Getting into the Muay Thai Ring for the First Time and What it Meant to Me
Testing the Limits of what is possible when you never thought you could
Over the weekend of October 24th, 2015 I had my first muay thai fight in Pai, Thailand since I started doing muay thai more than a year ago. I never expected to fight, it wasn’t in the cards, it wasn’t me but somehow some way I did it.
Leading up to the fight I was training like I usually do. I didn’t to private lessons with one of the trainers because I didn’t have the money. I’ve been in spend as little as possible for a while and that wasn’t going to change any time soon.
I’d tell people at some point I would freak out but it never happened. I have seen a lot of people prepare to fight and everyone is different. Some people go hard, that wasn’t me. The day of the fight I wrote this on Facebook:
I carry no fear, no regret and no anger into the #muaythai ring. I leave the negative behind, some say you need a killer instinct my version of that is determination, admiration and respect.
I will give everything I have to show the utmost respect to my opponent to be worthy of their time and training. I go with hope and joy at my back and a smile on my face because I know the outcome is irrelevant as long as I leave it all in the ring.
See you all on the other side.
I had talked to a few people about fighting and some would use anger as their edge but I knew that wasn’t who I was. If I was worried about winning I don’t think I could have done it at all.
This comes back to something I discovered about myself when I was trekking in Nepal that I had to let go of the fear. That in the case of this fight I had to go in it with the right intentions which wasn’t about hurting my opponent but about giving him my best as my way of showing the my respect for their own training.
Each of the Four of us who were preparing to fight that weekend did it differently. Two of them trained together, doing fighter specific training, one of us was doing privates and then there was me who was doing the least, I just did the normal classes with the addition of running every morning and maybe biking in the afternoon.
I wanted to train with the other guys who were going harder and more intense than I could. I may have been recovering from an injury but but even with that I felt I wasn’t going to be ready. I couldn’t ask to train like these guys were because I was just not on their level of focus or intensity.
Some of these guys just looked like tanks while I felt more like a kid playing pretend and I know intellectually that it wasn’t true, that I had just as much right to get into the ring as anyone else but I didn’t feel like I belonged but then again I never have so this is why I had to let go of the fear.
I wasn’t on their level, I never thought I could win and was just hoping to not embarrass my gym or the trainers at Charn Chai Muay Thai. I’d watch them in the boxing ring practicing with more focus than I could ever come up with. It was intimidating to say the least but I just did my own thing.
As the fight came closer the owner of the gym would joke to me about having an ambulance on stand by for me which was I have to admit was funny if infuriating for me. I took no offence to it or anything but it reinforced the narrative that “I couldn’t” which I’ve become all too familiar with long before I came to the gym to train.
During the training I was asked to do more than I ever have but although that is true and everyone was always supportive their actions were so much louder than their words. Only one trainer really came up to me and told be specifically he believed I could succeed, that I could win.
That is something I will remember because while others joked it was something I needed to let go. It didn’t matter if I was given the same intensity of training as the other guys fighting or if I felt like I was the pretender, all that mattered was that in the moment the ram muay started I give it everything I was not just physically but emotionally not to prove to anyone but myself that I could not only reach the summit but that I could go for the next one on the horizon.
One thing I didn’t put in that Facebook post was letting go of doubt because I had way too many doubts for me to give that voice. What I did was carry no expectation into the ring, not of winning and not of losing. All I could do was give it everything I had and no matter the outcome that was going to be enough for me.
When the day of the fight came, the four of us foreigners fighting became three as one person had to sit it out to recover from being sick. While they knew what they were doing I was lost, not having any idea what I was going to do.
I’ve always felt like an outsider not just at the gym but in life in general and that hasn’t changed. I was not like them but that was OK, I could only be me. I was never going to be the one at the gym that you would notice. I blended into the background and got lost among the sea of people but I was consistent. I came and came and came rain or shine, hurt or not.
So while I may not have had the intensity of the other fighters from Charn Chai Muay Thai that night I knew that being consistent gave me the fitness and conditioning I needed to survive the fight to come. I never thought I was good enough and it is great to prove to yourself even if just for a night that I had the skills to take me from start to finish.
Muay Thai is a striking art and I was afraid of the pain of the kicks I would have to take and when the night came I arrived seeing one of our guys in the ring. I was oiled up like a duck being prepared for a roast all the while though I was calm.
