I've made it no secret over the years that I feel pretty strongly about training with my sons. It has helped hold both them and myself accountable for our individual training because I am pushed to set a good example, and they can see for themselves that I am not asking them to do anything I am not willing to do myself. It has also helped them to feel more validated in their own training goals because I understand both the passion AND the struggle that is involved in the journey.
As a single mother of boys, it has helped me earn more respect from them because they know that I am not delicate, nor am I a pushover. As boys get older and start wanting their independence, the jockeying for the alpha position within the pack begins. Trust me, when you have to be both the woman AND the man of the household, being a physically capable woman helps when it comes to raising boys.
And-- it has provided us an even ground to see eye-to-eye on when we're unable to see eye-to-eye on anything else. This has been the most valuable aspect to me in regards to training with my kids. No matter the type of relationship (parent, child, siblings, spouses, friends, co-workers, etc.), you're not always going to see eye-to-eye with the other person, and that can be the most difficult time to practice empathy if the lack of common ground causes heated emotions in either party. Parenting becomes most difficult (in my opinion) when your son/daughter reaches the age when they begin developing their own ideas on how to approach life and adopting the culture of their generation because that is when they begin to quit feeling understood-- something that all humans crave regardless of their age. Their taste in music is different. Their taste in movies is different. Their taste in just about everything is different from yours, as is their idea of what's fun and even the lingo they begin to use to communicate with you. This poses a problem for both of you because the more they feel you don't understand their world, the more misunderstood they will begin to feel as an individual.
Jiu jitsu and striking have helped me bridge that gap with my kids. Our individual training journeys, with all their accompanying highs and lows, have served as a reminder to them (and even me sometimes) that in some things -- and perhaps in certain ways the most important thing in life: the human struggle -- we're not all that different after all. When we get lost in our relationship with each other as "mother" and "son", we can find ourselves again on the mats and in so doing, also find our way back to each other as well.
You don't have to have any major goals within the martial arts to begin training. Your major goal can quite simply remain to be raising your kiddo to the best of your ability, in which case I can PROMISE you that signing up for jiu jitsu and/or muay thai or boxing WITH your kiddo(s) will help you accomplish that goal. It is by far the best decision I have made as a parent for myself, for my kids, and for our relationship and entire family dynamic.
Empathy has been on my mind for quite a few years now, and as more and more tragedy surfaces throughout the world, the idea of empathy only weighs heavier and heavier on my mind. The world needs more empathy, desperately. More empathy equals less hatred. Less hatred equals more love. More love equals less war. It seems like such a simple concept to me, and yet so far out of reach. So how do we increase empathy in the world? I believe it starts with the individual, and for those of us who have children, that change within the individual impresses upon them as well.
As I sit here going through some pictures from my recent trip back to Thailand and seeing the faces of all my friends who came from all over the world to train at Phuket Top Team as well, the solution to increasing empathy in our communities on a worldwide level seems to be right in front of my face. Travel. Travel to as many places as you can and do so in such a way that you can experience the culture, instead of only seeing the side of the country that was specifically designed and altered to attract tourism.
My experiences training at Phuket Top Team have been invaluable in exposing me to a variety of cultures because of how many different people come from all over the world to train there. On any given day numerous cultures are represented on the training floor. At every team gathering, a myriad of culture is brought to the occasion. Over the course of my travels I have made wonderful friends with people not just from Thailand, but from Australia, Scotland, England, Singapore, Sweden, Canada, Ireland and more, and what I love about that is the amount of culture I have been exposed to as a result while simply speaking and laughing with them. Even something as simple as differences in slang serve as a reminder of empathy, for one definition of empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference.
I remember sitting around with some friends after training one night on my first trip to Thailand, and the Australians were talking about their excessive use of a certain four letter word that Americans simply do not use (hint hint.. it begins with a "c" and most American women would tear your head off for referring to them as such). They were laughing at my reaction every time they used the word (apparently my eyes involuntarily widened a little bit with each use). I explained how taboo and insulting that word is in America, and they went on to explain that while there is a certain use of the word that is the highest insult in Australia as well, there are also two other uses of the word that are instead the highest compliment. I know this might sound strange to link a mini-lesson on the various uses of this particular word with empathy, but it was interesting to witness my shock over the word compared to their ease, as it was caused by a simple difference in paradigms.
