Trials of the spirit

Oh shit, it’s a new post!

I’ve left this blank since we came home from Thailand because it was primarily to keep everybody updated on what we were doing on the other side of the planet, and since we’ve been home, communicating is a lot easier. But I’ve been getting a lot of questions about my fight, and I’m getting tired enough of repeating myself that I figured it wouldn’t hurt to put down my thoughts in writing.

So let’s get the big one out of the way first- yes, I lost. It happens. Obviously I would have loved to have come out on top, but I’m not really that broken up about it. I know I trained as hard as I could, and I know I went as hard as I could while I was in there. So while it didn’t fall out my way, at least I don’t have to sit here and second-guess everything I did over the last month and a half.

As a fighter, you’re tested on a pretty regular basis, from the little things(don’t eat that donut even if you’re not on your fight diet, fatty, you already ate half a pie yesterday) to the big ones(it’s 100 degrees, humid as hell, the air in the gym is stagnant, and you still have an hour and a half of training left). How you handle these collectively represents your character as a fighter. Do you convince yourself that the donut’s not that good anyway and move on, or do you shrug and gobble it down, figuring you’ll just work a little harder later? Do you grind your teeth and get through your training session and fall over dead later, or do you beg off and stop because it’s too hot? The fact of the matter is, I used to be the latter on both of those, and I’m pretty proud of not being that person anymore. So I bite down on my mouthguard and get through training- as Primo told me once, there’s the pain of commitment, and the pain of disappointment. This is the kind of activity where you’re going to be in pain no matter what you do, so you need to decide if you want a reward out of it and something you can go home proud of, or if you want to go home hurting physically and mentally because you gave up. These are the trials of the body, and of the will.

The fight itself, however, is what I think of as a trial of the spirit. I was explaining yesterday that while you can be put in high-pressure situations in training, and you should be, there’s really nothing that can prepare you for being in the ring other than being in the ring enough times to get used to it. You can spar at high intensity with new partners, you can go through gauntlet rounds where you spar a new person every minute, so they stay fresh while you get miserably tired, but at the end of the day, that’s not the thing that you really need to be ready for. It’s the pressure of the moment, the realization as you’re walking to the ring that this is what you’ve spent the last several weeks training for, dieting for, preparing for mentally and physically, visualizing, losing sleep over, talking about, and NOW it’s finally here. You can be excited about it, or you can freak out about it, but however you handle it, this is the time. This is your moment.

And then the bell rings, and whatever you were planning on doing, whatever big ideas you had about what you would throw and when, are washed away in a blinding red tide of adrenaline. That’s the thing about your first fight(which, for all practical purposes, this was)- your brain will freak its shit. You might know intellectually that this isn’t a real, your-physical-safety-is-seriously-at-risk fight, but try telling that to the chemicals roaring through your blood. It’s like being very drunk, except on adrenaline instead of alcohol. You’re pretty much reduced down to your basic instincts and reflexes, and for me, I trained for a long time to overcome my instinct to turn into an angry berserker when I get hit. It’s kind of a stupid way to fight, especially for someone of my size.

So the bell rings, and the tactical version of Eric who gets in, throws his shots, and dances back out before taking too much damage goes right out the window, and Hulked-out angry Eric comes back out of the box I’ve had him locked in all this time. So this is the trial of the spirit I was talking about. Your conditions for fighting are- unfamiliar environment, with people potentially(and loudly) rooting against you, taking on someone completely new who’s trying to put you down, and while you’re dealing with this fun new experience, your stress hormones are on absolute overload, making you pretty much incapable of rational thought. How do you handle it?

This is why Primo has told me that the whole point of your first fight is to get your first fight out of the way. Given all those circumstances, do you fight your ass off, or do you fold? In my case, thankfully it was the former, even if I came up short. And I’ll fight again, but first I need some time to be a real person again. It’s a little too fast to put my fighter face back on.

So there you go, everyone. These are my thoughts on it after having some time to collect everything together.

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As of Friday, we’re officially moved out of Suphanburi and we’re currently hanging out, once again, at our camp in Bangkok. As per usual, the people here are making me wish I had been able to make it down more often, but we’re a bit past the point of being upset about it. We head to the airport on Tuesday night, and then we TRAVEL THROUGH TIME AND SPACE TO THE PAST. Also known as flying back to New York through several time zones. It’s crazy to think that it’s time to go, but here it is, and very soon now I’ll be completely miserable for a full day on a plane again. I’ve really been looking forward to that part.

