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Deborah on her Facebook today posted a beautiful series of thoughts on training, sparring and fighting that come out of her dissappointment of Saturday’s loss (after a two-year hiatus from muay thai), and she allowed us to repost them here.  I feel that this is not an isolated experience and that many fighters would recognize something of themselves in her words.  (For instance, I wrote of similar frustration after my first fight, found here.)  Learning to fight means so many things to people, and the process of learning the art involves so much, part of the idea of bringing a Sparring Circle together is that we are able to share some of these experiences with each other, to make each of us better. 

Constructive learning

I’ve had this conversation a few times in the last few months since I’ve been back at 5 Points. When I first started fighting, I had a different kind of fuel and a different emotional mindset to fuel my aggression. I was good at channeling that. But now, I find that I have been having difficulties finding that aggression in sparring and in fighting. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s a transition that I’ll have to make.

Last night was my first Muay Thai fight in 2 years and it was the first time I definitively lost a fight. The other losses I’ve had were dubious yet I either knew I won and/or knew that I had put in a really good fight. A definitive loss feels different. 2 years is a long time to go between Muay Thai fights and it’s not quite like learning how to ride a bicycle again. Even though the skills are there, the ring sharpness is not quite there and I felt a little frustrated with my performance. Yes, I can make excuses and yes, sometimes those excuses can impact the fight. I weighed in 3 pounds lighter than the girl I fought and after both of us rehydrated and ate, she was probably a good 5-7 pounds heavier than me with a little bit more height + years of martial arts training (probably a good 15-20 years of doing stuff with TSK.

Which brings me to a little tangent…you can always tell when someone has had extensive martial arts training starting as a child. I only started doing Muay Thai in my late 20s and only started fighting when I turned 30. It’s a totally different place to be coming from and honestly, the girl brought that aggression into the ring and I didn’t bring enough. My first round I was a bit overwhelmed by her pace and her nonstop punching. The second and third rounds were better and I landed a lot of low kicks on her. I didn’t let my hands go.

She probably had the fastest hands I’ve fought or trained against and after our fight we chatted a bit and she admitted to training a lot with a really good boxer. I could tell. And I noticed that at 5 Points, we’re a very technical gym. Which is good in some ways, but the way we train and spar sometimes makes it harder to fight against someone who may not be so technical but just comes in with sheer aggression and flurries because there’s so much more pressure than you’re used to training with. I can train to hit the pads all day long but it’s harder to train with someone just attacking with sheer volume.

I also noticed that I wasn’t that confident going in. It’s another thing that I’ve been struggling with since my break from fighting. I know I have the wind, I know I have the skills, I just have to trust in myself to let it go. It’s getting better by dint of working with all the coaches, but I think I have to get that confidence back in the ring and I think this fight is a good starting point because NOW I remember what it’s like to get in there.

So things to mull over/work on:

– Emily and I had a good conversation about fighting at 115. It’s hard as all fuck, but good lord, I looked freaking small compared to the girl I fought and I was obviously the smaller/lighter girl in the match and that is never fun! It’s not going to be easy to get to that weight, I’ll have to eat only about 1500-1600 calories a day to maintain a lower weight and then when I have to hit 115, I’ll have to cut down to 1200 calories a day.

– Add back more strength training to my routine…I want to be stronger than I was last night because, for the first time, I had trouble keeping her in my clinch. She just popped me out like it was nothing. I was like…wtf!?

– Confidence

– Throwing more than I throw because I am holding myself back and thinking that I can’t do as much as I can. I can, the coaches know I can, I just need to turn off that thing in my head that keeps holding me back

– Finding how to turn on that aggression. I gotta stop being so nice. On the plus side, though, the girl I fought said that her leg was going to hurt because I low-kicked the shit out of it. Which reminds me, when I started fighting, I had nothing on my kicks and was more of a hands girl. Now I have a good leg weapon and I’m pretty happy about that. Now to work on letting my hands go because they are fast and I can hit hard

– And one of the things about the coaches is they do give me tough fights. With the exception of a fight at Nationals 2 years ago, 5 of my 6 fights have been against tough as nails scrappy and strong women who come in fucking aggressive and ready to rip my throat out. Next time I gotta bring it.

The Cost of Sparring

There is, for me, in sparring a difficult line drawn jagged through the sand.  One wants to get the most out of it, which means working hard and being agressive but also holding back enough that injuries and egos are kept to a minimum.  As an outsider – someone who does not belong to any of the gyms I visit – I also feel a need to acquiesce to the tone and rules of the host.  There is, however, a difference between this and respect.  The latter, I feel, is more important.  Respect permits one to give more to the opponent and get more out of the experience. 

I’m not advocating that we try to knock one another out and bludgeon each other without regard to the difference between fighting and sparring.  But I do believe that the core of sparring is putting oneself in uncomfortable situations and learning how to deal with that discomfort.  This all relies on communication, which is the core of respect.  Many times I’ve gone sparring against someone who tells me not to hit hard, and then hits me hard.  Or trainers at gyms will point out my size to my sparring partners and instruct them to “take it easy.”  In some cases, this results in the session being too soft and I feel robbed of a valuable chance to improve – but all I have to do is open my mouth and say something.  All it takes is a few checks throughout, saying “more,” “less,” or “not that.”  We just have to respect what each person wants and needs out of the experience.

At the WKA Buddy Lee delivered an epiphany to a crowd of fighters who’d stayed to cheer their teams:

“Train how you want to fight.”  Amen.

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