I’m about to have my third fight in 10 days on Sunday. I had a quick turn-around scheduled between two fights and then the promoter wanted me back right away, so that turned into three. It’s actually been a joy, although unusual, to have fights this close together. I generally try to fight every other week, leaving 10 days between for training, but with the fights three and five days apart there’s not much time to train because of resting and recovering from expected things like dinged shins and sore muscles.
It’s a little strange because it falls somewhere between time off and rest because your body is not fully recovered between fights, but you’re not training at full capacity for more than a day and a half in between, so there is an element of rest involved. Honestly, I feel like I’ve been healing quicker in this turn-around than when I generally have a day of rest and then go back to training. Maybe that’s mental, knowing that whatever is ailing me is coming with me into the next fight, so it just doesn’t matter as much. But I truly believe that there is actual, real recovery, not just my ability to ignore pains.
My trainers are pretty amazed by my ability to fight consistently often – I’ve been doing this for over a year now. My trainers are all Thais between the ages of 34-55, who grew up in the lifestyle of fighting frequently, some more than others. Den, for example, has over 300 fights to his name and recounts times when he would fight twice in one night. These aren’t quite the “days of yore,” kids still fight like this in places around Thailand, but they’re certainly not typical of non-Thais, nor the Thai boys at our gym who fight very infrequently. I get a little pissed when (mostly westerners) tell me that I don’t get hurt because I’m “so small.” Like, if I were bigger my injuries would be proportionately bigger. That’s somewhat reasonable in that someone my size doesn’t generate the same kind of force that a heavyweight does – you see far more damage and knockouts among heavyweights by sheer power than you do at lower weights, but this is also because heavyweights don’t avoid punches so well as the spritely weight-classes do. But what’s bogus about this argument is that it’s all relative to size – if I’m smaller, it means that the impact required to do damage to my frame is also less. I fight people who are proportionately able to inflict damage on me and, in fact, I’m increasingly outsized by my opponents. At 100-104 lbs, if someone outweighs me by 10-15 lbs, that 10-15% of my body weight. At 200 lbs, that’s a dude with 20-30 lbs on you.
So what is it? I believe that it’s conditioning through training. Not pushups, but the constant conditioning my body goes through by training twice per day, six days per week on a fairly constant basis, interrupted mainly by days off surrounding fights. I fight a lot and am able to fight a lot because I fight a lot. Make sense? I recall that both mothers of the 8-year-old professional female fighters in the documentary following two Thai girls, “Buffalo Girls”, that when asked if they worried for their daughters’ safety in the ring, each replied that they did not because “she trains very hard.” In other words, the girls took care of their bodies so their bodies could take care of them in the fights. (Click here for an interview that I did with the director of “Buffalo Girls,” Todd Kellstein.)
It’s not just me. The other day I was chatting with Frances Watthanaya, who is married to Thanit “Boom” Watthanaya. Boom is a personal hero of mine for the fact that as a young fighter he was winning a lot of fights, knocking guys out in Bangkok, but his trainer said even though he was winning he “wasn’t any good” so he sent him to a gym in Isaan and they had him fight somewhere in the ballpark of 30 fights in less than 3 months. That is… incredible. I don’t even care what his record was through that time because it’s so peripheral to the point of that kind of endeavor. Can you imagine how much he grew in that time? What he went through mentally, physically, emotionally… it must cover the spectrum of all human thoughts and abilities. Where else in the world do people do this? It’s like when you see these young amateur guys from Cuba who have 100+ fights at their pro boxing debut. It’s just amazing.
I was talking to Frances about Boom and she was saying he’s recovering from a broken thumb, which seems like a terrible injury to me because there’s just no way to avoid feeling it. But he’s a fighter and I’m sure he’s getting on fine. Thai fighters in particular are incredibly good at hiding injury in the ring – you’ll watch a fight and have absolutely no idea that one fighter has a broken arm, orbital bone, hand, foot, etc., simply because he doesn’t show a thing. You don’t get like that by accident. You don’t show how tired you are, how hurt you are, how insecure you are during practice and then NOT show that in the ring. You hide it all the time. You practice hiding it. Frances then said something I found really interesting, in context of the various injuries Boom has sustained over the past few years:
“I think that not be able to fight enough contributes to Boom’s injuries…because there is so much pressure mentally, but also your body is very stiff.”
Frances and Boom live in Canada and Boom’s fight opportunities are in accordance with that location. Only a fighter and someone very intimately close to a fighter understands this connection, that being “out of shape” can mean a tremendous number of things. In one way, it can simply mean that your body doesn’t have enough exposure to the kinds of things that can cause it damage; it can’t immunize itself against it without that exposure. So yeah, fighters in the west who spend 6 weeks training hard in a “fight camp” and then have a 3 round fight, with or without padding and protective gear, can easily sustain more injuries than a fighter in Thailand who trains all the time and fights very frequently. Someone who runs a marathon every month will be less injured at the finish line than a first-timer or a weekend runner; no doubt.
Photo of Saenchai P.K. SaenchaiMuayThaiGym
So in this way injury is not necessarily a sign of intensity, but can – not in all cases but at times – indicate the opposite. I think this is interesting because my husband reads MMA news to me from online over breakfast each morning and recently, maybe the past 4 months, there has been this emphasis on the sources we read on who was more injured, earlier. Two fighters will fight and then afterwards there’s almost a pissing contest of who broke his foot in what round, going back and back until it’s someone coming into the fight injured and still fighting through it. That’s not bad, these guys really do break their arms and feet and orbital bones. But it’s not necessarily that their so hard. It can be – can be – that their bodies were not conditioned to the kind of intensity they experienced in the fight itself and that resulted in greater injury than someone like Sanchai, who fights pretty frequently for a guy his age and level. He pulled out of a rematch with Yodwicha due to a recurring neck injury but then fought three weeks later. Could be something fishy, but it could also very well be that his body recovers that quickly and the line-up for promotions don’t. I’m not joking – the recovery rate is astounding.
And it seems the body keeps this. It sounds a little strange, but if you ever touch an old Muay Thai fighter you can feel the strength and durability carved into their bodies. You actually can hurt yourself by kicking them. I remember Master K (who is in his 70’s) trying to get me to do kick drills with him – I was wearing shin-pads and he wasn’t – and I was just getting crushed by his razor, iron shins every time I touched him. He would kind of laugh, like he forgot that he’s made of steel and say, “sorry.” Nook is like this, too. He’s the “old man” of the gym at 55 and I hurt myself doing pads with him, trying to kick him and him just automatically blocking, more often than I ever get hurt in fights where people are cracking me with bare shins. Stones carved by the insistence of moving water.