Thoughts On The Environment of Martial Arts Training
Muay Thai and combat sports are NOT easy lines of business.
Every moment of pride in your skills is earned with countless hours of pain, desperation and insecurity. Not only is it a hard, brutal sport by in its core definition, but some people (and groups of people) make it even harder. So much harder that you begin to question your enjoyment of doing your favorite sport.
Modern Humans and Violence
I believe that most of us modern humans are not physically violent creatures by nature. The mere sight or sound of violence makes most of us uncomfortable.
Since the stone age, the human mind has developed other methods of causing harm than swinging fists and sticks. A simulation of violence we do enjoy, I believe – is friendly competition, and that’s what brought many of us to Muay Thai.
If you think about it, most sports are sort of a road around violence – or just an indirect form of it. Since ancient times, and especially since the industrial revolution, humans seemed to enjoy engaging in games and competitions – most of which got less and less violent and more civilized by the end of the 20th century. But even back in the day, I doubt that the villagers who went to kick a pig’s head between the two goal posts of the opposing village in a game that allowed the opposing villagers to beat them up – went to do so completely fearless and full of joy.
As someone who has trained and competed in non-combative sports before getting involved in the pugilistic world, I can tell you one thing – it’s kinda scary.
You don’t even know why, but you’re afraid of failure, afraid of pain and simply afraid of getting out there. Sure, I wasn’t completely terrified before every basketball or track & field training session, but when you get out there against people that you can’t bully or easily outclass – you sometimes get anxious. Perhaps I’m just a bit cowardly by nature, or perhaps I’m generally a bit gentle because of being raised by a single mother, but that’s how I personally feel.
“You’re Too Nice”
This is the one sentence I’m used to hearing for years.
When I just started out in combat sports (before switching to Muay Thai permanently, I began my Martial Arts journey in Muay Thai, did it for a few months and then trained in MMA for almost 2 years) and was watching a lot of UFC-related stuff, I was getting a big part of my inspiration from self-proclaimed “tough mofo’s” that often talked in knucklehead-ish cliches like “Imma’ knock his ass out”, “I’m not here to score points” and many other pearls of wisdom that I won’t bother to recall (the worst by far being something along the lines of “I’m a fighter, not a martial artist/athlete”).
And when all of this is mixed with a beginner’s enthusiasm, I began to think of myself as a “tough mofo” rather than a “student” or an “artist”.
As much as I respect MMA fighters, you know the atmosphere in many MMA gyms. Many of your training partners, when they wan’t to compliment you, will call you something “Alpha” that Joe Rogan said live and expect you to sing the same tune back. So it all turns into one big snowball that rolls faster and faster. Needless to say, I had LOTS of gym wars during that period, during which I tried to prove myself to everyone, including myself.
But there came a time (perhaps growing up had something to do with this, maybe the fact that I returned to a sport that has deeper artistic and cultural roots) when I embraced my true nature. And the truth is (or at least that’s how I feel) – I’m calm, sensitive almost like a child, apprehensive and I hate hurting people. And I do believe that on the grand scale, people don’t change. They may steer the wheel a little bit to the right or to the left, but their core remains the same.
Still, that doesn’t make me any less of martial artist or harms my learning curve in any way. Actually, I think the exact opposite. Also, I believe that there are 2 main motives that drive people towards martial arts – the motive of violence and the motive of sports/fitness. And I personally like to think of myself as a clear example of the “sports” option and try to behave like a sportsman on and off the mat. I like watching aggressive fighters and KO reels though, so maybe I’m still enough of a freak after all, heh.
But I still hear the infamous “you’re too nice” a lot.
By training partners and sadly, by coaches. I hear often that I should develops a “killer instinct” and stop letting people recover when I manage to get them into a desparate situation in sparring.
Maybe they’re right. But some of that, in some ways, for me – is bullying. There’s nothing challenging in that. Maybe it’s challenging to the person getting bullied (and that’s where I see its effectiveness – after all, at a certain point, you’ll have to get your fair share of beatings in this sport, there’s no way around it), but I just have a hard time hitting someone that doesn’t hit me back. Especially if I see that hiss skills and/or conditioning is inferior and he won’t get anything from this.
Violent sports tend to attract many dodgy characters – which “bloom” when they have access to boxing gloves and have a permission to hit people.
I met many people that I was genuinely happy to see how martial arts changed them, but sadly, none of us can deny that this community, in just about every place – is full of people that one would want to distance himself from at all costs, even if they present themselves as “friends”.
From the passive-aggressive training partner that will correct your form just to show dominance, to the teacher that will try to prove that they care about you just to boost their business a bit. From the “friend” that will ask you to spar AFTER the sparring session because his ego was hurt, to the coach that will create rivalries with other coaches out of thin air.
Sadly, often the actual martial arts techniques are just a tool – a tool that can be used to project insecurities, a bad mood or just general mean streak and first and foremost (in this case) – to prove something. And when these tools get into the wrong hands, especially if these hands are controlled by a talented mind and body – things get messy. And this mess will be the topic of the second part of this article.
I'm Anton, a Latvian-born physical education college student from Israel and an avid Muay Thai practitioner/student of the history of the sport.
Also the face behind the "Muay Thai Nerd" page on Facebook.