Even by simply acknowledging the existence of differing paradigms throughout the world, even within our own neighborhoods, we are practicing and increasing empathy. Now, imagine traveling somewhere and witnessing the way families interact, how children are raised, how diets differ or even how meal time rituals differ. When you immerse yourself in the culture of a place and pay attention to the little details throughout the day, your eyes are opened to an entire different way of living and experiencing the world around you in such a way you might never have thought of for the simple reason that it was outside your paradigm.
I remember sitting down to lunch with my friend on my most recent trip. He is Thai so I began having him order my food for me when we went out, not because I'm one of those women who can't make decisions for herself, but because I wanted to experience the country, including the food, through a Thai's eyes. I knew if I ordered for myself, I would naturally gravitate toward what looked familiar. So we were each sitting there eating our matching dishes, which included shrimp, and I watched him spoon the shrimp up and place the whole thing in his mouth -- including the tail! He smiled at me and nodded at my spoon which also had a shrimp waiting on it. "You try." He said. I looked at the shrimp and realized my hesitation wasn't because it sounded gross or anything, but simply because I never knew you could even eat the tail! It was completely outside of my paradigm! So, I shrugged my shoulders, opened my mouth and ate the entire shrimp, tail and all, and while I had to chew it a little longer than I am used to, I haven't removed the tail from shrimp before eating them since.
I know these are small and possibly silly sounding things to stick out in my mind when considering empathy, but they really did have a big impact on me in terms of opening my eyes and making me reflect on how much of the world we view through the closed in tunnel of our paradigms. I've always wanted to travel with my children, but that desire is even stronger now that I have begun having these reflections. My youngest son and I will be going to Thailand together next summer and it is all we can talk about lately. He is fascinated by the stories I bring home, including the small stories about eating the tail off the shrimp. Hearing about how other people do things excites and fascinates him and watching that fascination in his eyes causes me to reflect on empathy and the relevance of travel in connection to empathy even more. It is not always easy to travel, but in my experience traveling to certain countries (such as Thailand) is cheaper than an extended weekend vacation in most U.S. cities. It takes some planning, sure, but it can absolutely be done. Just imagine the gift you'll be giving yourself, your children (if you have them), and as a result the world if you begin insisting on seeing more of this beautiful, culture rich world we live in.
This is a common saying heard in the inspirational/motivational industry. I have been guilty of saying it myself as well; recently, in fact. However, the truth is, we need our fear. Fear keeps us safe. Not safe in the sense that we stay comfortable and stagnant, although that is a risk of indulging too much in irrational fear, but safe in the literal sense of the word. Fear is what tells us yeah, jumping off that cliff might not actually be a good idea, or something about that person makes me uncomfortable, maybe I shouldn't go with him into that dark alley like he wants. So in that sense, being fearless would be reckless and dumb. In the unfortunate situation where we cannot avoid the danger, fear is what primes us to be able to fight if necessary, so again, being fearless would actually put us in danger.
I've been thinking a lot about the idea of being fearless this week. There was a pretty big fight offer in the works (alas it did not work out though) and a word that was in my mind as I thought about the potential fight was "fearless". However, the more I thought about this, the more I realized I'm not fearless, I'm just in control of my fear. I know how to decipher when fear is doing its job responsibly, and when it's just being an overprotective, nagging inner-mother. I'm definitely not fearless; I've just chosen to rule my fear instead of being ruled by it.
Fear tends to be an emotion faced by many in any entrepreneurial venture. It's that voice that whispers I don't know, maybe we shouldn't head off on our own; it feels awfully nice to be able to depend on this bi-weekly paycheck. Fear, I believe, is the main culprit when people choose not to pursue their dreams. Turning dreams into reality can be scary as hell! It takes an unbelievable amount of faith and self-confidence, but it also requires we become the king or queen of our own fear.
