Crying in Training: It Happens

Today, I had one of those sparring sessions where I got so frustrated that I cried. 

It wasn’t full-on sobbing, and nothing that stopped me from training, but just annoying tears that seemed to come out of nowhere as I drew breath in between rounds. This has happened to me several times before, but it’s always very uncomfortable to deal with.

The sparring session itself was a particularly annoying one, as the guy I was working with presented some very irritating problems for me. He alternated between pummelling me and then running away, and it was frustrating for me to not be able to close the gap and reach him. More annoyingly, he danced around and mocked me, sometimes either putting his hands down completely or just guarding up as if to say ‘OK, I’ll give you a chance to hit me now’. These are things that my trainers or other sparring partners might have done to me before in a playful way, but for some reason, I just could not bear this guy. I never want to be treated any differently in sparring for being a woman, so getting hit is never the problem for me. I do, however, get irked when bigger guys overpower me and then act cocky about it. Of course you can over-power me if you’re bigger and stronger than me, and of course you can continuously headkick me if you’re much taller. I never want my sparring partners to feel as if they should go easy on me, but I do prefer for them to give me some respect and the chance to learn.

The problem I found with this training session was not the sparring, but what it drew out of me. An annoying sparring partner really doesn’t sound like something that should bother me that much. It certainly shouldn’t be enough to cause tears, but it happens.

On this occasion, the reason for the tears was probably a combination of the frustration of not being able to execute the things that I wanted to, the fact that I felt like my opponent was disrespecting me, and having various people watching me and shouting at me at the same time. I let it all get the better of me, and came out of that session with a nice purple bruise on my left cheek to show for it. On reflection, the guy I was sparring with probably wasn’t disrespecting me at all. He was probably just doing what he would normally do with anyone else, but instead of looking at it logically at the time, I let it frustrate me to the point of tears. It’s something that I need to work on.

I don’t react well under pressure, and I need to train myself out of that. Sometimes, I’ll allow myself to be backed onto the ropes or step out without following up on combinations, and that’s something I need to fix. It’s not an easy thing to do, given that I seem to be hard-wired to react that way. It’s just an involuntary response by my body, while my mind wants to do nothing other than ignore it and continue training. That is why I prefer for no one to react to it at all.

It’s not in most people’s nature to just ignore a woman when she’s crying, let alone hit her, so my male training partners usually do react. I’d prefer if they didn’t. I’d much rather have those awkward moments and make everyone feel a bit weird than have them approach the issue and ask me about it. Perhaps that’s because it makes me feel vulnerable, which is the exact opposite of what I want to feel, or to appear to others. Also, I don’t want people to assume that the fact that there are tears coming out means that I want to stop training or to stop getting hit. It doesn’t. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m upset or that I’m weak. It’s just a matter of me attempting to push myself through emotional barriers in my training, which is a purely introverted experience, and not something I want people around me to be aware of, let alone respond to (at least, not while it’s happening). As uncomfortable as it is, I think it’s something that’s good for me in the long run. Experiencing it, acknowledging it and learning how to deal with it will make me better-equipped to cope with these awkward, emotional moments in the future. That, and sharing it with others, can only be good.

The subject of crying in Muay Thai is something that Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu has written about, and I’m glad that she opened up the topic for other women to share their experiences. There are so many things that women go through in training and fighting that are largely restricted to our gender, which can sometimes make us feel isolated, and I think that this is one of them. I want other women to know that crying in training is not abnormal or something to be ashamed of. I’d also like to open the topic up to men, who may also be familiar with this experience. Even if they’re not, having them read about it at least means that some of our training partners might know not to freak out when it does happen!

As always, if you have any thoughts on this topic, I’d love to hear them.

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21 thoughts on “Crying in Training: It Happens

  1. Hi Emma! This is laura (recently trained at master toddy). I’m glad you’re writing about this topic. This happened to me once and I felt so stupid. Just tears roling down during a sparring session. For me it was the combination of being exhausted by the training and frustration because the sparring didn’t go well. Just like you I wished people would ignore it because I did wanted to continue, but like you say: hard for people to beat up a crying girl :-).