One thing I keep getting asked is if I feel like I got what I wanted out of my time here, and if I felt like it was worth it, and yadda yadda. I know it’s the end of a major trip that we planned for a long time, but to the surprise of nobody, I just can’t really wax too lyrical on getting beat up by Thai teenagers. At least not to people who don’t get it. I got punched in the face a lot, thrown around like a rag doll, lost a crapton of weight, am reasonably sure that I’ve improved, and will cheerfully continue on with training once I get home. I don’t really know how to respond to that with anything other than what I just wrote, and that’s not really the stuff of a 40 stanza poem, if you ask me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll have plenty to say about it to all gym-related people at home, but they’ll also have more of a reaction when I describe technical details than a look of vague confusion and a nod to hopefully move the conversation on.

Two of Tryn’s older coworkers, who we both got along with fairly well, were a little concerned that we were going to have negative memories of the trip. I thought about it for a second, but most of the bad crap that happened wasn’t really that awful. And really, it could have happened anywhere. Yes, my wallet got stolen, our bank account got frozen for a few weeks, and I got hit by a pickup truck. But none of those are really Thailand-specific incidents. Now, if I’d been attacked by a pack of stray dogs while going to the hospital for dengue fever, maybe then I’d have more of a reason for a terminal case of screw this country-itis, but it helps to keep things in perspective. I think the wallet incident more highlighted how bizarre it was that I’d never been pickpocketed before after living in New York my whole life.

I think the thing it’s going to take the longest to re-acclimatize to  is going to be speaking the same language as everyone around us again. I anticipate sticking my foot in my mouth a few times while forgetting that yes, everyone around me can understand what I’m saying. Hopefully I’ll muddle through with a minimum of black eyes. Also strange will be the ability to actually read signs and labels again, but that’ll be more in a good way. Oh, and trainers who speak English! For as much good as that does me sometimes, anyway.

What else is there really to say? We’re enjoying our last few days here, but it’s just about time to go. I’m glad we came, but I’m not shedding any tears about leaving, either. And you know what’ll keep me from doing it? Pizza. All the freaking pizza in all of New York city is going to be subject to the gaping void commonly referred to as my stomach. ALL OF IT. I’m going to eat, roll over, and pass out into a cheese-induced coma, wake up, and do it again the next day. And then maybe call up some people I haven’t seen in half a year and we can all do that. It’s going to be glorious.

We’re coming home.

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Mo’ money, mo’ dinner

It’s been a long road, but here we are in October. 16 days left, but really, who’s counting? Some days I feel like we’ve barely just gotten here(not often), and some days I feel like we haven’t seen our own shores in years(kind of a lot). As Tryn put it before we left, you can do a lot of things if it’s only for a few months, which doesn’t sound all that long now that we’re on the tail end of it.

The really fun part about these last two weeks is that we finally don’t have to give a damn about money. Tryn got paid a few days ago, and she’ll get paid again on the 12th, so we can do all the things we’ve been wishing we could, but had to say no to due to needing to not burn through all of her paychecks. Although I should be honest, when I say “all the things we couldn’t do”, what I really mean is eat a lot of awesome food. We made another trip to Firehouse, known to some of you who have asked about it as Burger Heaven, and I think we were so happy to have red meat that the people at the table next to us might have been a little disturbed. Between the appetizer and the sheer size of the portions on the burger, I actually got full about halfway through, but there was no way I was leaving any of it.

We’ve also blown a nice chunk of money on training over the last few days back at Watcharachai’s place. I got to work with cranky smoking guy again, which remains as great as it was last time. He’s easily my favorite trainer to work with out of everyone I’ve been to. Mostly the thing that I like the most is how easy it is to get along with everyone here, which is helped by the fact that we all eat breakfast and dinner together. Also, everyone generally seems to be enjoying themselves even in the middle of gasping for air and wondering why 4 minutes is all of a sudden so freaking long. I also have to admit to being wrong about Bun, the guy I had a bad time with last time. Both of my workouts with him this time were really good, so maybe something was up last time.