Any good ruler earns the respect of their people by proving they are capable of protecting them and their best interests. Irrational fear comes into play when our subconscious does not believe in our ability to make sound decisions for ourselves. Irrational fear tells us that paycheck is nice because it doesn't believe we are capable of creating that income on our own without the foundation of our employer. Committing ourselves to the repetitive actions that will prove otherwise will earn the trust of that fear we are trying to rule.
A good king or queen is wise and decisive. He or she gathers information through formal education and from trusted advisors. We have to show fear that we are making informed decisions before acting, and when we do so, fear will not feel so alarmed. If we do not make uneducated decisions, fear will not feel it is necessary to hover over every decision we make on the path toward achieving our goals.
A good ruler enforces law and order justly. When fear is doing its job appropriately we have to honor it and thank it for a job well done. However, when fear is being irrational, we have to enforce law and order by putting it in its place.
We have to rule our fear, or be ruled by it. The choice is always ours. I always ask the question: What's YOUR Possible? The question serves as a reminder that the only person that can dictate what is possible and impossible in your life is YOU. No one else can tell you something is impossible, so make sure you don't allow your irrational fear to tell you it is impossible either. Once upon a time electricity was impossible, as was space travel. All things are impossible until proven otherwise.
On August 23rd when I left Colorado to go to Thailand, I did not know what to expect from my trip. I had a strong suspicion that I was not ready to walk away from the sport after all, but I tried to leave with no expectations other than just finding my passion again. When I retired on the first of the year I THOUGHT it was a sound decision, but I realized a few months later that it was simply an emotionally charged decision based on the unique high stress situation I found myself in at the time. As the months crawled on I found myself missing the fight more and more, but I was still struggling with untangling the strings of some previous negative experiences from the strings that were tied to my passion for my career. The sole purpose for my trip was to make peace with some of those past experiences while reconnecting with my passion for the martial arts.
I have to admit, during my first week back training at Phuket Top Team I remember going through the motions of my bag work thinking how absolutely miserable I was. It was so much harder than I remembered with none of the passion that used to get me through it present in my heart to keep me pushing forward. The thought, "yeah, forget this" temporarily crossed my mind, and I left training that day thinking my trip was in fact my farewell to the sport and not my reintroduction to it. I gave no consideration for the fact that I had spent the previous nine months barely training as I was submersed in alternating states of depression and anxiety; I only compared my current state of physical fitness and mental passion with what I remembered it being the last time I was in Thailand... which happened to be immediately following a fight camp when I was in peak physical condition and very hungry to compete as soon as possible.
Fortunately, muscle memory kicked in to save me from myself, and my body began to remember what I was expecting of it and complied, albeit a little begrudgingly at first. I began smiling and laughing in training again and remembering why I loved it so much to begin with. However, I was still unsure of whether or not I would end up fighting again and made the decision in my second week to not chase it or force any decision one way or the other. I decided I would just focus on training and smiling and if one of my krus felt I was ready to fight, the offer would be made.
It was at the beginning of my third week that the fight offer was made, and I was almost surprised at how quickly I said yes. There was no excitement in my response per say, only a very natural feeling in my heart that said of course, why wouldn't I? It was then that I knew I was back. However, I did not announce anything about the upcoming fight to anyone other than my children and two of my closest friends. While the fight was officially renouncing my retirement, it did not feel like a fight that was a part of my professional career to be shared with the world, but rather an event that was occurring in my personal journey and one I needed to experience privately.
The morning of the fight though, I realized how much fighting for my fans has always driven me. My entire career to date has been spent sharing my struggles and coinciding successes or failures with my followers and it did not feel right to not share my most personal struggle yet, and so I posted a video of the fight poster blowing in the wind with the following caption:
So, there's this thing I'm doing tonight..
It's been a year and a half since I've competed, and the ring has been calling to me for quite some time now. It's time I heed the call. Retirement will just have to wait. I'm back.
