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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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.┬áThe 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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Halfway home

It’s pretty hard to believe that July is almost over and done with. We’re at 2 months and change until we’re back in the states at this point, and I’ve been following my jokingly-laid out original plan pretty much to the day. I was figuring on taking about a month to a month and a half to stop freaking out over being away from everything and everyone, at which point I would start to settle down into a routine, and by the time it came time to go, I’d probably wonder where the time went. So far, I seem to be right on track. August is probably going to roll right on by too, considering all the stuff we’ve already got lined up. Tryn has two long weekends, at least one of which we’ll spend hanging out on an island, and we also have some kind of giant, world-famous rave that’s in Asia for the first time ever.

On the getting-my-head-knocked-off front, Watcharachai Gym looks like it’s a winner, so hopefully I can stick around there for the rest of my time in Thailand. The head trainer spent all of my pad rounds with him doing some serious technical nitpicking, which as Tryn pointed out, is what I came here for to begin with. Of course, the other guy I worked with was a crotchety old Thai man who smoked between rounds, who represented the other half of what I came here for. I must not have been hitting hard enough for his liking, considering after the first two punches I threw he smacked me in the head with the pad and yelled “COME ON! POWAAA!” Followed immediately by me trying to keep my glee to myself, because he probably would have socked me again if I started laughing. Technical correction is great, and definitely something I need, but there’s something to be said for just going balls-out the whole time, too. Reminds me of a fencing coach or two that I’ve had. I also got to spar and clinch with some of the Thais, one of whom is a champion in his weightclass, and the other who has over 150 fights. I didn’t know either of these things before I started working with them, which is really probably for the best. I got completely ragdolled in the clinch by the first guy, who’s about 20kgs lighter than me. That’s 40-ish pounds, and I’m looking pretty good in the low 140s right now. Deflated ego Eric’s ego has been deflated. So all in all, it was a pretty great experience, although I may have overdone it a bit. I only intended to stay from Wednesday to Friday, but Tryn decided she wanted to come down after work and train too, so I ended up going through Sunday. Oops.

This weekend, we actually get to cook again! Which is a stupid thing to get excited about, but I really do miss it. We’re visiting one of Tryn’s friends from orientation, and for some reason, her house has a stove in it. I’ll have to hope that I haven’t slipped so much that I don’t burn the house down. They probably wouldn’t appreciate that much.

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Goodbye, shins

After a week of asking every single person who spoke even a little bit of English, I’ve managed to find a place to train, which everyone at Tryn’s school seems amazed by. I guess a lot of them have been asking and couldn’t find anywhere. More likely is that they weren’t willing to bother enough people, which has obviously never been a problem for me. The owner of one of the local bars told me that his mom knew the coach, so we met him on Tuesday and started training yesterday.

First thing that’s different is the jump ropes. I’m used to the little skinny ones from home, which look like this- Tough if you jump for long enough, but nothing awful. What we have over here, is this- I smacked myself in the foot with that thing and was worried for a second that I’d broken something. And my shoulders were burning something awful after about 30 seconds. That might take a bit of getting used to. As will the whole “checking with bare shins” thing. My right leg is currently purple and mutated, and I’ve pretty much been bathing in tiger balm since yesterday morning. I don’t know if the trainer has been noticing me wincing after about ten kicks or so, but I’m working on it. It’s been a pretty good time so far, though. The biggest difference from home is that they REALLY like elbows here. To a ridiculous degree. Guess I’ll have to keep that in mind when I get around to fighting here.

The trainer barely speaks any English, but after so many years trying to figure out absurdly heavy eastern European accents in fencing, I’m not too bad at picking up from context. I’ve been pulling translation duty for Tryn, which was appreciated. I got on the pads with him this morning, which was an experience, to say the least. Refer to the previous entry on my feelings about passing out in your own vomit. I’ve also been learning the ram muay, which is pretty cool. That would be the “dance with the weird headband” before fighting.

Right now I think I need to get some more sleep before tonight’s training, if I don’t want to fall over dead. That would make a bad impression, I think.

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No boom! Too much boom, no beauty.

My first experience training in Thailand was, in parts, enlightening, hilarious, humiliating, and nauseating. Let’s start with the heat, why don’t we? I was pretty sure I was going to wither and die within the first 20 minutes. I knew it was going to be hot, but holy crap, nothing can prepare you for the difference in temperature and humidity. And apparently it’s now just the rainy season, not actual summer. Good god. Thankfully, I got honest cabbies and didn’t get messed around on the fare or them getting mysteriously lost. Which is something I can’t say for a lot of the cabs I got back at home. So at least I was able to get there easily, so I could go nearly be sick without a problem.

After shadowboxing in front of the head trainer for all of about 30 seconds, he stopped me and immediately put me back on moving forward and back, and throwing jabs and crosses. We moved over to a heavy bag, where I was eventually allowed to do some elbows and knees as well. After three breaks in ten minutes because I’m a big wuss, I was eventually given the bit of advice found in the title of this entry. It took me a second to get it, but Primo was right about fighting being a universal language. That, and I’m sure my experience in attempting to understand eastern European fencers, coaches, and refs for several years has given me a leg up on the process. We moved over to pads after a bit, which was fun and educational in a “is it okay if I puke or pass out or pass out in my puke” kind of way. This also marks my first time checking kicks with no shin guards, which wasn’t really as bad as I thought it would be. At the time, anyway. The entire thing was blown up like a softball the day afterwards.

Once we were done there, he decided we should spar. Which went as well as I figured it would. I’ve never had someone giggle so much while smacking me around, but I guess it was as fitting an end to my first day training here as I was going to find. That was all a few days ago in Bangkok, though. Now that we’re finally here in Suphanburi, Tryn’s boss has told me that he thinks there aren’t any camps here. I don’t think I quite agree with that. There’s almost a million people in this city and a freaking muay thai stadium, don’t tell me there’s no place to train. They’re probably just in the less-manicured parts of town, which we haven’t had a chance to go looking for trouble in yet. We seem to be living in the Thai version of Fairport or Pittsford, so I think I just haven’t found the right people to be asking yet. I’m imagining the blank looks I’d get if I asked around in Fairport if they knew where Vertex was, and I think it’s probably a pretty solid comparison.

But I do have a few places to start my search. First, I figure I’ll get over to the stadium itself and ask around there. Also, just down the road from us is a physical education college, and I definitely saw a room full of heavy bags on their first floor. Because it’s a school, they might not just let me walk in and train, but I’d bet anything they can tell me where I’d be able to go. And third, I can just have Tryn ask her students. She’s teaching a bunch of groups of teenagers, there’s got to be at least one of them who knows.

These are all activities for a little later, though. First thing we need to get done is laundry, since we’re officially completely out of clean clothes. I’ll go out seeking abuse after I can do it without being naked.

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