6 Incredible Life Lessons I’ve Learned Since Taking Up Muay Thai
I always lived in fear. Not that I had a reason to – I just feared a lot of things. If something scared me, chances were I was definitely not going to do it. I also had a pretty sheltered childhood – no sleepovers or late nights out – so being outside on my own still fills me with anxiety.
Serendipitously, when the annual Women’s Health #WHGetsFit winter fitness challenge rolled around, it presented the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill while also upping my fitness and weight loss. Given that in SA crimes against women have increased by 117% compared to last year, I wanted to do something that would enable me to defend myself if I ever needed to. So I chose Muay Thai.
When I started boxing at True Muay Thai eight weeks ago, I was excited to learn how to throw a punch. Having grown up watching action movies, I always wanted to kick butt like Jean Claude Van Damme, so in my head I knew what fighting was like – or so I thought. What I didn’t realise was the amount of work that goes into learning how to defend yourself. There’s been a lot of sweat, some blood, wanting to cry – and a few solid-gold life lessons you need to know about.
Lesson #1: Breathe, dammit.
Breathing is a pretty obvious thing – I mean, we do it instinctively. But for some reason when we exercise, we forget. In the beginning, I wasn’t breathing when I punched, so when my trainer said “exhale when you punch”, it made one hell of a difference. All of a sudden, I could punch harder. I didn’t get tired as quickly. Now, even when I’m tired, I take that much-needed breath and try again. It’s become a great metaphor for my life too. I tend to stop functioning when I’m overwhelmed, but I’m learning that through taking a step back, taking that deep breath and trying again, I’m able to function even when I want to hide. So, even when everything around me is in chaos, I tell myself: “Breathe dammit!” Suddenly things don’t seem so bad.
Lesson #2: Progress, not perfection
Are you a perfectionist? Great, we have something in common. I hate getting things wrong and I’m hard on myself if I mess up. During training I sometimes have a tough time learning combinations and tend to get frustrated with myself. But I’m learning that progress takes time and that I don’t have to execute every move perfectly. As long as I’m doing better than I did last time, I’m good. The same goes for life. A weight-loss/fitness journey is not easy, and you won’t always do amazingly, but as long as you keep pushing, you’re doing a good job.
Lesson #3: Discipline is everything
Before I started my weight-loss journey, I had no discipline. If I didn’t feel like doing something in that moment, I just wouldn’t do it. I’d tell myself I’d start Monday, and that Monday turned into a few more days, which eventually led to a month. Before I knew it, six months would’ve passed – still no New Year’s resolution.
It’s hard going at it alone. Because it was just me, I’d often miss a few days of working out or wouldn’t be disciplined with my eating. Since starting Muay Thai, even on days when I don’t feel like training, I still get my butt up because I know that in order to be fitter and a better fighter, I need to show up.
My eating has improved too. I have a binge eating disorder, so I’d often binge during times of stress, but since starting fight training I haven’t had an episode in over two months! It’s become so much easier to say no to the whole slab of chocolate – I still have three blocks every once in a while, though, because a girl’s gotta have her chocolate.
Lesson #4: Pain is temporary
I don’t enjoy pain. Hit me and I’m more likely to talk it out than hit you back. I remember doing shin kicks in my second week of training. And they’re exactly that: you’re kicking and being kicked, shin to shin… guard. My shins were swollen and blue for an entire week. Every time someone made contact with my body, I wanted to cry actual tears. But, in all honesty, the pain lessens as time goes on. Through conditioning, my body is getting stronger. I am getting stronger. Pain doesn’t hold me back anymore. It’s great knowing that, while something hurts in the moment and even for a few days after that, you can get through it. You begin to realize how strong you are; you become aware of the force that is you. Just listen to your body – if pain is unbearable, stop. You should never feel extreme pain while exercising.
Lesson #5: Mind over matter
The mind is a powerful thing – it can make or break you. When my body is tired, it’s my mind that has kept me pushing. Everyone faces hard times – career, relationships, finances – but if your mind set is in the right place, you can overcome it. I’m learning that I’m stronger than I originally thought.
It’s not just a physical thing – I feel it emotionally and mentally too. I have more control; I assess things more. I feel empowered in all areas of my life. My fear is no longer the thing that stops me from doing things. I wouldn’t say that I’m completely fearless just yet, but I’m definitely fearing less.
Lesson #6: Courage can be learned
Courage is a funny thing. Sure, after you’ve downed a couple of shots, you might have the courage to dance on a table. But as soon as you need to stand up for yourself or talk to that person who’s been eyeing you for days, whoosh, your courage goes out the window. Now, I don’t have much difficulty standing up for myself, but as I said, big open spaces give me anxiety…
Now, knowing that I can at least throw a few punches, elbows and kicks, I feel more courageous when venturing along paths unknown – aka Cape Town CBD. I’m learning to face my fears and life’s uncertainties. And you can bet that if life throws a few punches my way, I will sure as hell be throwing a few punches (and kicks) right back.