Combat Is Full Of Surprises
Stepping into the ring for the first time is nerve-racking.
The first-time fighter collects preparatory information from many sources, including coaches, trainers and teammates. They put in the hours at the gym. They feel strong. They feel ready.
No fighter is “ready” for their first fight.
So much about my first fight was unexpected. Here are five things that no one told me before my first Muay Thai fight:
I forgot everything I had learned.
All of the hours of fights I’d watched on YouTube. All of the detailed breakdowns I’d worked on with my training partners. All my game plans — gone.
This is OK.
What remained after everything else flew out the window was the fact that I had trained so much that I didn’t need my game plan.
I had trained so hard and repeated the same movements so many times that they were ingrained in my muscles’ memory. I didn’t need to remember everything I knew; my body remembered for me.
I once watched an interview with Tiffany Van Soest in which she said:
“The moment I step into the ring, there’s nothing going through my head. That’s when the autopilot kicks in. It’s all the hard work that I’ve already done.”
This is why my coach makes me do 100 kicks each side. This is why you drill the same counter over and over, round after round.
These repetitions are making your reactions habitual — something that you know to do without having to think about it.
Fight night is going to be a direct reflection of the work you’ve already put in, so make sure that the habits you’re building are habits that will serve you in the ring.
As the saying goes: “You can only fight as hard as you practice.”
The fight’s pace was nothing like sparring.
In sparring, I’m instructed to be measured and controlled, to watch my power and be respectful.
In my first fight, though still practicing respect, I was probably anything but measured and controlled. And of course, I let my power rip.
When going back to training again after this first fight, the distinctions were very obvious: sparring is controlled and deliberate, while fighting is frenetic and reactive.
In this situation, I had to remember to breathe and simply trust my training. And in the midst of that frenzied fight tempo, I learned the next lesson on my list…
I fatigued much faster than in my toughest training sessions.
In my training leading up to that first fight, my cardio was incredible… or so I thought.
I believed that because I was surviving all of my rounds of pad work, making it through every round of sparring, and getting in my road work. I was, naturally, good to go.
This was not the case.
I was absolutely spent after the first round, especially since I didn’t understand the pacing that I mentioned above. I was undoubtedly nervous. My body was tense and rigid, and I was hitting harder – and getting hit harder – than ever in sparring.
I was drained.
I realized that I didn’t need to just survive my regular training, I needed to conquer it every day. Whenever I think I’m tired, I don’t believe myself. I’m not.
Having great cardio is not about training so that I never get tired during a fight. It’s about training so that when I’m more exhausted than I’ve ever been, I can keep pushing.
I couldn’t remember much of the fight.
In my first fight, my brain was not in “observe and document” mode; it was in “assess and react” mode.
This was the biggest surprise for me. It had been such a significant moment in my life! How could I not recall everything that happened?
This is why having someone there to take video is so important. Not only is recording oneself good for observing and correcting mistakes for the next fight, but it’s great for solidifying memories of fights that have already happened.
I have a friend who fought recently against a very tough opponent and ended losing. Afterwards, this friend was discouraged, questioning why he was even doing Muay Thai in the first place.
Upon seeing the video of his fight, however, his perspective of it (and his skills) changed completely.
He realized that he had actually done much better than he thought, that his strikes were crisp and his footwork solid. He just had a few more fundamentals to polish up before his next bout.
His memory of the fight had been corrupted by the fact that he had not been awarded the “W.” He couldn’t remember anything of the fight except the loss, even though every member of our team was congratulating him on an awesome performance.
For your first fight, win or lose, have someone there to document what goes down, because your brain might not record things accurately!
I had fun.
This was my first fight. I will never get to have that particular, special experience again. Even if I go on to fight a hundred more times, this will always be the step that started my competition journey.
I embraced the nerves. I cherished the build-up. I had the time of my life.
Fighting is a unique experience because it, more than anything else I’ve known, tells me the truth about myself.
Now, after that nervous first fight, I remember to stop and smell the Thai liniment.
- Emily is a martial artist who has trained and fought in Muay Thai for the last four years in Miami, FL. Now based in Atlanta, GA, she continues to train and grow in the martial arts while balancing her work as a health behavior researcher. Her dream is to combine her passion for both martial arts and population health so she can help make the world a healthier, better place.