It’s been a pretty good couple of weeks since I last updated, except for car shopping, which is probably an entire separate post’s worth of aggravation. Anyway, to let everyone know where we’ll be and when, our current timetable looks like this-

10/17- Fly out of Bangkok at 2AM(ugh), layover in Shanghai, get to JFK airport in New york at 2PM(time zones suck balls).

10/21- MS bike ride with dad and Jacob. 30 miles, so hopefully I’ll have kicked off the jet lag by then.

10/24- Flying back out of New York(yes, that is actually happening) to Hawaii for Bridget’s birthday.

11/1- Fly back to NY

11/2- Drive up to Rochester

11/3- Tryn’s slightly-delayed birthday party

That’s what we’re looking at right now, barring any kind of major schedule issues. Which there won’t be. Right, universe? Right.

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Like the Odyssey, but without being turned into a pig

Day one of the Big Training Trip is done, and I’m feeling pretty good. Mostly I’m trying to remember that I have two solid weeks here, so it’s okay if I ratchet the intensity up a little more slowly. Burning out is bad and wrong. Besides, I can overtrain anywhere, I’d sort of like to make the most of my time left here. I’m sure I’ll have some kind of amusing mishap soon, though, so don’t go thinking I’ve gotten TOO sensible on everyone. Eating KFC within 2 hours of training wasn’t my best idea ever, for instance. The trainer sure seemed to think it was funny when I let out an earth-shaking belch after getting hit in the body, so at least there’s that.

I realized yesterday that this will be the longest period of time I’ll have been by myself in quite a while. I think it’ll edge out when Tryn went to Florida by a couple of days, but I’m not certain. Either way, it’s sort of intimidating, stupid as it sounds. I’m not going to say I’m turning into a sitcom husband who’s completely helpless without his wife around to make sure he doesn’t accidentally burn the house down, but it IS a little bit strange after 5 years of not being apart for more than a few days at a time. Besides, there’s no stove here, so I can’t burn the place down without a lot more effort than forgetting about the oven. And to be realistic about it, I’m probably just going to do the same thing I’ve been doing in Suphan, just without Tryn in the room too. Farting around with old PS1 games on an emulator isn’t really a couples kind of activity.

As we’re starting to wrap up, I’m beginning to see the trip as a whole as kind of a learning experience. Yes, I went overseas and found myself, just like the protagonist of all those dumb quarterlife crisis movies. Somebody kill me. In all seriousness, though, I feel a lot more prepared for our move to San Antonio after we get home now. I used to be intimidated by the idea of picking up and moving to another city where we didn’t really know anybody or where anything was. It’s a little hard to muster up a ton of nervousness after doing that in another country on the other side of the planet, especially when the population of the town combined probably knows about 20 words of English. By comparison, settling in down in Texas is going to seem like a vacation.

Something else I’ve managed to lose while we’re here is some more of my pickiness with food. I owe that in large part to the training camp experience. It’s a lot harder to turn your nose up at something if you just finished two hours of hard work and have another two ahead of you later in the day. They haven’t always been positive gastronomical experiences, but I’m getting better. I still won’t touch fish, though I have my allergy to excuse me from needing to get over how nasty it all tastes to me.

Maybe none of this sounds that significant, but everybody’s got different priorities. I mean, I’m sure as hell not making any progress with learning Thai, so I have to take my victories where I get them.

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Screw you, relativity

We’ve reached that particular point when you’ve got something big coming up when time starts playing games with you. We aren’t so close to heading home to seriously need to wrap everything up, but it’s visible enough on the horizon that it seems like it could be tomorrow. But, of course, it’s not. So, some days scream on by, leaving me wondering how we left another week in the books.  And others crawl like snails, like going to work hung over the morning after a St. Patty’s party, which is an experience I’ve had the joy of going through myself. It was like this when we hit this point with the wedding, too. Some days there was no way we were going to get everything done, and some days we just wished it would get there already so it could be done with. I feel like I may have talked about this in an entry before we left, but here we are again.