I had never experienced nerves before a fight in my entire career, but something about renouncing my retirement added some weight to my shoulders that I was not familiar with, not to mention it had been well over a year since I had last competed and this fight would be completely different from anything I was used to in the past which made it almost feel like my first fight all over again. In Thailand you do not warm up before a fight and instead simply receive a thai linament massage from the trainers. I was used to the mentality that you work up a good sweat and open up your lungs before your fight so when you enter the ring you are doing so with your second wind ready to go. I was also a little nervous about not ramping my punches and kicks up before entering the ring as well. The stadium I was fighting at was one where you do not know your opponent beforehand either. You just show up and fight whoever they tell you to fight. And then of course there was all the ritual and tradition entering the ring that I was not accustomed to in my previous experiences. All of these changes had me a bit in my own head and unable to really decipher how I felt about it all.
However, as soon as we arrived at the stadium, all questions left my mind as I entered into that calm and focused state of mind I love so much about the fight. I admit I had to look to Kru Athit more often for direction than I would have looked at my coaches in the past for the simple fact I needed to be guided through the specific rituals, but otherwise the second the gloves were on I felt home again. Stepping into the ring felt just as familiar and natural as any other fight, if not more so because I was finally returning to where I belonged. As soon as the ref signaled the start of the fight, it was all calm instinct.
Analyzing the fight myself, there was a lot I wish I would have done differently, one being I wish I would have played the muay thai "game" a bit more and drug the fight out into a few more rounds, but as soon as I started finding success in throwing my hands it triggered more of the MMA mentality of finishing the fight as soon as possible. However, I do not think there will ever be a single fight that I walk away from not wishing I would have done things differently. After all, we are our own worst critic and a person interested in improving in life will always be looking for those ways to improve on what they have accomplished so far. I won the fight forty seconds into round two via TKO though, and, more importantly, that night I won my own fight against depression and anxiety. That fight was like a rebirth into the life I knew and loved, and I am happy to announce that since coming home my passion has not dwindled in the slightest and I am actively seeking my next opportunity to get back in the ring.
My immense gratitude goes out to my entire team at Phuket Top Team for taking me from a couch ridden depression to a round two TKO in four weeks. I believe in their training, and I believe in their structure, but more importantly it is the atmosphere they have built that allowed me the space I needed to make such leaps and bounds in my personal journey at the same time as I made improvements in my professional journey.
When I woke this morning, I had every intention of working on my blog today as I have several articles I have been meaning to write, one being an update on my previous fight and officially coming out of retirement. However, before going to bed last night I learned of the failing health of Thailand's king, and the first thing I did this morning after shutting off my alarm was pick up my phone and look for a status update on his condition. Sadness consumed me when I read King Bhumibol Adulyadej had passed away before I had woken.
As the morning progressed I could not seem to shake the feeling. A friend of mine asked me why I was so saddened over the passing of a king who was not my own or a person I have never met, and I had to confess that the depth of my emotion surprised even me. However, my experience in life is when I love something or someone, their love becomes mine. Empathy at its finest I suppose. I have many friends in Thailand who are very dear to my heart and they loved their king deeply. As I sat here trying to write an article about my previous fight, all I could think about were the tears that are being shed by those I love in the country I grew to love just as much.
During my previous stay in Thailand last month I was touched by the depth of the love many of the Thai people had for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and the grief I know they feel right now pierces my heart. When the king's failing health was announced yesterday, one close friend of mine posted a beautiful update on Facebook that best captured the sentiment I heard from many of the Thai people.
"I love my king. I don't know why. Never have someone say me to love him and I still love him because I saw him everyday working for us, for the Thai people. Never stopped working. Who can do this all their life? Everyone working for money or status, and my king, him working everyday and really hard for us. Never need something back for him because him love us. Love Thai people. That's why I love my king. From my heart." ~Kru Athit Praditphon
And so, the regular musings of my blog will wait while I send love and light to all those grieving in Thailand today. If you find you have a few moments in your day, perhaps you too could send love and light to a grieving country as well.
For better or for worse, I have always been a creature of habit. Sometimes it has helped me to succeed in my pursuits, and other times it has held me back in my pursuits... and yet I've always worn it proudly. I believed that somehow it was part of what made me who I am. However, despite how useful developing a habit can be at times, we cannot transform and evolve in this lifetime without stepping outside of the box and breaking routine.
