I’ve received emails from several women this week who are getting ready for their first fights, so I thought I ought to write a blog post on the subject. Before I start, I’d like to point out that Sylvie von-Duuglas Ittu also wrote a post on this topic a while ago, ‘How do you know when you’re ready to fight Muay Thai?, which is definitely worth a read.
The main concern that I hear from fight virgins is ‘when will I feel ready?’ Unfortunately, there’s no black and white answer. As Sylvie mentions in her article, it’s almost impossible to feel 100% ready to fight for the first time. There’s always going to be something you can work on, whether it’s your cardio, technique, your weight, or something else. You can’t expect to be flawless the first time you get into the ring; it takes time, practice and fights to achieve that. That’s just it. The most important thing is just getting in there, because only after you’ve experienced your first fight can you really know how you feel about it, and what you need to work on from there. I wasn’t even in the best shape for my first fight, but I really wanted to fight. I had trained hard, I felt good, and I really wanted it. That was all I needed to feel ready. I’ve come across various people who’ve put off fighting for so long just because they never felt like they were good enough. They always wanted to just get a little bit better at something first, or to wait for the ‘right time’. The thing is, there might not ever be a ‘right time’ to do it. If you keep finding excuses to put it off and waiting for the timing to be right, you might be waiting forever. This doesn’t mean that you should just jump in and do it without the correct preparation first, of course.
One of the women who contacted me was concerned that she hadn’t been given enough sparring to be ready for a fight. In fact, she had only been able to spar once, ever. This didn’t faze her trainers, who were eager to put her in for a fight. I had a similar experience in my first gym, where I was getting minimal sparring (once a week, with no constructive observation or feedback at all), yet the trainers persistently asked me to fight. I considered it, because I really wanted to fight, but I chose to hold off for a while. I wasn’t entirely confident in that gym for various reasons (which led me to pursue training elsewhere), but mainly, I just wanted the first time I fought to be because I wanted to, not because someone else wanted me to. I remember someone telling me that if I went in for someone else rather than myself, I would risk having a bad experience and end up resenting the sport, which I think was relevant for me at that time. After that, I moved to my current gym, where I felt much more confident about fighting. Shortly after that, I had my first fight, and I loved it.
An important question that you need to ask yourself before your first fight is ‘do I trust my trainer?’ If you do, trust that they wouldn’t put you in the ring without giving you everything you need first, and go with it. Just listen to them, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t be absolutely fine and have a great time.
My advice would be to get to a point where you feel confident enough in yourself and your trainer, and just do it. I can almost guarantee that regardless of the result, you’ll feel hungry to get back into the gym, train harder, learn more and fight again. Your first fight puts everything into perspective. It gives you a reference point from which to move forward, and after that, you can start adding more into your training.
It’s essential that you have not only the correct physical preparation, but mental preparation, too. If your heart isn’t in it, you’re not feeling positive, or you simply just don’t want to fight, you probably aren’t going to perform well at all. I’ve experienced this in previous fights, and it’s not worth it. This refers back to my previous point about making sure you are fighting for the right reasons. On the other hand, if you’re positive, confident and focused, nothing can stop you. Getting yourself to a point where you feel confident enough to have your first fight is not an easy thing to do, and I admire anyone who has the courage to do so. The most important thing is taking that first step.
‘How Should I Train?’
As I said before, trust in your trainer and know that they will give you all the preparation you need. Try not to worry too much about what you should and shouldn’t be doing, because it will just stress you out. You can’t expect to be able to take all of your techniques into the ring the first time you fight, so just make sure you feel fit, comfortable and confident. The only thing that I can add from a personal point of view is to spar as much as you can. You might feel awesome on the pads, but hitting a person is a totally different thing, and you need to condition yourself to act under the pressure of being hit. You will never know how you’ll react in a fight from doing only pad work. Even sparring and fighting are two totally different games. I struggle to take some of the things I do quite easily in sparring into actual fights. As I previously mentioned, some trainers might not think that a large amount of sparring is important, but for me, it’s a must.
It may sound obvious, but in the week before your first fight, start to tone down the sparring, going light before eventually stopping altogether, in order to avoid injury. You’ll already be worrying about the smallest details, so the distraction of an injury is the last thing you need. At this point, you’ll have already put in the work to sharpen the techniques that you need, and there is nothing that you can pick up in that time that is going to make a huge difference to your game. You’d be better off focusing more on cardio and bag work. You might start to feel burnt out in training, which in turn may make you worry about your fitness or getting sick. Don’t. The chances are that you are just nervous and slightly paranoid. It’s also not unusual to feel burnt out after training strenuously for so long. A couple of days before my first fight, I felt totally dead in training and started to panic, but it wasn’t an issue at all and I always came back stronger afterwards.
