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.