Over the years of my fight career I have noticed an unintended theme in my fight outfits and logo. They all have wings and the most common color scheme is red and black, the colors of smoke and fire. The original wing concept came from a team nickname with my original training partners Michelle Blalock and Shannon Sinn. In a media day photo shoot the three of us stood in the Charlie's Angels pose joking around and were then tagged as the Sambo Angels for a while.
Later the Russian double headed eagle made an appearance on my fight clothes as a sort of crest to represent the Sambo gym I was training at and to tie in the Sambo Angels theme as well.
The wings continued to appear in some fashion or another in almost everything I had designed, including the eventual development of my logo.
Upon noticing the theme sometime last year, it dawned on me that I have always been drawn to the Phoenix, as well as to butterflies and the stars because of the way they all represent not only transformation, but the rise from what appeared to be life's greatest defeat: death. A star is born from the collapse of a gaseous nebula. A butterfly must first go into darkness and shed its old self before it can fly. And the strong and beautiful Phoenix rises from the ashes of its own death. Through the development of my What's YOUR Possible message, the wings of the Phoenix were always present encouraging others to never give up on their dreams, even in the face of apparent defeat.
As I reflect on my time here in Thailand and my upcoming return to the ring tonight, I have been thinking about habits and transformation. While I didn't know what shape it would take, this trip from the very beginning was about transforming and rising above the things that I was allowing to anchor me in the past, and in order to transform we must break the habits that keep us rooted in place. This fight couldn't be a better expression of breaking old habits. My entire preparation for this fight has been different from my old routine. I'm training differently. I'm fighting at a different weight. I don't know who my opponent it. There was no big announcement or media attention distracting me from just focusing on my training. Since I didn't do an obnoxious weight cut I have been able to train hard and eat appropriately right up until the fight. When I arrive at the stadium tonight, there will be no warm up (in Thailand the fighters just receive a massage with thai oil in place of a warm up); there will be no walk out song; I won't have my parents, my kids, or any of my friends and family back home that I am accustomed to being at my fights there to cheer me on. No one here knows Baby Face. In fact, on the fight poster my name is "Maria". I am just a girl, shedding her old habits and her old self to rise and try again.. and I am in love with it all.
Sometimes we find ourselves sitting around in the ashes of our destruction because of circumstances outside of our control, but other times it is because the habits we clung to were not serving our goals. While failure can feel a bit harsh, sometimes it is only after complete destruction that we can look back and realize we had fallen off our path and were no longer taking the appropriate actions to live as our true selves and so, the mask we had begun wearing instead had to be burned way so we could begin again. At some point in our lives we all find ourselves sitting in the ashes. When that day comes for you, I urge you to not give up, but instead look around and with the honesty that comes in silent reflection, decide if you have been clinging to old habits that are no longer serving you and cut the strings to those anchors so you can spread your wings and rise again.
Thank you to everyone who has helped me over the last nine months leading up to this point. My coaches at Easton Training Center and House of Pain for seeing where I was at mentally and stepping back to allow me the space I needed to heal, my good friend and teammate Terrence Moore for giving me the little timely shoves I needed to make this trip happen, my family at Easton Martial Arts Academy both co-workers and students alike for supporting my trip, my sponsor NuCalm for the help managing my anxiety and the stresses of jet lag, my kids for always believing in me, my parents for always supporting my dreams, and Phuket Top Team for providing me the space to open my wings again. A special thank you to Kru Athit Praditphon for your patience and willingness to teach me your style, to Krus Pariwat Wisripat and Yai Chanai for your extra help on the training floor, and to all my teammates who have pushed me through countless rounds of sparring to knock off all this rust.
