It’s a surprise to nobody by now that I fight frequently. So, as the tape was being peeled off my hands at my fight on the 1st I asked Den if I could fight again in one week, since my fight was short and I had no injuries resulting from it. Den just nodded and put his hand on my shoulder. That’s the equivalent of a blood contract there.
I returned to the gym the day after my fight, on the 2nd, and figured I should lay off my shins for a couple days due to having checked some kicks and I could feel some areas that would definitely get worse if I didn’t leave them alone. Fighting on Wednesday means that my next day of training is a Thursday, which is always a terribly lazy day at the gym. I don’t know if it’s that folks go to the fights and are tired or if they generally go out on Wednesday nights or if it’s just the mid-week slump where people are feeling the incline of the week’s training and decide to head back down before peaking. Who knows?
But Den wasted no time at all in deciding he didn’t want to hold pads for these zombie-folk and called me into the ring for sparring. (I’d told him at my last fight, when he chastised me for “closing [my] eyes” when being pummeled, that it was his fault for not hitting me enough in training. So he listened.) My plan to leave my shins alone for a couple days takes a back seat to sparring with Den any day. You might plan to have a relaxed day but if you wake up to 10 inches of snow the next morning you’re going out in it, no doubt. Same deal – I never say no to Den.
This sparring lasted an hour, without stop. It was amazing. The next day, in the afternoon, I began sparring with Little Neung and Sarah but Den cut in and I ended up sparring an hour again. This time Den spent the majority of his efforts kicking out my standing leg when I went to kick him. He was doing this because I’m afraid of it – and that’s a fantastic way to tire of a fear, by just facing it endlessly – but my calf locked up and I couldn’t walk that night or the next morning. But I got back to training in the afternoon and managed more sparring with Little Neung.
All of this is to say that I got some incredibly good training in between my fight on the 1st and this fight on the 8th. The kind of training that makes me useless for anything other than more training, but makes 7 days feel like a month.
Strangers and Familiars
Some fights were moved around and I ended up being the only person from the gym fighting on Wednesday. A nice fellow from Canada named Ty came down to watch my fight – he’s very funny and watching fights with him was highly entertaining – and my buddy from another gym Wayne came down to support fighters from his gym as well. Some Thai men who I could not name or even wager a guess as to what it is they do in life but who I recognize from my fights passed by a few times and I received lots of smiles and high-fives and thumbs-ups. The new owner of the bar where we set up – a Frenchman who speaks no English and I figure not any Thai either – was astonished to see me two weeks in a row and we played a fun game of charades to communicate his surprise and excitement and my promise of this being quite common.
When I went to the doctor he recognized me from last week and was very friendly. One of the officials sitting beside him, the ref for the first fight I ever fought in Thailand four years ago, started asking me (in Thai) if it was correct that I’d been in Thailand for a year now. He had reckoned this on his own, which I thought was great. I said that it was already a year and that I will be here for another one, to which he offered that I ought to stay for five years. I didn’t argue and happily told him I’d love that, feeling absolutely gleeful at having had a) a conversation in Thai with two men who b) have paid attention to my fight career and have interest in my continuation of it.
A teenaged Thai girl who was sitting with her gym eyed me (along with the rest of her gym) for a long time and I figured that was my opponent, but it turned out there was another female fight on the card (awesome, I’ll fight both of them later on, I bet) and she wasn’t mine. As her fight started my hands were being wrapped and I had to turn my head in owl-like degrees of rotation to view her fight. She looked like she had not fought much before and her opponent was much more skilled, but she took the judges decision by throwing countless knees throughout the whole fight. I liked her, although I’m not sure I would agree with the judges.
My friend Pook who owns and operates the Mong Pearl, where Kevin and I eat breakfast every day, had initially said she couldn’t make it to my fight because her car was broken, but she arrived just as my hands were being wrapped after having taken a cab down to the venue. I cannot express in words how honored I am that she is that dedicated to watching me fight. I think I fight better when she’s there. And a young Thai woman who Nook has been training at the gym arrived with Nook to watch me fight as well. Being a representative of Muay Thai for Thai women is a curious and yet completely beautiful thing for me. I hope it continues and escalates.
The fight just before mine ended in KO and I was pleased to get into the ring sooner. I was very relaxed and hungry for this fight, for the proximity of it to the last and to the next. My opponent was someone I’ve never fought before. Den explained that I was meant to fight her last week but she had to go somewhere else and Nongkwang/Kwangngern was a replacement. He told me to keep my hands up and “do everything,” which means experiment with all the different techniques I’ve been training. I nodded and he removed the Mongkon, put his fingers, cold and firm from the ice-water he blesses me with, on the back of my neck and bowed his head forward, saying, “do your best, okay?”
My opponent seemed slightly tall to me, but she stayed steadily on her back foot and her front leg looked target-friendly for low kicks. I’m still finding my range on them to really deliver power, but I was landing them. She didn’t like it and it kept her from running backwards as many of my opponents are wont to do. I landed a right kick early on, something that thrilled me because I had consciously decided to focus on my stance and be quicker and sharper with my right kick. It was both quicker and sharper, but still a work in progress.
Between rounds Den told me that I’d landed two jabs and my opponent had just shot straight backwards, so to do it again and add a kick. I tried this and it worked (and I spent all afternoon at the gym working this on the bag to improve it) and checked a few kicks of hers which significantly reduced the number of them that she threw.
We ended up in the corner and I could feel that I wanted to elbow over her arm, but instead of just going for it I decided that I couldn’t – it was the wrong decision, like going around a door instead of kicking it down. But, again, I’m thinking of them in the fights and that’s gold. As we got into another clinch I maneuvered my arms inside and worked two knees into her stomach. She dropped from the second one and as she began to fall I launched a third knee that clipped her on the descent. The ref barreled in and pushed me away from her and I stood in the corner while he counted for a moment and then called the fight.
Back at the bar the Thai boys surrounded me and started slapping my gloves, in the way that folks generally give a “pound” of congratulations, but then they kept slapping them with increasing excitement like a group of giddy kids. They were laughing and joking and then called Kevin over to take a group picture of us. I’m a sister – the youngest and the only girl among a pack of brothers – so this felt both akin to the fun and excitement of siblings being ridiculous and also like the moments of acceptance and being part of that pack that was my primary desire as a kid. I no longer look for it the way I did as the runt of my family litter, but no longer looking for shooting stars doesn’t make them any less breath-taking when they explode through the darkness and, for a moment, collapse the space between your heart and the cosmos.