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Friday, August 3, 2018

Muay Thai and The Fear of Not Being Good Enough

It was 9pm, I skipped circuit and abs because I was so exhausted from 4 rounds of sparring. Clinching during sparring still takes a lot out of me. But I was still on a high. I’ve been consistently training muay thai for a year and I was so proud of the progress I’ve made. Positive feedback from my coach, other coaches, and other students also made me happy. 

“You say that to everyone haha” 

“Seriously, you are one of the strongest students here. You should be doing amateur fights” 

“Thank you. Okay, I’ll take that compliment” 

A few minutes after, this coach said “But you know what, you lack power” 

 Then he went on to compare me to a couple of female students in the gym. How they have powerful kicks, which I know for a fact. One girl bruised my legs during a sparring session once, and I don’t bruise that easily. But I told him I wish I had bigger legs like they do. Then he told me it has nothing to do with that. He saw my facial expression changed. Then he started to attempt to make me feel better by telling me that my kicks hurt but they just need more power. But all I heard is that I lack power in my kicks. 

He showed me what a powerful kick looks like and showed me how I do it. I saw it. It was weak. It was different than how I thought it looks like. 

Then I found myself tearing up. I stopped myself before I started really crying. Because I know for sure that I will. I can cry anywhere, anytime. 

I told my coach about it and told him to tell me the truth. I saw him trying to be careful with his words. He said my kicks are okay, but I can always be more powerful. That resulted to me crying in the shower after. All the positive feedback I heard, I now question. 

I also don’t know why it hit me hard. But it did. It really hit me hard. I was holding back tears in the metro, while walking, and I finally cried at home. 

That night I found out how much I have come to love muay thai. I think I have come to love it more than running. There has never been a day that I felt lazy going to the gym to train. Not a single day. If I can train everyday I probably would. I work so hard to improve my kicks and my punches. I study videos so I can correct my stance. I do more rounds of bag work than what my coach asks me to do. I always ask, I watch guys spar and study their techniques. 

So when I watched the other coach try to imitate my kick, I just felt so disappointed with myself. I felt discouraged because I thought I’ve been giving a lot to be better. I know I can be more powerful, but I never thought I lacked power that much. 

I received a message from my coach when I got home. The other coach was worried and wanted to clarify again what he really meant. My coach tried to comfort me by telling me that compared to how I used to kick when I was starting, my power has improved a lot. And that there are just people who are natural power strikers, that it’s in their built too. He said he doesn’t even consider himself a powerful kicker. 

But nothing positive registered to me. I felt that everything was sugar-coated, just a way to make me feel better. 

And as with any instance that we feel down, all our insecurities resurface. All the discouraging words people, even the people I love and are closest to me, all came rushing back. All the doubts of me being able to accomplish something all came back. All the unsolicited opinions, everything. 

I specifically remember the time I tried to do a 50-meter lap in a pool and I got stuck in the middle because I realized that I couldn’t touch the floor anymore. I held on to that rope for a good five or ten minutes. I couldn’t let go of the rope, I was so scared. I felt so defeated. That’s what trauma does to a person. That's what almost drowning due to an underwater current did to me. My thoughts then were how useless all the swimming lessons I took were when I still could not face and overcome my fear.

I am a very passionate person. When there’s something I want to achieve, I really put in a lot of effort and time to earn them. It’s what I did with traveling and running. I gave up financial security just to pursue traveling, it was something I knew I had to really experience at least once. I risked disappointing my parents, and I did. I gave up late nights so I could run 18-, 19-km during weekends to train for half marathons. There were months when I had to go to work during weekends but I had to get my run in. I wake up really early in the morning, do my long runs, and still go to work until late night. It was exhausting, but I did it because I wanted to finish strong in my races. 

But being so passionate about something comes with a lot of disappointments and failures too. But with running, I didn’t have anyone to check on me, no one to compare me with another person’s progress. It has been a solitary activity for me. My greatest opponent was myself and my mind. But with muay thai, someone else points out your weaknesses. Your opponent sees an opening and you get hit. You freeze, you flinch, and your guard is down. You get hit.

I sulked the rest of the night. The next day, I switched from being really productive at work to reading blogs about people’s muay thai journey. I cried again. 

I read this: Who’s the Fighter by Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu 

"He took a pen off the table and balanced it on his hand, showing how this was doing right practice. Then he tipped his hand and let the pen fall, showing how you can fall off of right practice, but all you have to do is put the pen back on your hand and start again. The pen falling off is still part of right practice, so long as you put the pen back on the hand. It’s not about always being right, it’s about correcting back without being upset about it. The author of Joy on Demand has an absolutely beautiful and fitting mantra: “do not stop, and do not strain.” Kevin and I use the example of a tight-rope walker. When you fall off the rope, just get back on the rope. All of this is to say that I fall off the rope a lot. The guy who can do spins and jumps and tricks and shit on the rope, cool; he’s basically got longer gaps between the times he falls off. But the guy who can’t even spend 3 seconds at a time before falling off, but who keeps getting back on the rope anyway, that’s the fighter."

But I still went to the gym. It was so easy to not go and sulk even more, but I didn’t. I wasn’t in the mood to interact and be the happy person the coaches know me to be. I stared into space a lot. But every single time I was in that ring, I showed up. The first kick and my coach said to drive my shin more into the kick. I knew he was trying to address what happened, and probably because I never replied to him. I knew I could cry then, but I turned my back and walked half of the ring to compose myself. 

I have always given my best during pad/mitts rounds. But that day I gave more than I could possibly give. There was an instance when I saw my coach’s face and I knew he was also surprised. I could hear him give positive feedback but I tried to ignore them. I just pushed and told myself that the only thing that should matter are my efforts. Positive feedback feed my ego, and it will never be good for me. Not anymore. 

I discovered how different it felt to punch and kick aggressively. I was trying to prove something then. To my coach and to myself that I can push more. The same way when I did several rounds of bag work. I flowed, something I have always wanted to accomplish but never did. 

And then came the 50 kicks each leg that I normally do. I was so conscious of my kicks that I ended up doing worse than I used to do. I just couldn’t do it right. I felt that they were just not good enough. I stopped after a few kicks, then started again. I tried until 20. Then I stopped. My mind just wasn’t in the right place and quiet enough for me to do proper kicks. I told myself that it’s okay and I can work on it the next time. 

And this is why I love muay thai. I read this in the same post that described it as an honest sport. 

"That feeling that you describe to us when you engage in a private lesson with a Golden Age legend, someone like Karuhat or Dieselnoi, that is how people like me feel every day around the average muay thai athlete. Just seeing their footwork brings me shame. The way their hips turn, the feints, the psychological pressure, the little angles that they take, the stutters in rhythm that make me collapse like an accordion slammed shut by a policeman stopping a busker. That little moment where I feel their absolute control of the dynamic between me and them. That primordial gap. The space they eat up, the space I willingly give them just to let the pressure off a little bit. And they take it and use it to hurt me. It takes me back to the worst days of my life, when I didn’t have any control. It’s like the space a sharp elbow eats, that little frame where a gap becomes an opening becomes a giant cut, and now you are bleeding for the whole world to see. Muay Thai is honest, above all."

It will show you your weaknesses, not just physically but also mentally. It finds a way to bare all your insecurities and fears, but also gives you an opportunity to face them and work on them. I may never overcome all of them, but muay thai is giving me the chance to at least try.