The Fiftieth Fight – July 26, 2013
Four years ago, when I visited Thailand for the first time and had two fights in Chiang Mai, I was climbing into the back of Andy’s truck after what was my third fight ever and said to him, “I want 50 fights.” Andy looked at me with some surprise. It wasn’t a crazy statement. Sylvie Charbonneau, a Canadian woman my same size, had just spent five years at Lanna amassing 50 fights and had retired with that 50th fight just a month or so before I arrived. Andy’s surprise, I think, was in the spontaneous announcement of a goal that was – at that moment in time – so far from a month-long stay at a Thai camp, which is what that trip to Thailand was. He smiled his huge Andy smile and reached to open the door of his truck, “alright then,” he said.
Fifty fights, even after announcing the desire for them, still seemed like a long shot. I had three fights in Thailand over a period of 10 weeks and then came back to the US, where I was able to fight 8 times in two years. And that’s a pretty good rate for the US. Still, at that rate it would take me more than 12 years to get to 50. And when we finally got ourselves together to move back to Thailand for what we knew would probably only be one year because of finances, visa, etc., so fighting with the kind of frequency I do now was always the aim but it still wouldn’t get me to 50 in that time.
Happily, we’ve secured staying for a second year and as a result even just a few months after the initial one year anniversary mark that nice, round 50 has come around. And within a week or so, there it will go. And that’s my favorite part: 50 was the goal and it’s fucking incredible that I’ve achieved it, but 51 means more than that to me because it is the continuation of – maturing of – a dream that began as an impossibility and just got swallowed through the fact of opportunity and drive.
you can find something about my motivations to fight in this short documentary
I didn’t want the 50th fight to be super monumental in my head and to a satisfying degree it wasn’t. I don’t appreciate “big fights” in the sense of over-thinking any one event as having greater impact or importance to the collection of all these events in sequence and progression.
That said, I do believe I had a lot more stress toward this fight than I made myself aware. I didn’t have to win my 50th fight for the sake of it being a big event, but I certainly wanted to do well in that it marks a pretty significant level of experience. My last fight had been a loss, even though I felt I’d done a lot in that fight to be proud of, and I found out a few days before the 50th fight that it was a rematch against the same opponent. This kind of quick turn-around rematching is common in Thailand, especially if there are complaints from gamblers regarding the decision, which in this case – I hear – there were. I’ve fought Yodying many times now and the idea of fighting her again is at once calming – I know what to expect – and also fretful because we know each other and the repeated competition between us forces each of us to adapt our skills in order to not fall into the traps of being “solved” by the other fighter.
One thing that always eases anxiety toward fights is having other fighters on the card. Both Off and Tor were scheduled to fight as well and I absolutely love watching Tor fight, so I was distracted by my excitement for that as well. We all arrived as a big group, laid out our mats and organized ourselves for a streamlined preparation. I was the second fight of the night, so my hands needed to be wrapped right away. Off was third, so his process was right behind mine. I haven’t fought early on a card in quite a while and I actually really like it. The energy of arriving, freaking out over whatever there is to freak out about but be busy wrapping, oiling, dressing and shadowboxing and then just go makes the whole sequence high-paced and fun.
With so many fighters on one card you often get trainers and cornermen branching off into little “teams” for each fighter. Pom came to watch the fights and as the matriarch of the gym she can direct anyone with authority and, much to my delight, when I got up in the ring she told big Neung to go help coach me. Neung is my boxing instructor in private sessions, so we definitely have a good relationship, but since his rank in the gym is pretty low due to his age and how long he’s been a trainer there, he often takes a backseat to the other trainers when it comes to speaking roles. With Pom’s direction he came ringside and between rounds Den would speak to me through the ropes and I would nod in affirmation, then Den would turn and look at Neung, who would tell me to move forward and punch harder. It was awesome having them both instruct me.
My measure of success for this fight was basically trying to accomplish a few things I’ve been working on and build on what I thought I’d done well in the last fight – the one I’d lost in the decision – against the same opponent. I wanted to walk forward, punch hard with hopping feet like Master K taught me and that I’d had success with in practice all week, and to relax. The walking feeds the relaxation. Whatever combination of these things, along with the combination of the event and whatever unconscious thoughts I had about it, resulted in my looking far more relaxed than before, blocking kicks like a damn machine, and actually landing more kicks to the body than I probably have collectively in fights prior… all while feeling totally half-brained and amped up. I landed hard punches because I was thinking about it and then didn’t follow up on them because I wasn’t; and, ironically, I landed those punches because I wasn’t thinking about them consciously and then didn’t follow up because I was thinking about it consciously. Ah, lizard brain – you wily conundrum!
The mark left by this 50th fight is certainly inclusive of the overall achievement of reaching a goal I’d set with the knowledge that it was narrowly possible and one which only a small group of western women have accomplished, but it is more so the excitement of experiencing something new even after so many passes over similar ground. I love that I still get that blend of nervous and excited; I love that I can face the same opponent 10 times and keep finding challenges, keep growing and continue aiming for new targets. It’s incredible to know that things you glimpse from afar with aspirations will eventually become things you plot on the map of where you’ve been. I’m excited by the successes that can be built upon and expanded, as well as the failures and stumbling, which can be transformed and pounded into strengths; both the success and the failure can only be increased and remedied by repetition, so I guess that’s how I’m celebrating this milestone. By going around again.
The Whole Fight