The Diaries of a Rebel Ivy League PhD Student Preparing for his First Muay Thai Bout
This piece is the third entry in a six part mini series detailing the journey of Paul Muniz, an Ivy League PhD student preparing for his first Muay Thai bout. Paul will make his amateur debut at Friday Night Fights on February 28th, 2014 at the Broad Street Ballroom in New York City.
Today marks five days until fight night. I have finally seen the fight card and several of the match ups have the potential to be awesome fights. Angela Hill, one of the most well known female fighters in the greater NYC area, is headlining and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t “fan-girling” a little bit. Friday Night Fights always puts on great shows and I am stuck in this weird part-fan-part-fighter daze where I am overwhelmed by what is coming my way next Friday night.
In fact, overwhelmed accurately describes my overall state of mind right now.
Any “good” fight camp will bring an athlete to their wits’ end with the sport. The level of dedication required to be successful in Muay Thai is borderline insane. It stresses familial relationships, burns through bank accounts, and forces the athlete to leave everything on the mat or in the ring day in and day out. Muay Thai, like the combat sports more generally, requires a degree of giving of self that can be seen as pathological.
With few exceptions, fighters most often have day jobs or go to school. For me, combining my graduate school curriculum with this overwhelmed feeling can be a recipe for disaster. I am a very insecure student. I’m certain that I suffer from “imposture’s syndrome”; the feeling that I am not really as gifted or talented as the labels attributed to me give me credit for. The people around me in the Cornell University sociology PhD program are extremely gifted. We are also very supportive of each other. But the fact remains that I oftentimes feel like I don’t belong; like I am not good enough. This feeling got so bad just yesterday that I had to leave a classroom after giving a short presentation because I felt so small and unqualified that I became nauseous.
At this point, I can say with confidence that I am a fighter. I’ve taken my beatings and put in my work at the gym and now all I have to do is perform next Friday night and show everyone else who I am and what I am made of. But I have to ask myself, am I fighting to fight? Or am I fighting to run from my insecurities surrounding my other labels (i.e., as a student)?
I don’t think that it is too uncommon for fighters to fight in order to mask the fact that they are actually running from something. Whether it be family issues or insecurities with one’s own masculinity, I think that we sometimes fight as a means for escape. Fighting does provide me with a temporary elusion from my role as a stressed out and insecure student, but with fight night approaching and this semester kicking into high gear, I feel like the walls are caving in. Fighters often have to deal with these sorts of things. My story is not unique. This is the part of the story that often goes untold. We are human. We have weak moments.
The silver lining in all of this is as follows: fighters fight. So, whether I’m chopping away at the heavy bag or 300 pages deep in a book with a methodology too complex for me to grasp, I will fight. I will lose some battles. Hell, I might even lose next Friday night. But luck favors the prepared, and I promise both you and myself that I am prepared for this fight.