Once, I was high kicked in the face and I didn’t check it properly. Luckily for me, we weren’t going 100% and despite some pain and a little swelling, my jaw remained intact.
On the flip side, I once inflicted some serious damage when I kicked a girl so hard I cracked her ribs. Everyone – even her – said it was cool. The kick was legit and well executed. But I couldn’t shake off the guilt I felt for a long time. It was right before Christmas and her holidays were pretty much shot because of me.
In cases like this I always ask myself: “Why don’t I just drop this shit? Why don’t I just go home and give my man some babies like a normal 33 year old woman would do?
Why do I keep doing this to myself?
But I rarely have to look for an answer for very long, though. I know why.
I know it’s because I’m the walking martial arts cliché: “Muay Thai saved me from myself,” kinda girl.
I know that I don’t drop this “shit” because the day I walked into my gym was the day that forced me to take a long hard look at the incredibly shitty way I was living my life – i.e. working, eating, smoking and drinking myself to death, up to the point of getting rushed into a CAT scan because of alcohol and sleep deprivation induced seizures that left me hallucinating, paralyzed, slurring words and nauseous for hours.
When I got to the hospital, doctors suspected a brain tumor. That’s how out of control my lifestyle was. And so, I know that I do this because my addictions are always “at a arm’s length away from me”1 and that Muay Thai and the healthy habits that go with it is the only thing I found that helps me keep my demons at bay.
Reading various blogs, meeting different people and talking with some of my teammates, I’ve discovered I’m not the only one who’s resorted to this outlet to keep my head above water. There is something very unique about martial arts that speaks to the racing mind of the addict, and relieves us from the dire aching need to get out of ourselves.
That’s exactly what addiction is. A nerve wracking quest to step out of yourself and “make life bigger”2. For an hour. For an evening. For a 13 hour bender.
But the problem is, addiction needs to be fed and feeding it is killing you. Yet, it’s a pain so exquisite, you’re not willing to change your ways because it hurts too good. It’s like having a loaded pistol in your mouth and craving the taste of gunmetal3.
You see, addicted people are intense people. There is no half way with us.
You don’t need to tell us to “go big or go home.” Matter of fact, some of us have been “going big” for a such a long time by now, we wouldn’t even know where home is. Going big is the only way we know, and in that sense it makes us incredibly well suited for the intensity that martial arts bring. And the beauty of Muay Thai is that it gives a purpose to it, because it teaches us how to deal with it.
As addicts, I believe we never, really truly calm down – that we’ll always struggle a little bit more than “normal” people with attaining inner peace, that we’ll never “go gentle into that good night.” And so we need tools, coping mechanisms, that will help us stand in the eye of the storm that has become our lives.
And Muay Thai – or any other martial art really – can help us learn how to, like Miyamoto Mushasi says in “The Book of Five Rings,” “keep inwardly calm and clear even in the midst of chaos.”
As an addict, if there’s one thing you learn to master, it’s chaos. But if there’s one thing you’ve failed to master, it’s yourself. When the fuck could you have possibly learned anyway? All those instances when you were literally gritting your teeth for more when the buzz wore off didn’t exactly leave room for self-awareness workshops.
But Muay Thai creates a means for exactly that. Just like MMA fighter, Ryan Lang, says in this moving interview:
“Addiction is a life and death situation, but I learned how to be totally calm in dangerous situations, and find a way to think as opposed to react. Now, as a martial artist, realizing that I can be at the verge of that [drowning feeling] and be totally calm and think my way out of it, gives me the strength to stay sober.”
For a former addict, Muay Thai can really come to feel like a second shot at life, at yourself.
‘Cause when you’re in the ring sparring, fighting or really getting your face smashed in by your pad holder, all you’re left with is a single requirement: outdoing yourself. And when you spent a significant part of your life undoing yourself (since I was 9 in my case, as I routinely got drunk as a child), discovering you can actually be more than a self-indulgent asshole, that you can really do something worthy, helps you take that proverbial step towards healing into becoming a better human, deal with the anxiety of staying in on a Friday night and cut ties with so-called friends who are hurting you.
And so little by little, you come into being who you really are.
And the mornings are less and less smelly and less and less painful. And your hands eventually stop shaking, and you heart eventually stops beating all the way up into your eyes. And that is addictive. So if that means getting high kicked to the face and cracking some girl’s ribs along the way. I’m willing to take it. I’ll make babies later.
- My name is Pascale Fontaine, I've been learning muay thai for about three years at Académie Sparmax in Rosemère, Canada, under Ajarn Normand Grimard. I attended the TBA Pacific Northwest Annual Muay Thai Training Camp in 2014. I plan on having my first amateur fight in 6 months. I graduated from University of Montréal in 2005 with a degree in literature and in 2008 with a degree in translation.