Oh my….Muay Thai…..(the album version)

Some more of my novice observations from behind the gloves…. **please note – these have been written as flow/stream of consciousness and experience, rather than a thoroughly researched and well structured/ordered insight into technical detail….for the sticklers among you…;-) and I welcome your feedback.

My training has been way less than I had hoped to have done at this stage, owing to work, injury rehab, other training, teaching, admin overload and more stuff at home to deal with than you could shake a stick at, but it has been relatively regular, if lacking in overall volume. When I bung my gloves on the back seat and drive away from a session with sweat still stinging my eyes, eagerly planning the stuff I need to cover in my next class, it doesn’t matter how close to the lactic acid “throw threshold” I got to and how badly my shins are throbbing, being keen for more and that feeling of anticipation before my heart rate has even returned to it’s resting rate is a good sign that my manipura and anahata chakras are bold and bright about my training!

As with practicing anything new, the learning curve is not neat with perfectly incremental steady improvements. In fact, mine resembles an ECG from a cardiac patient on some weeks – irregular spikes of improvement followed by random plateaus, then (seemingly) massive troughs followed by another spike and so on. It’s been interesting to assess how I learn as I am learning, as well as doing the actual learning itself, although some of you might have already spotted this flaw in my learning – this Russian doll/navel gazing/infinite analysis leading to paralysis…..my teachers have been great, knowing when to indulge my inner geek, my manomaya kosha, and give me the detail and the understanding I seek, and then getting me to just hit the darn pads and quick enough so I don’t have time to think – switch off and switch on.

See it, try it, think it, feel it, know it.

All 5 of my koshas integrated in the learning process, ploughing that neural movement path way through all 5 energetic bodies and then the bliss when they all click and I flow. This happens with more frequency lately, but it’s still a pretty rare occurrence…It takes repetition, drills, focus. I trained today and frankly I was rubbish….I need more repetition AND TIME.

Spikes in learning have been triggered by some fairly obvious sources.

Foot work on a tractor tyre for instance.

If you’re wondering how on earth that in any way is obvious, it’s all about rhythm. The bounce from the tyre, overriding the thinking too much flatfoot leg lock stance that is often evident when first learning, re-connected my movement smoothly to my breath. The rhythm and the breath is the foundation and everything else flows from there (sound familiar yogis?!) – especially balance… Balance is crucial for energetic flow, and also so I fully commit to punches and kicks rather than being half arsed for fear of miss kicking or putting myself on the floor with no intervention from any opponent.

And then there is sparring………which ought to come under the heading of “fast track learning”, and so far, I have only done a handful of controlled sessions with teachers….in 5 minutes it highlights every weakness I have to work on (which is pretty much everything) and I come away with a list as long as my instructor’s arm (ie, much longer than my own ) of aspects to practice. Sparring has also taught me (rapidly) that the toughest, trickiest yet also the most predictable opponent I need to beat initially is myself. Under pressure and with the distraction of being punched at repeatedly to highlight the gaping holes in my (shockingly poor) guard, the techniques I haven’t yet adequately drilled into instinctive muscle memory all come undone, and I revert to flinching/winging it with neon arrows flashing and sign posting these massive gaps in my guard. Every time I take another irritating jab or light hook (they are all light coming back at me at this stage), I take it personally as an illustration of my inadequacy as not only does this disrupt my own flow and planned selection of techniques that I was going to use, it frustrates me. With frustration comes tension and a scattering of focus, as awareness shifts to my perceived inadequacy/skill weakness, my inability to “be ok with that” (ego – argh! ego…..poor tolerance for my own inadequacy when I should practice acceptance and let go and move on, being utterly in the moment) instead I get momentarily sucked into how “I feel” about it, rather than just feeling it…..and then there is the frustration at all the fitness and strength work I have done that I am unable to access because my skills are currently too poorly developed to do so. As a champing at the bit sort of gal, this one does NOT sit well with me! I love to feel the flow, disrupting it annoys me, and that frustration I generate internally and do to myself, REALLY disrupts it…..my old self sabotage samskara comes up again (the abuse I hurl at myself with my own internal dialogue, a kaleidoscope of colourful language and criticism is unleashed!)