    • Hi Laura!

      Thanks a lot for the comment. I think most girls, and even some guys can relate to this. Like you said, it’s usually down to frustration coupled with exhaustion. It’s funny how our emotions work like that sometimes. Let me know when you’re coming back to the gym!

      – Emma


      • hi emma, my name is aine, i am 11 years old, doing mauy thai for 4 years, and i cry sometimes in sparring or after, because i get so angry at myself when things dont go right, also once i cried but didnt really now why. really enjoyed reading your peice


      • Hi Aine,

        Thanks so much for your comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It’s totally normal to get angry at yourself and cry in sparring, and also totally normal to cry for no apparent reason! I’ve done that plenty of times, and then gotten annoyed at myself because I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It makes me feel a bit silly, but It’s just a thing that we have to put up with and I do think it helps us to grow in training. Thanks again for reading, keep training! 🙂

        – Emma


  2. Hi Emma, thank you for writing this post! I have practised muay thai and boxing for four years now and what you said definitely resonated with me. I’ve come away from many training sessions blinking away tears of frustration mixed in with a lot of doubt about my skills.

    It is a sad fact that we will always encounter disrespectful guys when we train but I’m sure you have it in you to overcome. I’m sure guys sometimes feel the same way though their physical response might differ.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, keep training hard… don’t let the disrespectful treatment get to you and treat it as a good opportunity to learn some new skills such as how to deal with an opponent that keeps running away, or how to dodge a stronger and relentless opponent.

    Good luck with training!!!


    • Hi Denise,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m really grateful for all the feedback I’ve had on this topic so far, because it seems like this is something that a lot of women, and even men, have experienced.

      You are right in saying that working with an opponent like that is a good opportunity for me, because it forces me to work out of my comfort zone. Also, I think you’re right about guys feeling that way too, just sometimes we’re not so good at concealing it! Showing weakness in the ring, even if just in sparring, is a definite no-no, so it’s something I need to work on.

      Good luck with your training, too 🙂


  3. These people trigger emotions deep inside you, get to know them,they are a very important lessons for you and will make your inner self strong, i cried at frustrations with myself and others while sparing for years, the end result is what matters, crying is not a sign of weakness, but strength, get it on girl!


  4. I was impressed by Sylvie’s frank post on this topic and I’m impressed by yours too. I takes courage to talk frankly about crying when you’re in love with a sport that places such emphasis on self-discipline and endurance.

    If it’s any help, men can cry too. Of course boys, especially, are brought up not to react to pain, certainly not by crying. That makes it even harder for us to admit to having done it., so here is my confession.

    I have cried. It was when I was 23 and came after my first 10 round fight. I’d been looking forward to it for years. I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped (to put it mildly) and took quite a hard beating. I went back to the dressing room and cried my eyes out. It wasn’t the pain or damage. I’d had plenty of that before and i’d learned not to react to it. It was sheer frustration that I hadn’t done well in a fight that I was really looking forward to for a long time. Incidentally, I’ve never told anyone about this before. Your own frankness has teased the memory of that day out of me and that’s good. The good side is that it made me step up my training (and yes, the next time I won).


    • Hi there,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and share your story. There has been a handful of men who’ve admitted to similar experiences since I published this post, which is really comforting. As painful as it can be, it’s always a growing experience in the long-run!


  5. Hi there,
    My Coach (god bless him) just sent me the link to this post. Thanks for sharing it. I am very new to Muay Thai – just reached 1 year! This happens to me usually when I am completely exhausted and my Coach throws in a 5 min round of everyone grappling with me for 30 seconds (prep for my first fight). Pushing yourself past your comfort zone. I hate it – can’t stop it. Just really glad to know that I’m not the only one.
    Thanks again, Kylie


    • Hi Kylie,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s really nice that your coach thought to send this to you. You’re definitely not the only one. In fact, a surprising amount of men have told me that they’ve gone through the same thing!

