Before the Fight
My friend Robyn has come from Pennsylvania to visit and train with me at camp. Robyn is amazing. She’s been doing martial arts since she was only 4 years old and, through the chaos of transitioning from a child to a well-functioning adult, has found a renewed and pure love for Muay Thai, boxing and helping her teammates in MMA. Not only has Robyn been a role model for me in the way she handles training (she’s who taught me that one must train aggression just as you must train a right kick), but she’s also the kind of teammate that I wish everyone could/would have. Having her here with me at Lanna has been a boon and we own the gym when we get in there. Sparring is the new “down time.”
So since Friday I’ve been sparring every day with Robyn (sometimes twice per day) and Luc on a few of those days. I’m getting my butt kicked a lot of the time, but I keep trucking and eventually stop caring how I look or whether what I intend to do is exactly how it turns out and ultimately it works out a lot better for me. The more I spar, the quicker I can get to that place.
We got to the gym to meet up with the trucks just before 8:00 PM and there were a lot of people waiting to come down to the fights. Both Daeng and Andy’s trucks were parked in the lot but we all piled into the back of Andy’s truck to the point that we couldn’t move at all and there were a few more who needed a spot. I had my right arm hooked over the side of the truck and my left shoulder jammed into the back of the cab (which is my favorite spot because there’s less wind when we get going) and Pom – owner of the gym and wife of Andy – appeared just beside me and persuaded some of the guys to transfer over to Daeng’s truck, freeing up some room for everyone.
Pom is about my height and has jet-black hair that falls over her face all the time. This serves mostly to accentuate her smile, which covers her face and erupts in a cackling laughter that I absolutely love. She smiled at me and teasingly said, “you happy I come with you, Sylvia?” (I’d told her that I love when she comes to my fights.) I blurted, “yes!” and then further explained that I was sure I’d win now because I always do good when she’s there. She rocked her body with a burst of laughter and then leaned slightly over, putting her nose just barely against my arm that rested along the edge of the truck and “sniff kissed” it. In Thailand a kiss with the mouth is pretty racy – you can see it on TV in western movies and all but characters in Thai soap operas and couples or parents and children in public will do this sniffing thing instead of a mouth kiss and it has the same feel as a peck on the cheek or a kiss on top of the head. It’s very sweet. This was my first “sniff kiss” and Kevin and I grinned at each other as Pom disappeared into the cab of the truck.
At the Venue
We all piled out of the truck and headed over to the entrance to the stadium, a few Thais lingering around the parking lot giving me a serious look-over as I passed. I wasn’t dressed for the fight yet, but I was carrying my bag which kind of gives me away. Pom laughed when she saw Sarah, a tall and carved blonde from England, carrying the bamboo mats – “no Thai boys,” Pom said.
There wasn’t a fight card written up yet so I didn’t know what number I was, so we just set up on the mats at the back of the stadium and watched the trickle of fighters and their corners coming through the entrance. I dusted off my feet and stepped back into my sandals to go over and see the doctor, who just takes a blood-pressure reading and may or may not listen to my heart. He had a blank sheet of paper in front of him where he’d been listing the names of the fighters as they came up to him, one by one, instead of the fight program as per usual. So I got to phonetically spell out my name for him, which he seemed pretty impressed by. I also noted, by a quick reading of the 5 names listed prior to mine, that my opponent had not yet checked in.
Den told me I’d fought this girl before and knocked her out at a different stadium. I either misremembered the name or didn’t know what he was talking about because when I went back to my fight videos and found who I thought he was talking about from the description it wasn’t the same girl. I watched the fight I thought it was a few times and noted that the girl just seemed to teep and kick with her lead leg and follow with a right cross all the time. So I kept that in mind but also knew I could be facing anyone because things change all the time in Thailand. And a good thing because this girl definitely wasn’t that girl.