Fight day is different for everyone, but the chances are that for your first fight, you’ll be (for want of a more polite phrase), shitting your pants. That’s totally normal. On one of the shows I fought on, a guy from my gym was having his debut fight. On the day, he told me that he had envisioned every situation possible to somehow get out of fighting, even as far as a helicopter landing on the ring. While getting my hands wrapped for my first fight, I specifically remember asking myself ‘why on Earth am I doing this?’ All of these things are totally normal. As I was told for my first fight, ‘make it your day’. Have everything prepared for you the night before, to make sure that nothing else will distract you. That way, you can just focus on fighting. Before you know it, it will be over and done with anyway, especially if you’re fighting in Thailand, where all of the preparation seems to be done at the very last minute. There’s no messing around; you just get wrapped up, oiled up, have a minimal warm up and get in there. I much prefer it that way, because you have no time to be nervous.
If your first fight is coming up, just enjoy it. It will be a milestone for you, regardless of how it goes. For some, it can be a life-changing experience, so make sure it’s a good one.
You can read about my first fight here.
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Great post, Emma. I agree that “wanting” to fight is the best indicator of readiness, although, as I wrote in my blog, preparedness is perhaps a little more involved. For my first fight I got two sparring sessions – just two – and I had to go to a gym I didn’t belong to in order to get that. (Much thanks to Phil Nurse for allowing me to play with his fighters, as well as to Lisa Heddon for telling me where to go!)
I also agree that trusting your trainer is an incredibly important aspect of knowing when you’re ready to fight, but because my experiences have proved otherwise I must add that it’s not an absolute in terms of knowing whether or not you’re ready. Yes, trust your trainer if you want them to be taking care of you on fight day. But there are women out there (women especially, I believe, although I’m sure men get this too) whose trainers will tell them “no” even when that woman is ready to fight. And for those women, trusting themselves OVER their trainer is important and I want to support those women. Best case scenario they find a trainer who believes in them and can get them where they need to be; but my trainer didn’t want me to fight and I DID want to fight – it led to some rough patches because I basically had to defy him, but he came around. I had to trust myself in that situation.
That’s a good point, Sylvie. I did think about that when reading about your first fight, and how you basically had to put yourself in there. Like you say, your trainer’s opinion isn’t the be-all and end-all in every situation, and sometimes you just have to trust your own judgement a little more. Since I didn’t have that experience, it’s not something I’m familiar with, but I know that it happens. It’s great that you were strong-willed enough to make it happen for yourself. Not every girl in that situation would have done it, so it is probably something that needs to be highlighted.
A good read. It’s good to hear about this side of fight preparation from fighters.
Thanks a lot! 🙂
Re “the women question” mentioned. Women tend to go forward and up only when they are sure they are 100% able, while men tend to be willing to take their chances even if they arent really ready… We see this for example, when women respective men apply for jobs above their normal level, or in their boasting. So its an aspect worth to be aware of.
These coaches mentioned holding back women? Im not sure, they perhaps wanted to be protective. Or, just because of the woman not assuring she is all right, she ready – they though she really isnt ready. Her male twin probably was eager to fight and insisted, with exactly the same background. And so, they seem to held back the women, while they let forward the men.
While the other coach overdid grossly this “awareness” and let her go to match even if clearly not enough trained, just because she had good movements… But I dont know, the other debuting women was perhaps in a similiar situation?? Ie sheer beginners not enough trained….
Re the problem of wanna be, but needing just this or that detail to work further on… Of course, if you arent an established grandmaster, there will clearly always be details to improve… But to become an established grandmaster, you must fight, to get your experiences, you must dare. So it IS a balancing act! A consolidation is; being aware of your lacks and faults, shows by itself you are decently good, you are in a decently good form. A palooka usually isnt aware of his faults, he just goes on blindly not even aware of gross faults… So is in bridge, so is surely in Muay too.
Last but not least: yes I agree, it helps much to prepare as well as you can in all the aside details. So when the big day comes, you dont need to split up your vision on aside details, you can focus 100% on the main course itself, ie the self fight… The rest shall go by automato.
If nothing else, it helps you to know you have done everything you could do.
By the same reason, it helps to pray! It may be discussed if prayers really helps. But you will have the assurance you have done everything you could, and it will help you to take you through any difficult moments, and also, to handle the joy and euphoria you hopefully will get…
You wont need to have a wild mad night of feast, drunking yourself stupid to celebrate and shrieking your throad coarse. You can unload part of the overhelming feelings by prayers and thanks to the deities whom you think did helped you.
Be it God, Jesus, your favorite Saint, Thai deities, your Ancestors, or the soul of your beloved pet; cat or dog, whom died but whom continues to protect you.
You can of course also give a donation to some worthy cause. Some orphanage, or animal shelter, Doctors without boundaries, or something other you want to support.