I believe if you love something, you make an effort to learn all you can about it, so with immense baby steps I've been learning to speak Thai. I asked my friend earlier this morning how to say "please", and with a slight hesitation he replied, "Kruna.. but we don't use that word. You say ka or khob khun ka to be polite." Khob khun ka (or khob khun krup for men), means "thank you", but since we differentiate between "please" and "thank you" in English, I thought the same would be the case in all languages. I asked him why they had a word (kruna) if they didn't use it, and he just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
Later as I sat drinking my coffee, I was looking through some pictures my friend had taken from the muay thai class at Phuket Top Team last night, and I immediately began picking apart my technique in every photograph. As I've mentioned before, I'm a perfectionist to a flaw. It is very difficult for me to approve of almost anything I do. I want to do everything perfectly. I want to train perfectly. I want to spar perfectly. I want to fight perfectly. I even want to rest and recover perfectly.
I think it stems from being adopted and spending my whole life wanting to show my appreciation to my parents for adopting me by being perfect for them always. I wanted them to know in my every action as a growing human that they did well by me, and I appreciated how they were raising me. I followed the rules out of appreciation. I worked hard in school and graduated when I was 16 out of appreciation. I opened my own business out of appreciation. I tried to be perfect in all I did out of appreciation. I don't know where I picked up this idea of being perfect, because my parents never encouraged perfectionism. My parents encouraged me to try and fail over and over and over again until I succeeded in my dreams. In fact, one day I went to my parents' house seeking advice from my father when I was struggling with fear over the amount of risk that is involved in self-employment, and he pointed at the ceiling where my room had been located my entire life and still sat unchanged and unoccupied. "You will always have a room here, Maureen." He said. "Your children will always have a room here. You will always have clothes on your backs, a roof over your heads, and food in your bellies. If you risk everything and lose it all, you can always come back here. There will always be a place for you here. Now go take risks because you have nothing to fear." What a blessing being adopted turned out to be...
Perfectionism... what a childish notion. Perfect doesn't exist. It's a word we have... but not one we use. "Perfect", perhaps, should be our kruna. Just a word that isn't used. The beauty of life is the plethora of experiences it offers, meaning there is no perfect. The beauty of martial arts is the plethora of techniques available, meaning once more that there is no perfect. Even a black belt doesn't reach perfectionism, where he knows all there is to know and trains it perfectly every day. It simply does not exist. Nothing and no one is perfect, so why do we even have the word in our language?
The more I reflect on perfectionism, the more I realize what a boring existence it would be anyhow. There would be nothing to learn, nothing to grow from, nothing to make life more thrilling. To do things perfectly always would drain life of much of its richness: the highs that are made possible only by the lows; the celebrations we are able to partake in only because of the failures we have also experienced. There is no perfect, and THAT is what makes life an adventure every day.
It is my intention from this day forward to continue pursuing my best self, but while also eliminating the idea of "perfect" and enjoying the imperfections of every day a little bit more. After all... the truth is each and every one of us is perfectly imperfect and that is what feeds the beautiful diversity our world is filled with. <3
Every fighter has experienced it.. that moment where your bread and butter move is changed and then your entire fighting paradigm seems to have been changed as well. You question yourself, and maybe you even question your previous training. Every time I have worked with a new coach I have always felt like I was starting over at square one.
One of the most frustrating techniques for me throughout my entire fight career has been the round kick, which is also one of the most basic fundamental techniques there is. So why the struggle? I am pretty sure for every single coach I have ever worked with, I have been shown a completely different "round kick", which frustrated my Type-A personality to no end. Being a "nerdy academic" my entire life, I have grown quite used to the learned step-by-step way of doing things. 2+2=4 no matter how many times you work the equation. The answer never changes, and the method for solving the equation is always the same. This has been the brain I have wrestled with on the training floor for years. Every time I was shown a new round kick I would question myself and wonder whether my previous training had been wrong or if "this" particular round kick was just a different round kick... It was all very confusing for a time.
During my time here in Thailand training at Phuket Top Team I have worked primarily with Kru Athit Praditphon who has a style that works really well for me. So much of what he has taught me has really sunken in and filled in the gaps of confusion I've had on when to use certain techniques, which has led to countless "a-ha moments" while learning from him. However, almost everything he has taught me, or has corrected in my technique, he has prefaced with "I am not telling you what you do is wrong; I am showing you MY style."
