Happy one-year anniversary, Muay Thai. 2017 was not the year I travelled the most or dined most extravagantly but it certainly was the year I grew the most. And I have you to thank for carrying me through it all.
When I first started, I had no idea if I would like you or not. I’ve tried a lot of things in life that I thought I liked, but in hindsight, I could see that I liked the idea of me pursuing them as opposed to actually ‘doing the thing’. I’ve also put myself through a lot of things in life that I didn’t like, with a headstrong resilience that I was simultaneously proud of and resented. But you, you are different. I’ll never forget our first time, my first lesson. A free trial in the middle of a Sydney heatwave, of an Australian summer, that made it feel like we were training in a sauna. I was quick to pair myself up with Jessie, the only other person that I could see that was somewhat my size. She was kind and patient enough to deal with me, who must have been the worst pad-holder she’s ever had. I hope I’m better now, I know I try to be.
Truth be told, I don’t remember much of the class, only two things. One was the 100 pyramid kicks at the end which I couldn’t finish because I felt like I was about to faint. Two, was what my then trainer said to me in response:
‘Your first time exercise?’ he asked.
Man, did that get to me! I had thought I was reasonably fit from going to a regular gym every morning, but you were an entirely new level of intensity. If the class itself didn’t already ignite my passion for the sport, that taunt (although I’m sure he meant well) cemented my resolve to get better.
The next few months were shaky for me. There were times when I would end my day in tears, due to the chaos that was my life at the time. But the step-by-step process of each Muay Thai class became my saving grace. Methodically wrapping my hands was the slow build up and skipping though initially hard, became catatonic. Drills and pad-work were the climax and stretching brought me back down. I could never say you were the cure but you were a relief and you kept me going. Somehow breaking myself physically on a regular basis seemed to take me to a place I’ve never been, somewhere I could finally find peace.
Training twice a week turned into thrice which then turned into cancelling my other gym membership to focus solely on Muay Thai, five days out of seven. Right now, I try to clock in six to eight hours a week. It’s like an extra day of full time work, and when that’s not possible, I supplement with running. I used to hate running, but for you, I’d do anything.
You’ve changed my life, not just in the way I exercise but also in all other important aspects. I’ve become less picky about food, not every experience has to be a pleasurable exploration of gastronomy, as long as the nutrition was adequate. I try to eat healthy but I’m not the best at getting my macros in. Muay Thai has given me a reason to be better. And for the times when I am eating out, the feasting tasted all the richer. I also used to obsess over having abs and a butt. And while they’re still a nice to have, training became about better technique and building stamina. I learned that my body isn’t just a canvas for vanity, it could do things and create purposeful movement.
Travel has always been experience driven for me, but being part of such an inclusive sport opened new avenues for meeting people and trying new things. In the year that I started Muay Thai, I’ve not just trained in several gyms across Sydney, but in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, all under great trainers and in amazing spaces. It’s an all-new level of immersion when travelling and by far my favourite way to get to know people and live like a local. This was only possible through the network of people I’ve come to know both online and offline. I’m excited for what’s to come this year, with half my suitcase already dedicated to my gloves, shin guards, mouthguard, hand wraps and active wear.
We’ve been through ups and downs as well, throughout our relationship. There were periods where progress felt like a cha-cha with one step forward and two steps back. A few weeks at the end of 2017, overtraining cast a dark cloud over me and I was unable to muster the same upbeat attitude that I had grown accustomed to wearing each session. I juggle you the way anyone juggles a work-life balance, except this is a work-Muay Thai-everything else balance. Perhaps most strikingly of all, is the fact that right now, I’m currently at my third or fourth gym in Sydney and sometimes the instability isn’t fun when I just want a gym family to call home. But you are a metaphor of yourself, and my greatest takeaway is that this is all about the process. I’ve made fast friendships and parted ways with more, but whether bitter or sweet, I’m grateful for every interaction and every person who has been part of the journey in making me stronger.
I believe everyone should practice Muay Thai and I say this with as much humility and humbleness as any one person can muster. I’m a tiny Asian girl, a “casual”, not a fighter nor an Instagram model of fitspiration, the most unlikely candidate to have fallen in love with you. And if I can do it, so can anybody. I am proud of this sport that I train in, proud of the way I’ve pulled myself together, proud of failures as much as I am of successes. Because even when my back is against the wall, I know that I’ll always have myself (and a good, strong push kick) to rely on. To misquote Tupac, ‘all I need in this life of sin, is me and Muay Thai’. Here’s to many more years of being together.