I’ve been back from Southeast Asia for about three weeks now. Many of you have wondered what’s happened to my serialized memoir on this blog. You’ve probably seen a lot of my posts on social media, so you might have a sense of my experiences over the past month or so, but little reflection on them. I’ve missed about 20-30 posts. I hope this one will make up for that. It’s just a more concise version of what I would have written anyway, and brevity is always a good thing.
First, an excuse. I came down with a really bad infection a few days after getting back. I won’t go into the gross details — let alone post pictures — but it was really painful. And when I say painful, I’m saying that as someone who just got back from a Thai kickboxing camp.
The risk factors?
1) Hot and humid climate
2) Engaging in a contact sport
3) Living in a confined area with a lot of people
In a previous post, I wrote about how the gym owner warned me about what a brutal, grueling experience this would be. It was — when friends ask what it was like, I ask them to imagine doing the hardest workout of your life twice a day, every day. What’s more, you’re doing that in heat that’s often close to 40 degrees. Oh, and there are very few rest opportunities outside the brief water breaks unless you’re hitting the heavy bag. About half of what I did was pad work, and in that case your instructor is your drill sergeant. When he asks for 20 kicks in a row, you do it. On that note, physically, this was more difficult than anything I did in the army.
I loved it. Unlike the gym I trained with here in Ontario, most of the training (at least in the longer, harder afternoon sessions) was one-on-one pad work with an instructor, and what a difference it makes. Pad work is the core of muay Thai training because the instructor can hold thai pads to call for any technique — punches, elbows, knees, kicks. The result is like sparring but with more emphasis on power and technique. Going through four or five rounds of pad work every day made me wish I had planned to stay for two months instead of two weeks.
Well, I guess that’s only partly true. What really makes you want to stay in any context is the people. I’ve always made friends easily, and Thailand was no exception — the instructors at Kiatphontip were the most dedicated, nicest, funnest people I’ve ever been around. Same for the other trainees. I was one of the less experienced people there, but they never treated me differently for it. Part of why I can’t delete Facebook — a mistake I’ve made once already — is because I’m so happy I’ll be able to stay in touch with them. That sort of makes up for leaving too soon.
The two training sessions, and the two meals that came about an hour afterwards, really helped break up the day. A lot of trainees commented on how fast the days seemed go by. I felt the same. I usually woke up at 5 a.m. and went to bed at 9 p.m. Morning training was at 7 a.m., afternoon training at just after 3 p.m. or so.
I didn’t go to both sessions every single day. I’d say about half of the days I did both, and half of the days I skipped one. I swear to god this wasn’t me being a wuss. I just had a belief that going that hard that often would probably put me at more risk of really aggravating some of my injuries, which in turn would put me out of training for the rest of my stay. Going hard and pushing yourself is important, but so is rest and healing. I know it would have been different if I was preparing for a fight.
I was shocked to see that I didn’t lose any weight. I’m still a husky 185 lbs. As I said, I was only eating two meals a day, 7-11 snacks notwithstanding, and I sweat so much the instructor I worked with most of the time insisted that I wear a shirt while training. I agreed to, but that didn’t help much. I mentioned in another post that I sweat way more than the average person when I work out. The nurse who gave me my vaccinations told me that that’s a good thing, and far better than having the opposite problem, but it sure was embarrassing. The oldest instructor would sometimes put a towel under my feet while I hit the heavy bag. It was completely necessary. The only thing I really missed from back home was the feeling of being dry, especially when I would try to nap between sessions.
When I got back home I had a weird sense of time lapse — I just couldn’t believe that while I was on the other side of the world life went on over here. Maybe that’s a bit solipsistic of me. I can only imagine how the Marco Polo’s of our galaxy will feel.
Of course, it wasn’t just muay Thai training all day every day. We had Sundays off, which meant Saturday night ragers at a bar on Khao San Road. Those adventures brought me back to my sophomore year at Western. I mean that in a good way. Mostly.
It was a life-changing experience, but, like with all such experiences, it’s tough to put it into words. I did more than what I thought I was capable of. I could always go another round, even when I thought I was going to faint. Train long enough, and you get used to that feeling. You get used to it to the point where something totally abnormal just becomes, well, normal. It’s weird like that.
Once again, the experience reminded me of how important it is to have a good mentor, editor, teacher or boss in something you really want to do, something you really want to progress in. There really is no substitute. “Teaching is an art, and there are more bad artists than good ones,” mused Aldous Huxley. It’s unfortunate, but so very, very true. Kiatphontip is a perfect environment for learning and growth, and I’ve been in a few that really haven’t been. I think this adventure gave me a deeper sense of what makes one better at any endeavor, not just muay Thai, and your working environment is by far the most important thing.
Why did I leave, then? And will I keep going with muay Thai?
I was having the time of my life in Thailand, but my mind was restless. Where was I going to work when I got back home? What’s going to be my next big project that’s going to move my career as a journalist forward? I have answers to both of those questions now, but I really have to put the work in to make them happen. I still want to train. I even want to have a fight at some point. Whether I’ll have time for this is tough to say. In short order I think I’m going to be in a position where I’m working 17-18 hours I day to try and make the big time. Unfortunately, there’s not much room for muay Thai in there. We’ll see.
On that note, I’m going to keep posting to this site. The focus will shift to politics. I’m going to try to summarize issues in Canadian current affairs that are often talked about in the media, but are poorly understood by the general public.
Also, I spent a couple of days in Singapore because I have a weird obsession with that city-state, so that’ll be a post in the future too. If I’m on social media with you, I’ll be posting photos soon (the reason for their conspicuous absence here).
Thanks for reading.