On the upside, September is looking up. I’ll be heading to Bangkok for two weeks straight to put in some hard work at Fighting Spirit, so that’s sure to be awesome. In a panting, sweating, possibly bleeding, certain to be wishing for death kind of way, but that’s the cost of doing business to get better. And I think I’m getting better, but I have no real way to gauge that. Working with the Thais makes me feel clumsy and stupid, so I can’t really tell. I guess it won’t be too much longer before I get to see the progress I’ve made at home, but still, sometimes it’s a pain in the ass to have been here for nearly 4 months and not be able to tell if my skills have improved. Oh well, soon enough.

Some days I have a hard time deciding which I’m going to get fat on first when we get home- pizza, or steak. If only there were some way to do both at once.

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The details

So we’re more than halfway through our trip here, and it seems like a good time to sit down and plop out some specific thoughts on the work I’ve done here so far. This will probably interest maybe 3 of you. For the rest of you, who probably come here to read about me dodging open sewer covers and giant piles of elephant poop on my morning run, you’ll have to wait until the next entry. This one is going to get into the bits that happen while I’m hitting pads and praying for death or the end of the round, whichever comes first.

I might as well start at the beginning with Yut, the trainer at the sports college here in Suphan. He speaks pretty much zero English, but as I’ve mentioned in previous entries, I managed to get by pretty well. Due to our area being pretty much foreigner-free other than the teachers, I didn’t really get the kind of technical work I wanted. I mean, it’s not his fault that he hasn’t got a plan for teaching people other than his Thai kids, but there’s only so many days I can take of whacking the bag while he holds for them, and maybe get one or two rounds in, where he has me throw stuff seemingly at random. I still go here when I’m not at one of the camps in Bangkok, but it’s not really where I get my real work in.

This led me to Fighting Spirit Gym in Bangkok, where I worked with a trainer named Chao for my first visit. No real tweaks to my guard, but he drilled me repeatedly on things like making sure my foot came back down up on the toe from a kick, and to not pull it back all the way behind my front leg(sorry, Primo and Brian). He also decided my technique was decent enough to show me a few tricks, the main one of which I hung onto being something he called the monkey. Fake a leg kick and halfway through, pull it back up and turn it into a push kick. Not a bad idea for me, a habitual leg-kicker, to be able to land both the push and the leg kick with more frequency. I liked working with Chao, but he seems to have vanished as of my most recent trip down to Fighting Spirit. From what I’ve noticed, it’s fairly normal for a camp to have one or two trainers that are solidly with the camp, and the rest come and go. Especially here, where the owner shows no hesitation in sacking anyone who he feels like isn’t doing a good job.

Satisfied with my original experience, I went back the week after, which turned out to be the unfortunate birthday weekend, where my wallet got stolen, our bank account got frozen, AND I didn’t even get my damn cheeseburger. I also seemed to hit a valley in my energy, considering I didn’t make it all the way through my last two sessions. This time I worked with a younger trainer named Tak, who I’m pretty sure still fights. He was active as hell as a padholder, and he focused less on drilling technique and more on making sure my defense never slacked. That is, he was smacking me with the pads pretty constantly, and if I got hit clean, he generally seemed to think it was hilarious. I wouldn’t mind working with him again, since I’ll never turn down at opportunity to practice getting hit less.

Because my attention tends to wander when I don’t have a regular schedule, my next trip down to Bangkok was to Watcharachai Gym. Watcharachai, the head trainer and owner, worked with me for my first session, and oh boy did I get a lot tweaked. First and foremost, he had me lean over to change my balance for his preferred method of defending leg kicks(moving the leg back and out of the way instead of checking). Next came my kicks- bend the support leg, keep the kicking leg bent. This ran pretty much completely contrary to how Primo taught me, which was centered around the idea that I’m short enough as it is, I don’t need to be giving up any more height by hunching or not getting my legs fully extended. But if you’re in someone else’s house, you go by their rules. So that was an interesting adjustment, although I’m not sure how much I liked it. I was finding it a little hard to breathe easily with the stance he favored, but that’s probably unfamiliarity.

Next at Watcharachai’s place was Bun, who I really wasn’t too happy with. Maybe he didn’t really care because I’m not a regular at the camp, maybe he didn’t care because I’m not Thai, or maybe he’s just a lousy trainer. I don’t really know which, but I sure as hell didn’t feel like I’d gotten much out of my session considering he spent half of it looking at the clock. It was bullshit when fencing coaches did it to me as a 14 year old, and it’s bullshit now.