Combat sports is a stylistic art and for every coach you work with you are likely going to learn what works best for them. I tell my own students this all the time. The techniques I show are those that have worked well for me in my career. While I know how to teach other techniques, I don't like to show something if it hasn't worked out well for me in the past because I haven't developed an emotional buy-in for the technique. For instance, I much prefer round knees compared to straight knees. Perhaps this is because I landed numerous round knees to the body and head in my first professional fight for Glory Kickboxing, while I have found little success with the straight knee as of yet. So while I teach both, many of the combinations I show that include knees tend to involve the round knee because I have been "emotionally rewarded" for that one more often. However, I don't think this concept of style rather than an idea of right or wrong is always clarified to students, which I intend to make an effort to begin doing more often.
As the days have gone on I have continued to work primarily with Kru Praditphon, but a few of the other Krus have begun to step in and add their input to my training as well. It was after my first pad session with Kru Pariwat Wisripat that the entire concept of style really hit home in a whole new light. Everything I worked with him was completely different than what I had been working on with Kru Praditphon. In fact, the first few rounds made me feel like I had never done pad work before, something I have always felt frustration over when working with a new coach. What was really exciting for me though was being able to see for the first time how BOTH styles applied. I wasn't battling right over wrong technique in my mind. Instead I was adding to my tool box. Everything I had learned from Kru Praditphon was still in the forefront of my mind, but I was picking up new little tricks from Kru Wisripat's style as well.
Perhaps the problem in the past has been that I tended to only work with one coach, and this was one of the first times I had worked with two people at the same time and got to really experience the difference in styles in the present time rather than comparing past and present learning. Instead of being a good student and adding to my toolbox, I was getting stuck in the paradigm of right and wrong techniques. Such a mentality was only ever going to stunt my growth and plateau my career as a fighter. My time here at Phuket Top Team has taught me I have much to learn about not only teaching, but learning as well. I think learning how to be a good student is just as important as learning to be a good coach, and perhaps the only way to become a good coach is by learning to become a good student first.
"In Muay Thai, nothing is wrong. We do whatever we want. That is the Thai way. Sometimes we punch. Sometimes we kick. And sometimes we kick, but we kick this way instead of that way. There is no wrong in Muay Thai; there are just different styles. This is my style." ~Kru Athit Praditphon
Thank you to each and every one of the Krus at Phuket Top Team that has contributed to my learning as a fighter, as a student, and as someone who wishes to pass on this knowledge to others. Your impact on me has been a permanent one. <3
"Try to play."
"Try to play."
"Try to play."
These are the most commonly repeated words I have heard in training during my time here in Thailand at Phuket Top Team. "You're too serious." My kru, Athit Praditphon said to me last night while practicing clinch. "You must learn to play more." Of course, he is absolutely right, and this is not something I haven't heard before, but this advice has never quite sunken in as brilliantly as it has here while learning from him.
Thailand is known as the "Land of Smiles", and if you do your research you'll find varying reasons why, but in direct relation to how I see all the Thais acting in the gym... They are always smiling and playing, even when they're working hard. I feel like there is a lot to learn in this. When trying to correct something, we often sway from one extreme to the other. We hear Get to work! and we immediately stop playing and get serious; we hear Loosen up! and we stop working hard and start playing around. Watching the Thais train and work has shown me the reality that there is a sweet spot, so to say, in the middle somewhere. It is possible to both play AND work hard simultaneously.
When Kru Praditphon said these words to me last night it was because in an effort to try a newly learned sweep, I tensed up, forgot EVERYTHING else I knew about clinch work, waited stiffly for my opportunity to execute the sweep, and... got swept myself, over and over and over and over again in varying fashions. I kept asking what I was doing wrong and without realizing it, was essentially asking for a break down of every sweep I was caught in which, of course, was ABSURD in a group setting. As a coach myself, I know this all too well. When I am teaching a large group class and a student wants a step-by-step breakdown of something outside of what we're working on it can be frustrating, not because I don't appreciate their hunger for knowledge, but because there simply isn't enough time to work with every student individually like that, and to do so with one student would be unfair to the rest. That is what private lessons are for. And yet there I was, letting my perfectionist brain get the best of me and instead of watching, feeling and learning as I was swept, I wanted to receive the "quick fix breakdown".
