A friend of mine recently returned to the gym after spending more than a year away, and upon catching up with me, remarked that I had changed since he’d last seen me. He meant this entirely as a compliment, adding that I’d become totally focused and that he was proud of what I was doing. On the other hand, I also recently reunited with some other friends, who I hadn’t seen since before I started my fighting career. They also said that I had changed, but to them, it was a negative thing. Perhaps this contrast was because those friends were outside the world of Muay Thai, and therefore the thing that had come to consume my life was totally alien to them; perhaps it was because I genuinely had changed as a person and in doing so, had drifted apart from previous relationships. Either way, it sparked some self-reflection. Growth and change over time is inevitable in most cases, but I do wonder how much of it results directly from fighting.
One personality flaw that I’ve always been very aware of is my inability to deal with confrontation. I’ve always had a tendency to be a bit of a ‘doormat’. Since I was a child, I’ve always avoided confrontation of any kind, which meant letting people ‘walk over’ me rather than voicing my opinion in times of dispute. This has always been the case, even on occasions when it would have been totally reasonable for me to say something. One particularly amusing, albeit slightly absurd, example of this is one of my childhood birthdays. I have a twin sister, and we used to take it in turns each year to decide what to do for our birthday parties. One year (I think we were about 7), it was my turn to choose, and I wanted to go to an indoor playground called ‘Jimmy G’s’, which had a reputation for being pretty much the best place ever, but I had yet to go. My sister, who is the polar opposite of me, cried persistently because she wanted to have a tea party. My parents gave in and decided to flip a coin to show her that it was fair. I even won the coin toss, but my sister continued to cry. So, I eventually gave in as well and begrudgingly agreed to have a tea party instead, putting off Jimmy G’s until the following year. This wouldn’t be so bad by itself, if it wasn’t for the fact that Jimmy G’s then closed before our next birthday, and I never got the chance to go. Now, that’s a fairly ridiculous example, but I continued to be that way even in adult life, in situations where the consequences were much more significant than a disappointing birthday party. Whether it was in relationships, friendships, professional situations or even interactions with total strangers, I’ve never been able to stand up for myself.
Since verbal assertiveness is not something that I have ever managed to quite grasp, it will come as no surprise to hear that having a physical fight was something that I’d never even come close to before I started Muay Thai. It certainly is strange that while I may get into a ring and have a fight with another person, if anyone did something to annoy or upset me outside of the ring, I would have a hard time bringing myself to tell them about it. However, fighting itself is enough of a challenge alone for me, and as I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve always felt that I lack that ‘killer instinct’ that you would assume comes naturally to a fighter. Both of these things are consistent struggles for me, and aspects of myself that I am constantly striving to improve, and they seem to go hand in hand. The action of being forced to physically stand up for myself seems to aid my mental strength outside of the ring, and the progress that I continue to see in both of these areas as I keep fighting is just one measure of how Muay Thai has helped me to grow. I’ve become much more confident, and instead of allowing myself to be a pushover, have taken action to rid myself of any adverse relationships and connections, shedding those that I believed to be detrimental to my happiness. In doing so, I’ve become more focused, empowered and content.
Another change that I’ve noticed is that I’ve become more introverted than I used to be. I look forward to spending time by myself to recharge and reflect, and if I spend too long without ‘me time’, it sometimes causes me to shut down, or even become stressed and irritated. Sometimes, I prefer to observe and people-watch rather than involve myself in a crowd. This, coupled with the fact that I’m not so outspoken at times, sometimes leads people to believe that I’m in a bad mood, when in fact, I’m just quietly content (please see this excellent video on ‘Bitchy Resting Face’, the story of my life). This doesn’t mean that I’m shy or a hermit, it’s just the way I work these days. It shows even in little things, like my daily run. I need to run alone. I’ll run with a partner if they offer, but for me, running is my time to zone out and reflect on my training. These aspects of my personality have always been present, but I’ve noticed that they’ve become more prominent over time.
I am unsure how much change I can attribute to Muay Thai alone, as travelling, living in another country and having so many new experiences will undoubtedly have some effect on a person, but I am certain that Muay Thai and fighting has been a major factor for me. Of course, a conscious effort to contribute to self-development is a driving force in my personal growth, but how much of that would be possible if I hadn’t discovered Muay Thai? Even if it wasn’t fighting, but my work, or a totally unrelated venture, gaining skills and seeing visible progression in something is bound to improve a person’s self-confidence. The realisation of one’s ability to do something is quite empowering.
The above photo is of a wall that I came across in Chiang Mai in 2010, when I’d just started travelling and training. I usually have an irrational hatred for cheesy, motivational quotes and pictures, and I am the first one to complain when I see them in my Facebook news feed. However, this one seemed relevant at the time, so I made an exception (although I’m still very aware of how lame it is). It’s strange to see where life has taken me since then. At that time, I had just graduated and set off on a backpacking trip by myself, and was experiencing Muay Thai for the first time by spending a month training in Thailand before heading off to other countries. At that stage, I didn’t even think that I wanted to fight, so I certainly couldn’t have predicted that doing so would become such a big part of my life.
Since I’ve started fighting, my lifestyle has changed drastically. At times, I have felt that it has caused me to become somewhat alienated from other people. There is no doubt that living the life of a fighter requires me to spend a lot of time on my own. I live at the gym, training for six days a week, as well as working six days a week, and my day off is usually spent training. This leaves no time for a social life. Instead of spending my free time socialising, any time during which I’m not training or working, I’m eating, resting or writing. Before a recent trip home for my last fight, when packing my suitcase I discovered that my shoes that I would usually wear for going out were literally covered in cobwebs and dust. Then, I realised that it had been almost a year since I’d last been on a night out, the last one being for my birthday. Every time I’d had a holiday or time off work, I’d used it either for a fight, or to train for a fight. Now, it sounds like I’m complaining, but I genuinely love what I do, and it doesn’t make me sad at all. In fact, it makes me proud. I don’t think I’m missing out by not going out. I rarely drink, I’m not much of a party person at all, and I prefer to spend my time being productive and focusing on the things I want to do. I have no idea how long I will be in Thailand, so it seems simple to me that I should make the most of my time here by doing exactly what I came here to do: to train and fight. It is a difficult lifestyle to maintain at times, and it’s certainly not without its rough patches, but I’m trying to challenge myself in order not only to achieve something, but to grow as a person. Settling down, doing a 9-5 and ‘living for the weekend’ is all well and good for people who are content in doing so, but at this stage in my life, I’m looking to do something different. It’s difficult to achieve extraordinary things by living an ordinary life. That being said, while I wouldn’t change my current lifestyle for the world, I sometimes wonder how it might have contributed to any of those changes that my friends pointed out. At times, I have doubted myself, wondering if it had resulted in any adverse effect on my personality, but now that I’m much more self-assured, I see them more as developments which are directing me towards the person I want to be. I’m now totally confident that I’m in the right place, doing the right things, paving the way for even more positive things in the future.
The consensus seems to be that Muay Thai helps people to improve their confidence, and I imagine that this is the main change (aside from anything physical, of course) that a person might notice. However, there are countless stories of people who’ve used Muay Thai as a tool to help them turn their whole lives around. For some, it’s a drastic change, and for others it’s very subtle, but no matter where on the spectrum it falls, it makes a difference. I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who’d like to share their thoughts or experiences on any changes or developments that they’ve noticed in themselves as a result of Muay Thai or fighting. I know I’m not the only one!