      – Emma


  6. Great post Emma – I too am often swamped by people bigger than I in north america, and can get frustrated with sparring partners overpowering you. Trying to reflect this same attitude in people that are smaller than I can be difficult and I would be interested to see to which degree gyms “kill or be killed” approach infringes on actual learning and development. I feel once I went to Thailand and trained under a philosophy of learning vs. toughness that my development skyrocketed as well as nurturing more healthy attitudes towards sparring and team mates.

    Anyways, cant wait to come back and hopefully spar with you again sometime!!


  7. Pingback: Being the Little Guy | Under The Ropes

  8. Interesting article and of obvious value to other female fighters here who are commenting. As a male training in Muay Thai and coming in on the tall, tattooed and heavy side I can honestly say this issue still crosses gender. Exhaustion and frustration are a very emotive combination. I think we feel it the same way but show it differently.
    I think men react with anger at their emotions rather than acceptance. Potentially explains less tears on the guy side and more sparring sessions that escalate out of hand.

    Also, as a larger guy who spars with girls. Please dont feel disrespected. I know i change and experiment more when sparring with ladies as i want it to be a learning experience for both parties. Clinching and kneeing for 3 minutes wouldnt help either party. I guess i’m saying try and see the best in the person. Hard at the time i know , but if you can leave without holding a grudge then all good.


  9. today I was sparring at my gym, open sparring. It was my first proper open sparring session. I was against 4 people who were double my age and had fought before. Me being the youngest at 13, I was fairly confident it would be a gentle but harsh session. I was punched in the face quite a lot and my eyes began to water. I gave someone a pretty decent backhand and they punched me square on my nose making my nose bleed quite hard. I come to my auntie to clean me up and I began to cry. It hurt but I wasn’t crying because I was hurt, I was crying because of my pride. Crying made it worse because it made me feel even worse about my pride and it was a downwards spiral from there. I want to stop crying during sparring because it’s not a nice thing to have to live with.
    I want to be able to fight as an amature female boxer, however if I can’t take a punch my dreams will be down the drain.
    Any advice?
    -Lissy x


    • Hi Lissy,

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, it’s nice to hear from you! From my own experiences and from the feedback I’ve had on this post so far, it seems that most of us aren’t usually crying because of the pain, but because of some other mental aspect like frustration or being overwhelmed. I’ve also found that it happens to FAR more people than I’d previously thought, even quite a few men got in touch with me to say they had experienced the same thing.

      Being smaller and less experienced can be quite frustrating in sparring at the best of times, and since it was your very first proper sparring session, I wouldn’t worry at all! It’s totally normal and something that happens to me quite often. It doesn’t mean that you ‘can’t take a punch’ at all. As you keep training, you’ll familiarise yourself with these things and as you learn to deal with them, they’ll make you a better fighter. Keep at it and do let me know how you get on 🙂

      – Emma


  10. I just want to disagree with you that this is not a female only problem. Men does too. It’s the feeling of hopelessness and frustration that makes the tears come out. It’s not pain, it’s not anything, it’s not even real crying. But tears still come out for no reason. As if you’re not frustrated enough, the tears surely doesn’t help.

    For me, it’s mostly self inflicted as I’m thinking that I’ve been training for a few months now and I shouldn’t be this useless. Nothing I do works and the other guy is hitting me whenever he wants to. This was just a regular sparring session, no taunting, no hands down. But I just couldn’t do anything. Frustration and hopelessness. And I suppose the realization of what a shitty fighter you are. That last one is I think a macho thing that only guys get. Maybe I’ll feel better if I say to myself that it’s ok to get beat up by this more experienced guy. But I just can’t and I’m too hard on myself and the emotion just gets the better of me. So don’t feel bad ladies cuz guys get it too.


  11. Does anyone have any advice on how to avoid crying after getting lots of powerful punches and kicks from Blue to black belts in Taekwondo Sparring?


  12. Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve been struggling with this exactly a lot lately. And even though crying is purely an emotional response to the frustration we feel, it seems like we’re hurt to our partners. And that makes us feel vulnerable and it’s easy for us to get in our heads about our success in the round because of that.


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