When in Thailand, do as the Thais do. Eat spicy curry for dinner and then have weird dreams? Check. Dodge dogs in the middle of the road while driving a motor scooter? Check. Use your shins as kicking bags for two hours until they’re bruised black and blue? Okay, so maybe that’s not what most Thai people do, but the sport of Muay Thai did originate in Thailand, and I have now experienced it firsthand.
Muay Thai is known for being the most effective standup martial art, in that it inflicts a great deal of damage and pain on its participants. And, it inflicts the most pain on those participants who haven’t the slightest clue what they are doing and are doing pad work with some of the best on an island of about 11,000 people.
As noted in the letter I wrote to my future self, fear can be crippling, and it can lead to stagnancy and boredom, two things I don’t like. However, I also don’t like doing things I’m not good at, and tend to shy away from them and stick to what I know I can already do. Part of the impetus for my 30×30 challenge was to get out of my comfort zone and do new things, and this goal highlights that especially well.
Though I took karate as a kid, I only made it as far as being a white belt with two green stripes. Granted, I felt like we took ages to test up, but those two mere stripes are not a bad indication of how long I stuck with the activity, or how much, or little, I learned. When I walked into the Diamond Muay Thai training camp, I felt as new as the three tiny kittens that barely had their eyes open that were crawling around and quietly mewing in a crate on top of the lockers. I felt as out of place as Kanye West at a Taylor Swift concert. (I know, that’s a really old reference, but I think it’s pretty timeless, in that I don’t think Mr. West will ever attend a Taylor Swift concert).
The first activity was to jump rope on the mats in front of the mirrors. Okay, that was easy enough. I worked up a little sweat—mostly because it’s pretty much always sweat-inducing weather in Thailand—but I felt comfortable. I had jumped many a rope in my nearly thirty years.
Next, we were to put wraps on our hands and wrists to protect them while we punched. The trainer who would be working with me—there was heaps of one-on-one time with the trainers—helped me with my wraps, as it was obvious I didn’t know what I was doing.
Then, I was basically thrown into pad work. Having just read the Bible, I felt like Daniel when he was thrown into the den of lions, only with my atheistic beliefs, I would have only myself on which to rely. And, as it turned out, my inexperienced, unknowing self really wasn’t the best choice.
My trainer was patient, which I very much appreciated, and he showed me the proper technique for jabbing, crossing, elbowing, kicking and blocking. I know the trainers work with farangs (foreigners) all the time, but that was little consolation to me because I compare myself to myself more than to others. I want to be able to do something, and do it well, not look like a beginner who needs all the help she can get.
I worked out the punches pretty quickly, which pleased me, but the kicking was an entirely different story. In a different language. Speaking of language, there was a language barrier that made things a little more difficult than they already were, in that my trainer knew only a few words in English, and the only things I can say in Thai are “hello” and “thank you.” Those sayings are nice in restaurants, but worthless at a Muay Thai camp. I hardly wanted to thank him at any point during the torture session, or after when I was hobbling around in pain—though I still did, because I try to be grateful for everything, which was a note taken from my thirty days of gratitude.
When my trainer blocked my crosses (punches with my right hand), his strength crippled my already grandma-like wrists. When I blocked his kicks, my shins crumbled under the force of what was surely a light, wimpy kick for him. When I kicked, well, it would have been comical if it hadn’t nearly brought me to tears. Not from the pain, though it became considerably more evident as time wore on, but from feeling like I wasn’t getting the hang of it. At one point the owner approached me and showed me how to do it, as if another person showing me would help me get it. No, but thank you for trying. What it did result in was more frustration on my part (see the note about me despising being bad at something).
To further illustrate the proper technique, the owner used my cushiony behind as a kicking bag, to show me the difference in the way I was kicking and the way I should be kicking. I can use a word I’m not fond of (because of its rampant misuse) and say that in Muay Thai I literally got my ass kicked.
Fast forward to two hours later. I was pretty happy with my punching and blocking, and I had miraculously managed to slip in one or two kicks that were only minimally embarrassing. I was also a sweaty mess, and my right knee, shin and foot were too sore to even cry with pain.
I have even more respect for Muay Thai fighters, and even just those who train all the time, than I did before trying my hand—and shin, and knee, and elbow—at it.