"The Thai way is not to teach everything." Kru Praditphon said. "The Thai way is to learn some things from instruction and to learn other things from watching, feeling and trying. That is the Thai way. I know you know this, because you have children."
Light bulb! We don't teach our children everything. The majority of what they learn is from watching the world around them and then putting what they see into trial and error. Children learn from example and from practicing those examples, sometimes successfully and sometimes failing. Every fighter has heard some version of the saying We bleed in the gym so we don't bleed in the fight. Learning something, TRULY learning it, often means "losing" at it a thousand times first. While instruction is an important element of learning, it is not the only method, and requiring it to be so is like asking for the shortcut to your success. Relaxing, embracing the fact that repeated failures make us better, and just settling in to play and practice what we learn are what really facilitate mastery of any art. Only by getting caught in a technique do you truly understand the technique from both sides. If you only know how to execute the technique in principal you are less likely to fully understand it; you have to know how it feels.
While I am madly taking notes after every training session both for personal growth and to remember some specific drills I want to bring home to my students, if there is one thing that I am promising myself to take away from this trip it is those words I have heard so many times from Kru Praditphon. "Try to play." Not just in practice, but in the competition, in life, in my friendships, in my work... How much could we all benefit by learning to play a little more?
Much love from the Land of Smiles! Xo
From the moment I stepped foot on the plane leaving Denver, I wondered apprehensively when the debilitating anxiety would kick in. I was fully prepared to deal with many days of being stuck in bed as I worked through the messiness that had become my soul. However, as the days passed with only mild levels of anxiety at best, I began to wonder not when, but IF the anxiety would kick in. Perhaps it was nothing more than an unwarranted fear I had built up in my own mind. Finally, after allowing the experience of my first day in Bangkok to sit with me for a few days, I thought perhaps I had received the epiphany that had cured my anxiety and set free my demons once and for all.
But... it doesn't appear to be that simple. Epiphanies are great, but it's the epiphany in practice that really brings forth the healing. While I came to realize I couldn't identify as both a victim and a victor, that didn't erase the memories that are still there, and which still bring with them a sense of panic and urgency at times even though they no longer hold a place in the present. I'm not sure what finally sparked the fuse, but something opened the cage a few days ago and the most painful of the memories returned. Panic won and instead of going to practice as planned, I curled up in a ball under the covers like a child and spent the rest of the evening just reminding myself the sense of urgency was unwarranted and that was all I accomplished that evening.
The very healing realization that we are constantly given a choice to be either the victim or the victor was only the first step in the healing process. The second step is apparently mastering the war of deciphering past from present. Anxiety over past experiences is a funny thing. It's the mind remembering events in the past and signaling the release of hormones to induce a state of urgency in the present, a state of urgency that is completely unnecessary and seemingly impossible to honor since the task to complete is one set in the past.
I share this because I know many people struggle with anxiety and memories from their past that just won't seem to stop haunting them, and I would like to bear witness to the struggle. Wrestling with anxiety can be a tough battle and there is no quick fix to the battle strategy. While sometimes I use martial arts to literally wrestle with my past, and other times I use writing as a way to facilitate the flow of my thoughts regarding the past, there are time as well where curling up in a ball and just letting the memories wash over me is the best I can do. And that's okay. That is more than okay. A helpful quote I found in a book titled Soul Shifts by Dr. Barbara DeAngelis is "I will see what there is to see, feel what there is to feel, and know what there is to know." To me this meant remaining open to identifying life lessons as they are presented to us and then putting them into practice as we go, but practice is the key concept. There are no quick fixes... just a lot of opportunities to practice.
So for those of you coping strategically, and for those coping in a ball under the covers... You're doing just fine. Much love. Xo
A lover of words, magic, and the idea of changing the world by encouraging the pursuit of one dream at a time. Living the dream myself as a professional boxer, kickboxer, and MMA fighter.