Finally the fight program was printed and I saw that I was fighting third out of only five fights. Quick night. Daeng called me over to start wrapping my hands and asked me about a piece of white string I have tied around my left wrist. I told him I’d gotten it at the temple on Doi Suthep, where Robyn and I had visited a few days ago and through pure coincidence had the opportunity to be blessed by a monk up there. His associate had then tied the strings around our wrists (an ordained monk cannot touch women, so the men went to the monk and the women all went to this younger guy in all white) while chanting. Daeng knew immediately what it was and was careful to keep the tape off of the string, then pulled the string over the first layer and wrapped my hand with gauze, sealing the blessed string in the middle of the entire wrapping. As he was starting my second hand the King’s Anthem started and we stood up, where Daeng continued wrapping my left hand while I held my right hand behind my back in the style of how I generally stand for the anthem. It was a soft blending of obedience and thoughtless habit for both of us.
The first fight ended in KO very quickly and I returned from the restroom with my shorts on just as the second fight was starting. The Thai boys hurried to get me oiled and gloved and little Neung smeared my face with the most sparing layer of Vaseline I’ve received in a long time. That fight, too, ended in KO and I had just enough time to get my heart-rate up a little bit before I was walking over to the ring.
It was a quiet night at the stadium with very few ticketed audience members and an astonishingly few gamblers at the middle fence. I put my right hand against the red towel that Andy wraps around my neck as I knelt down in front of the staircase and bowed my head for a moment before climbing up the stairs. Andy had already sprung up onto the side of the ring and was pushing down the top ropes. Unlike my experience of going over the rope with Den doing this a few weeks back I decided instead to point out to Andy that he was bending the ropes down instead of pulling the bottom ropes up and he laughed before switching over to the bottom rope. I ducked under and took my bows before coming back to the corner and letting Andy unwrap the towel from my neck and shoulders while he said, “I almost pulled a Den!” Actually, I thought, you did “pull a Den,” but I just didn’t “pull a Sylvie” and hop over the ropes in response.
My opponent and I smiled to each other from across the ring and I didn’t recognize her. Kevin says he did but wasn’t entirely sure which fight or why it was such a strong recognition, but all I was noticing was that she looked heavy and was therefore probably slower and maybe easy to gas. When the first round started the first of these two suspicions proved true for her reaction time and false for her intentional kicking speed. Her head kick was pretty fast. But I tested out some leg kicks and she took a crack from every one of them. I would throw a few low and then shoot one high and mostly missing from my own distance mistakes more than from her dodging. Between rounds Andy told me those low kicks were causing her problems, surprising her, so to keep throwing them. Den told me to start throwing more than just one strike at a time. It was the first time in a long time that Andy sounded pleased – almost surprised – and calm in the corner, telling me to take my time.
I kept trying things that I’ve been working on in training – teeps to the leg followed by body kicks, low kicks, jabbing to cover distance and set up kicks. I haven’t watched this fight yet so I’m not really sure what all I did – I have a notoriously bad memory of factual fight events – but I distinctly remember that I could feel my knees working. Once I started catching her right kick and following with a knee, it was pretty much all I needed to do. I dropped her for a few 8 counts and by the third fall and in the third round she wasn’t getting up anymore and the ref called it. (After the fight my opponent came up and asked me if I was fighting tomorrow, in English, and when I said that I wasn’t fighting tomorrow but I was next week, in Thai, she nodded as if that’s what she meant. I asked her if anything hurt and she held her ribs on her left side and made a face, so I reckon it was a right knee that ended that fight.)
When I got out of the ring Andy was very pleased and he enthusiastically asked me if I knew why I’d won that fight when we got back to the mats. “Um, from just trying things,” I offered and he gave a short uppercut to the air and said, “yes! From letting go!” For the past few fights I’ve been answering Kevin’s customary question of what I hope to do in each fight the same way: to just go out there and be athletic, try things and have fun. Given the few things I remember about actually being in this fight – the few times I surprised myself and thought “hey, that was good!” – most of them were just reactionary, finding my leg kicking into her side as we separated from a flurry without having thought of it. These things, these tiny little things are what the biggest changes in one’s fights are made of. It’s like climbing the face of a mountain where every inch of progress is based on how small of a hold you can grasp in order to pull yourself up. Some holds are big and easy, but you move over those quickly and they may be far apart. What helps you get up that wall, however, is not the easy holds, not the big jags in the face of the cliff, but rather the ability to hook your fingers into a tiny little crevice that those with less faith would look over, to advance by centimeters that feel like miles.