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.
Follow Under the Ropes