"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
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.