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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