I am back! 2 fights later and largely unscathed, with the only battle scar to show for my efforts being a blotchy foot-sized bruise on my left thigh. Really though, I have walked away with much, much more.
Hold up, wait a minute. Two, you say?! Let me explain.
I ended my last blog post with the day of my first fight. Surprisingly (maybe not for those who know me), I slept perfectly fine the night before. My coach had warned to expect a sleepless night of anxious tossing and turning, but 8 hours later I woke to my alarm reminding me I had somewhere to be. Unable to eat or drink in fear of not making weight, I sat mostly in silence on the car ride there trying both to conserve energy and figure out why I still wasn’t feeling anything. Hello- nerves, fear, anxiety, excitement, is anyone home?
We arrived at the venue right on time at 10am, whole team huddled outside the doors to greet us. Once pleasantries were exchanged and I started to feel the cold seeping through my jumper, I started suspecting something was not right with this venue. Doors were locked, lights off and there was no-one else in sight other than our team. Coach went to ask the hotel reception next door whether they had access to a key – and came back telling us that we were at the wrong venue. Excellent start. Half an hour later we all made it to the right place and the first thing I noticed was that it was filled with children. Seems we were the only non-local team to come with a group of adults rather than adolescents. Nonetheless, we had all been matched. Unfortunately our girls, except for me, had been matched with 15-year olds (champ level, this wasn’t bullying by a long shot) so no headshot were allowed in their fights. Difficult with an art like MT.
Weigh-ins were over by 11:30 and it was just a waiting game from then. I was last in my team to fight, so all in all waiting time added up to about 6 hours. I started to become nervous when one of our girls had her front tooth knocked out during her fight. Yes, by a 15 year old. Not much could unsettle me more than thinking about losing any of my teeth. A rush of feelings came to me at the same time when my gloves were put on and I was standing in the back waiting for my name to be called, I forced my breathing to become longer and deeper and tried to concentrate on my game plan and drills I had practiced in the weeks beforehand.
My fight itself was a bit of a blur, I became overly excited after the first 30 seconds when I realised she wasn’t hitting back and started throwing wild and long combinations. Some landed, some didn’t, but the lesson I took away from that was that I needed to keep my hands tight, always. Even if I’m excited and my opponent is less skilled or experienced, I can’t accept bad habits to be formed in fights because one swift head kick could have KO’d me. In my flurry, I remember gasping for air in my corner after each round and becoming really tired by the 4th (4/5). I couldn’t have asked for anything more in my first fight, with my match-up being the same height as me, and LFF eagle team, coach and HD in my corner. It fared me well for confidence and I went home pleased with my experience, but most importantly uninjured.
I took my first fight very seriously in the 4 week lead-up to it, disciplined in training and eating and feeling apprehensive about my opponent because I knew nothing about her other than her having more fight experience than me.
The day after my first fight, coach messaged me asking if I wanted to do another one the coming weekend. “I know this is what you want to do, so that’s why I’m asking so soon.” Ok sure, I told him; I will relax this time round, I told myself. Because of the short notice, it didn’t give my mind much time to start freaking out about the fight itself until Thursday. Then it went into overly freak-out mode when I found out my opponent was taller than me and trained with a really established MT team in London. They have something like 10-15 ranked worldwide fighters and my gym has a big fat record of zero.
When I walked into the stadium on Sunday and saw the set-up of audience seats, DJ booth, cameras and elevated ring, my stomach went queasy and I realised that the week before was a mere warm-up. Weigh ins were done efficiently, although with zero privacy. Everyone (20+ guys plus me as the only girl at the time) stripped in the locker room and stepped on the scales in the middle of the room like it was nothing.
I was the first to fight in my team this time, so waiting time reduced significantly. By the time we got back from eating, I started getting changed, coach wrapped my hands professionally with gauze and tape and then rubbed my legs down with Thai oil. A quick warmup was done and I sat waiting for about half an hour before we went downstairs to the ring. My warmup was done a bit prematurely, but I guess that’s the thing with these kind of events at such a large venue – it’s hard to keep a tab on what fight is on and how many there are to go until your own. I saw my opponent warming up, and she looked sharp, but after 10 seconds of staring I decided to put on my headphones and keep my head in its own space. Breathe, relax. My body didn’t seem to want to comply as my leg started shaking as I was sitting there and didn’t stop until it was time for me to get up. Coach taped my gloves secure, and put vaseline on my face before bringing me downstairs. This is the turning point for your mind – when it starts to really focus on what’s ahead, making exterior noise and surroundings fade.
Waiting ringside for your name to be called is nerve-racking, but nothing can be worse for your self confidence than toppling over the ropes and falling into the ring onto your backside in front of the whole crowd – and opponent. Though it was excruciatingly embarrassing, I still found it funny and laughed at myself because something like that could only happen to me.
Standing in my corner the few seconds before my fight, I could feel that this atmosphere was completely different from the last. The crowd, the quality of fights I’d seen earlier, the seriousness of the fighters, the traditional Thai music playing. Whilst my coach was cramming last minute advice to me, I desperately tried to find the zen within, though all that was came back a slight sense of panic. However in my last seconds before the bell, I dug deeper and found my confidence – I knew my pain threshold could take hits, I knew I had skills to strike and I knew how to use footwork to my advantage. As the ref called us into the middle and I stared at my opponent straight in the eyes, I knew I could do this.
When the fight started, nerves and any sense of anxiety disappeared. I didn’t feel an adrenaline rush in my second fight – I felt focused, alive and determined to make my shots count. The fight was a really tough one from the start to the end and it was a huge step up from the week before. This girl had reach, she was a pure MT fighter (unlike me), and landed many good kicks. The ref told me 3 times to go lighter on my punches, I’d never hit another person – guy or girl, with so much intention before. I’m not a masochist – I didn’t feel good when I landed a punch and saw her head snap back, I don’t think I feel anything at the time as my brain processes this is just how it had to be – survive. When the fight ended, I was happy with my performance and how many strikes I landed, but it wasn’t until my coach and team were literally buzzing with excitement at how well I did and my coach especially, at how proud he was with me and reenacting parts of my fight, that I felt really happy about the last 6 minutes.
And that’s it. 6 minutes is short but so much can be accomplished. Facing someone that actually wants to hurt you and being ok with it is a concept I’m still trying to grasp, but I feel comfortable in the ring. Thoughts get left behind leaving you with instinct and muscle memory. The most rewarding part is knowing that I trained hard and prepared as best I could, and then coming to face a very worthy opponent to test these skills. No easy fights from here on out.
Let’s do it again.