What do you do when your form of stress relief becomes stressful? When the one thing you have come to rely on to shift your mindset form the drudges of despair instead makes you feel worse, what then? Do you give it up and find a new hobby? That’s the predicament I found myself in two weeks ago after I had one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. It all went down one evening after my Muay Thai class. I went into class seeking refuge from what, up to that point, had already been a crap-tastic day. I had spent much of my work day on various phone calls with my insurance and car loan leader trying to sort out the mess of my 18-month vehicle being totaled by hail. Alas, that is a tale for another time, the point is I had been looking forward to training all day! I couldn’t wait to release all my pent-up anxiety in a furry of combinations. So when instead of feeling relief, I found myself leaving class in a worse mood than when I came in, I felt betrayed. How could the thing I love most in world leave me feeling like an A1 loser? Well, I’ll tell you how.
A little background info, classes at the gym I train at are separated by different levels. I’ve been training Muay Thai for 3 months (done a bit of boxing before then, mostly bag work) and am at level 1. The level 2 class consists exclusively of partner drills. This particular evening, after the level 1 classed ended, my trainer asked folks individually if they would be staying for level 2 in order to insure there was an even number participating. Now, I am not in level 2 and I realize that but I made the mistake of jokingly asking my trainer why he hadn’t asked me if I was staying. (I had stayed for level 2 the day before when they were short a person.) I said something along the lines of “Hey! You didn’t ask me! Not fair.” My trainer looked annoyed and said “I didn’t ask you for a reason. Muay Thai isn’t fair.” I was only joking and well he didn’t think it was funny, but whatever end of story. Not! A couple minutes later as a classmate and I chatted and both gathered our stuff to go, my trainer told us to hang around for a moment as he wanted to say something he thought we should also hear. Homeboy proceeded to give a 15-minute speech in front of everyone about why I wasn’t ready to move up a level. He didn’t specifically say my name or that the speech was directed towards me, but I knew and trust me everyone else knew, it was about me.
The speech was hella long and as with all traumatic experience, the details are blurry but here are some of the highlights:
-If you are ready to move a level HE will let you know. Don’t ask.
-Muay Thai isn’t fair. It rewards the strong and capable. If someone shows the skills and abilities, they will move ahead of someone who has been training longer.
-He has the same expectations of everyone. Doesn’t matter how small you are. You have to be able to hold pads and drill with the biggest and hardest hitting guys at the gym. You have to be able to keep up with anyone in the gym. If you aren’t up to par you will just be holding back your partner back and he won’t allow that.
-He rattled off some specifics you have to have down to move up: upper body strength, the ability to memorize combinations the first time you’re told them, upper strength again, STRENGTH etc…
-Every Joe Bob on the street thinks he can fight. Wrong. Not everyone can get in a ring or a cage.
-The gym has been around for a long time. It has a reputation to maintain. He will not allow anyone with half-assed technique and skills to go out there and represent the gym and embarrass and tarnish that reputation.
The speech felt like it went on forever and at the end of it I felt H-U-M-I-L-A-T-E-D. Now, I am not disputing the validity of any of these statements. The delivery though, I felt that was a little harsh. If he felt the need to say all that, why couldn’t he have said so privately? Did he really have to put me on blast like that? Afterwards, I sat in my car and ugly cried like I hadn’t cried in a long time. The rest of my evening was shot. I was too upset to do anything and ended up just moping around until I feel asleep.
I understand that my reaction to the incident was much more a combination of the bad day I was already having and my underlining self-confidence issues than the actual speech itself. My initial take away from the speech was that here was another thing I suck at! My own trainer was making it publicly clear that I suck at Muay Thai! I just suck at everything I love. Everything. I am never going to be good at anything. I should just accept that and move on.
A little dramatic right? I’m a hyper sensitive cancer and a perfectionist to boot okay! No, not okay Yvonne! Too often we put all our self worth eggs in one basket, a basket that could tear at any moment. That basket can be our job, academic work, or athletic achievements. It can be anything. Recently in a periscope chat about failure, my friend Nathaniel Solace (who is super inspiring and who you should follow on periscope @NathanielSolace) said “We allow AN experiences to define OUR experience. Just because you fail at something doesn’t mean you are a failure.” Well, that is exactly what I was doing here. I was using this experience as evidence that I was destined to be less than mediocre at everything in life I truly cared about.
You see I love Muay Thai. Training is literally my favorite thing in the world. It was transformed my life for the better (I intend to dedicate a full post to that topic in the future.) I am by NO means a natural and boy have I struggled! But, I have seen noticeable improvements in my technique from when I first started. This is part of the reason I love martial arts so much. If you put in the work you will see very tangible results. My trainer’s comments that infamous evening made me feel like no matter the gains I had made I still wasn’t good enough. I still wasn’t on par with everyone else and probably never would be.
Prior to a week ago, when another girl joined the gym, I had been the ONLY girl, a fact I am very self-conscious of and that has only added to my insecurities. I am naturally thin and I don’t put on muscle easily even compared to other girls. Upper body strength has always been something I’ve struggled with and something my trainer has called me out for in the past. He has made it a point to tell me that just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean he is going have a different set of expectation for me, which I appreciate of course! But sometimes I can’t help but feel he is a bit dismissive of me as a potential fighter. I am not suggesting this is because of my gender but I do think he views me as weak. No doubt, his speech triggered a number of insecurities within me but I have the power to choose to not allow those insecurities to buy up further real estate in my mind.
I will admit I did go around feeling sorry for myself for a couple of days but now I am more determined than ever to improve as a Thai boxer. Frankly, I don’t think my trainer had any idea the effect that speech would have on me. I don’t think he realizes how important Muay Thai is to me. Combat sports is not for everyone. I have heard stories about how coaches won’t take you seriously until you prove you are worthy of their attention, after all, gyms are always full of people who come and go. So, it looks like your girl has A LOT of push-ups to do. Yes, I’ll probably have to push myself harder and it will probably take significantly longer *sigh* for me to get to the same level as most of my male training partners, but that’s just the way that it is. I am in it for the long run. Combat sports is tough! And I think it’s fair to say that as a woman it can be even tougher. You know what else is tough? Life! It’s time for me to wipe my tears and get to training, because Nathaniel is right. I can’t let you bad experience define me.