I have controlled – and continue to do so on a daily basis – this petulant gobby internal critic on my yoga mat with time and absolute focus and attention directed inwardly, but in the ring under pressure (of sorts), with external random stuff flying at you, keeping that part of me quiet is a test! And just when I get a glimpse of internal peace and total focus with the punches coming at me, then I get a random kick that I did not see coming to really get me frustrated with myself. I need more training, more drills, more meditation….. I feel this, I KNOW this….

Also sparring revealed something I hadn’t anticipated….unloading on to pads is one thing, trying to kick someone in the stomach is something else. My massage and yoga work is all based upon the premise of fixing, helping and healing people, shifting my attitude with ref to doing something that could potentially hurt someone was, well, a conceptual leap for me. Until they go to hit you back – then you get over it, pretty quickly actually.

And then…..then….

there is Interclub!

This is a sort of restricted/controlled, safe form of competition, where it is supposed to be a test of skill sets rather than attempting to knock your opponent into next week (eg punching the head is allowed, elbowing it is not). My first experience of this (spectating) was on August bank holiday Saturday at Unit 1 (www.unit1gym.com). It was a display of a fairly broad range of ability and fitness and experience (and a fairly broad range of perception of ability and fitness and experience!), and a whole lotta love!

Yes, really.


Any event, where you have a gathering of individuals all united by the same passion is an energetically potent place to be. You can feel the air fizzing with that anticipation and connection. Whether it’s a gig, a busy buzzing yoga workshop or a packed Muay Thai Interclub, you walk into that space and feel yourself plugging into the collective experience. The respect between (most) fighters is palpable – there is nothing brutal or “UG” about this, it’s about skill, focus, fitness and energy. It is a martial art. It’s not dumb aggression and having something to prove – “it is about sculpting your energy with the breath to manifest into controlled movements with precision and awareness to the absolute best of your potential ability whilst another source of energy seeks to disrupt yours” (as previously stated – see earlier post). Feeling that respect between 2 fighters (let alone all the other fighters watching) is feeling the love – it’s a similarly powerful and visceral vibe to that which you feel in a particularly challenging sequence in a yoga class where the whole room lifts with the collective effort and focus of everyone trying to control their own energy and overcome their own dvesha (or even avidya) they experience through an asana. Total focus on balancing holding on and letting go. Awareness but non attachment. Being absorbed in the absence of effort as well as effort itself, it’s not easy and well all know it and the deeper we go, though our experience is personal, unique and in the moment, it’s also the thread that connects us all. It is individual yet universally collective….  And for some yogis who feel slightly critical of my venture into Muay Thai, it is worth remembering that our access points may all be different but we are all one and the same.

Watching each fight had me living every punch and block and breath and clatter and error and smile and battle to maintain that level of unblinking concentration yet still stay relaxed.

I barely breathed for the first 5 fights, and

I LOVED IT (can you tell?)

So considering I am currently novice, know little, am monitoring a few recent injuries of my own and have a minimal skill set so far…..I still found myself being drawn to it and thinking “wow, I’ll have me some of that!”

Then I started to properly consider it.

95% of me was thoroughly YEEEEHAAA about it and 5% was FFS you’re not in your 20s (*ahem*) anymore, you will get your arse kicked and you won’t be able to work. The 5% self preservation voice is a new character in my gaggle of quarreling internal dialogue, (brought about by being self employed and old apparently) so I am sure I can silence her with a well aimed internal left hook.

With respect (obviously).

It’s ahimsa because it’s a (martial) art…..

I also concluded that yep, I might have a go, if I can train a lot, A LOT more and I will need to meditate for at least an hour to calm down enough to get my gloves on, and also go on last, when practically everyone else has gone home and no-one will be watching.

My shin pads have arrived and my gum shield is on order.

That is all.

Jacqui, your insight into the essence of Muay Thai already, despite your short period of training is amazing. There are fighters that have trained for many, many years that don’t have your level of understanding in this respect.

The parallels with yoga are striking – thank you for sharing your discoveries! It’s fascinating to realise that we are both approaching the same learning, the same personal growth and discovery, from the opposite ends of the same spectrum. I always learn so much myself in our sessions too.

Don’t be too hard on yourself, keep that internal voice in check. That’s a big part of your training too. As you know, the physical motor skills take time to develop… and you are getting there!

Keep up the good work, both in the ring and on this blog 🙂

Kindest regards,

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