I don’t know the name of the last guy I worked with at Watcharachai’s, but I liked him a lot. He was all about going balls-out and full power all the time, which is impractical for every session, but as a once a week kind of deal, I could see it being really handy. Like Tak, he also beat the crap out of me with the pads, and I was completely winded at the end from all the body shots he nailed me with using the edge of the focus mitt. Also like Tak, he laughed his ass off anytime I got my “gonna barf now” face on from one of them. He also smoked during the break between rounds, which favorably reminded me of an old sabre coach I once had.

Watcharachai’s place was really good, excluding the one session, but I kept having this nagging urge to go back to Fighting Spirit, which I did this past weekend. This time I worked with Dome, the head trainer, also known as the gym drill sergeant. He worked a lot on my teeps and knees, with a healthy amount of slipping during the last round. All while yelling “no, COME ON” if I slacked on either my power or technique. Unlike some of the other trainers I worked with, he pushed me hard from the start of the first round, and I generally feel like flopping over dead when we’re done. Going on the philosophy of “the more it hurts, the better it probably is for me”, I should probably be actively seeking him out for my rounds from now on.

So there we have it, the rundown of everyone I’ve worked with so far. The only consensus everyone seems to have reached is that my kicks are good. Coming from a Thai, that’s pretty much enough to send me home floating. We’re at 8 weeks left at this point, and I think I’ll probably stick with Fighting Spirit for continuity’s sake to make some more legitimate progress before we go home. The bouncing around thing was interesting, but working with the same group of people is probably better for them to learn how I do things, and for me to learn how they do things, and where we can best meet in the middle.

Also, they don’t charge extra for an air conditioned room.

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When endorphins aren’t enough

It occurred to me a few days ago that even though I’m in the homeland of muay thai, it’s not the most important thing I’m learning while I’m here. Don’t get me wrong, the technical tweaks are great, but the bigger, and probably more important piece of information that I’ve picked up so far? How to kick my own ass.

Thai camps do things differently than we do at home, which I expected. One thing I wasn’t quite expecting was the training structure. Or, more appropriately, the lack of it. At home, we have set periods of time when we hit the pads, hit the bags, spar, clinch, and cool down. Here, the only thing guaranteed to happen is your pad rounds with the trainers. Before and after that, you’re pretty much on your own to do as much, or little, work as you want. Feel like sparring one of the fighters? Grab your gloves and knock yourself out, if they don’t do it first. Want to go do 5 rounds on the bag and finish with 200 knees and 200 kicks? Great, just make sure you barf someplace off the mats. Feeling a little under the weather and want to call it quits after pads? Whatever you say, see you tomorrow.

The point is, you’ll pretty much get out of it what you put in. There’s nobody to crack the whip on you, and it kind of makes sense. At the end of the day, they know most foreigners are only here for a little while, and the trainers have their pros to tend to, who make their living and make the camp money by fighting. We just aren’t important enough to them to have them go drill sergeant on us, unless we can prove on our own that we’re there to work, not to go get drunk and find hookers as soon as evening training is over. They don’t care if your ankle is stiff or if you didn’t sleep well or if you have a little bit of a cough.

Anyone who’s ever heard me talk about Vision Quest knows that I got a boot in the ass if I slacked. Sometimes it was a physical one, sometimes it was a mental one. I didn’t know what “piker” meant before I got called one for wimping out, but I learned fast enough. So it was certainly an adjustment when I got here and found all that out. But, to bring it back to the beginning, the biggest skill I’m learning out of all this is how to cut out the middleman and cattle-prod myself into productivity. I mean, this time last year, you couldn’t have paid me to run if it wasn’t forced on me under threat of physical pain. Now I go 15-20 miles a week with no impetus other than knowing I need to. Go figure.

In other news, I’m legal! Hooray! It got cut right down to the wire, but with two days before my visa would have expired, we finally got everything we needed all together after two previous failed trips, and successfully got an extension on the third try. I wouldn’t have been deported or anything, but they charge you 500 baht for every day you remain in the country past your expiration date, when you start curdling and smelling bad, I guess. That’s about 15 dollars, which isn’t a ton, but Tryn’s not done until October. Which means we would have been looking at somewhere over 1000 dollars if it hadn’t been taken care of. Not really something you want to have to pay for if you don’t have to, I think.

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