Was I nervous? Oh yeah but I was not afraid, I was not worried and I think it was “letting go” that set me free. I am severely near sighted and they took my glasses well before I got into the ring and in some odd why that probably helped.
Instead of focusing I just took things as they came. I had done everything I could even if I didn’t feel the training I had done since I was told I was going to fight was enough it wasn’t just that training it was the months and months of it that would carry me to the end.
When I got to the ring I wanted to do the ram muay a.k.a. the muay thai dance but didn’t get a chance to and before I knew it I was in the ring. In the first few moments I got kicked in the jaw with my opponent’s foot and went down. I’d end up meeting the ring floor 3 times in that first round.
I was really worried about the pain of the kicks, I was anticipating the worst and when it didn’t happen I knew it was on. I wasn’t really thinking when I was in the fight more like I was reacting. I couldn’t think tactics or what to do next I pretty much just kicked and punched, trying to mix it up a little bit as I went.
The entire fight lasted a little more than 14 minutes from when the moment we each sealed the ring to the end. It didn’t even feel like it was me. It was another person or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I had to become another person in order for me to let the months and months of training come to the forefront.
In this video which was taken by a friend of mine they said we just went at it and I am glad that as the last fight of the night that I could help make it worth the wait and at least give the people betting on who would win or lose a good time.
There is nothing like stepping into the ring for the first time, I was calm and just went for it. I would have to face knees, clinch and so on. My opponent had more reach but I had better fitness not just from the running but from the constant training over a long period of time and really I think that was the difference between winning and losing for me.
I would say we were about equal in skill level with my opponent maybe being a little better than me but I had the fitness and consistency on my side. It was a little luck, a lack of fear and a lot of heart that got me through this fight.
It ended in the 4th round with a technical knockout by a double jam. I never thought winning was a possibility in my heart of hearts. While I was free of the need to win by not believing that I could win I did myself a disservice.
Often I focus on the negatives not the positives and the fighters and trainers said go knock the other guy out I would always act as if I’d be the one to get KO’ed.
So on the Monday after the fight I went right back to the gym and training as usual. I didn’t think I would go back right away but I felt pretty good and just had to get back into things. That Monday the trainer that setup the fight told me that my opponent wanted a rematch.
On twitter @FightQuality said “it sounds like he sees you as a milestone he needs to beat, so be proud that you’ve earned that position.” That is a privilege and one I have to earn by giving him a good rematch not to win but out of respect for him wanting to face me again.
I will train with joy that I’ve been held to that standard and that I can make it worth his determination be it I win or lose. That is still how I will go at it with a pinch more strategy as well for good measure. So cheers to a rematch on November 16th, 2015.
Each fight the stakes reset, where it doesn’t matter what happened before, all that matters is what you do to prepare, what you take with you into the ring and what you leave behind. I don’t take the win with me, I take the knowledge that I can instead of I can’t.
I learned that I can do it, I will never be a natural fighter but consistency and heart can take you farther than you expect if you give it the chance. At the end of the fight you couldn’t wipe the grin off my face, although I didn’t hear the screaming it was great having so many people from the gym and Pai cheering me on.
It meant a lot for me to fight here, a place I’ve come to call home for the past year and while I could have fought sooner than this I felt that this was the perfect point for me to get into the ring and no matter what else happens nothing can take that away.
Thanks to everyone who was there, to those who left messages of support, to the trainers that got me there and will get me to the ring again. It was a privilege to be called Eric Chran Chai Muay Thai and to say that at least for 14 minutes I was a muay thai fighter, that was never expected but is something I will never forget.
When asked why I fought or why why I fight it is to go beyond my limitations and test myself in as much a physical and mental way so that I can say if I can do that, then what else is possible for me to achieve?
I wasn’t treated like the other fighters because I am not like them, I don’t have their physical capacity or ability to take tactics into account but I was glad that even when my technique was poor and I was exhausted beyond measure I showed that I had heart from beginning to the end. That was where my passion lay, that was what I had to do to be in the moment calm and at peace no matter what ending would be written.
What came before doesn’t define your worth, what matters is reaching for your best self each day and as the tomorrow becomes the now. For me I let that first fight go and prep for the fight yet to come both in the ring and in life…. let’s go.