointing and asking about my tattoo. I threw his hand off of me and glared at him. “Don’t touch me,” I said, and for a while he didn’t. But after an hour or so the “accidental” but not accidental touching continued as he also continued to spread into my seat.

I was furious. My inner self wanted to tell him off and punch him in the throat, but outwardly I’m not nearly as take-no-shit as I am in my mind. It did mean, however, that I didn’t want to fall asleep and I just had to stay awake through the night as we drove through darkness, constantly uncomfortably keeping every modicum of distance between me and this asshole next to me. It was a terrible ride. When we got to the border and I could finally go sit alone while waiting for the gates to open, I felt how fucking tired and sore I was. My whole body ached. I felt very much like I do the day after a hard fight against a bigger opponent. In reality, I’d been sitting on my butt for 11 hours, which shouldn’t create this kind of soreness. What I realized was that unconscious tension, created by my discomfort next to this guy, is what had made me so sore. I was literally tensing my muscles for 11 hours. It’s exhausting.


my vlog about this from this morning, above

You might think this post is about this unpleasant, enduring experience described above, but this was a really good lesson for me. Realizing I’d been sitting in tension and feeling the familiarity of that soreness let me understand that I must have unconscious tension in all kinds of situations. Tension in training because I’m feeling pressure in padwork or sparring. Tension sitting on the mat before a fight because I’m nervous or uncomfortable. It adds up and it literally affects your body… it hurts and it’s tiring. Also in fights it is limiting. So, as I sat there waiting for the next 5 hours that it takes to go through all the stages of the visa process, I purposefully scanned my body for tension. When I found it I tried to use my mind to release it; sometimes it worked but when the muscle just wouldn’t relax I’d flex it, hard, and then release to feel the tension dissipate. Then I’d try it again just commanding it with my mind. I did this all day, practicing finding and releasing tension all throughout my body. I want to get good enough at it that I can do it under pressure, both finding and addressing the tension in the context of action – like in the ring – in my upcoming session with Karuhat for Patreon Supporters he works on my tension for what must have been 40 minutes (a very short clip below), getting the simplest of strikes to flow. On the way home I told the driver that I didn’t want to sit next to my seat-mate again because he was touching me. He didn’t even bat an eyelid, this stuff must happen all the time. But he couldn’t move me because that seat is such shit, so he moved the old man instead, to sit alone in the front seat. The guy who had been sitting there was exactly the same size and came to sit next to me. He was polite and did his best to keep personal space between us, but when he fell asleep he “man-spread” pretty deep into my seat. That one I just tolerated, he wasn’t being an ass on purpose. But I did get to practice my scanning for tension and releasing it due to the discomfort of the drive back home, albeit under much less trying elements.

I did padwork with Pi Nu the next morning, tired and mentally drained from the travel and arrival back home in the wee hours. It was a great set of circumstances in which to practice my new awareness of tension. I found it all over the place. In my hands – inside my gloves – when I wasn’t making a fist for a punch but just thinking about punching. In my jaw, in my neck, in my quads; I don’t need any of that. So I took a deep breath and tried to release the tension via mental command, if that didn’t work I flexed the muscle and then felt it relax. This is not a quick fix. This is going to take a long time and I figure the ultimate goal is to be able to find and release this tension under the most pressure, within a fight. But even being able to be mindful of it is a huge step, I think. I feel like it’s a Eureka! moment for me and one that is going to make a huge difference in my overall growth. It’s like that old tale of the monster sticking his hand in the jar to grab whatever is in there. While he’s holding the egg or cookie or whatever, his fist can’t come out of the jar and he’s trapped. If he would just let go of it, he could take his hand back out. I’ve been stuck in that jar without realizing it’s the fist that’s trapping me; just that realization alone is a huge deal.


above, 30 seconds video clip from my work with Karuhat, full video to be posted for my Patreon supporters soon!

You can support this content: Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu on Patreon
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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 patreon.com/sylviemuay

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