There is Always a Silver Lining
As fighters and students of Muay Thai, we all naturally have techniques that we gravitate towards.
Sometimes a particular strike just clicks with us, it makes sense. It’s likewise going to be inevitable to depend on these techniques. Why shouldn’t someone throw a lot of hard left kicks if they love it and are really good at it? (Ahem, Yodsanklai.)
But there are downsides to becoming too dependent on certain techniques.
On the one hand, it makes it easier to predict what you are going to do.
On the other, what happens if you get injured and you have to adjust your game plan?
Injuries suck and there’s no two ways about it. But injuries also represent opportunities to grow. They force us to come out of our comfort zone and learn new things.
I have always loved to teep. As soon as my coach explained the teep to me as a “foot jab” rather than a push kick, I was hooked. Bringing up the knee and launching the leg out from the hip, making contact with the ball of the foot.
The feeling of getting hit with a solid teep in the gut is like getting shot or stabbed with a spear.
One time in sparring, I landed a ‘stabbing’ teep to the sternum a teammate… he grabbed the back of his shorts and ran straight to the bathroom!
A good, fast lead leg teep snaps up and out like the head of a cobra, and you’ll never see it coming. It can sting you before you even know what happened.
It’s a thing of beauty.
My teammates and sparring partners quickly found out just how much I loved to teep. People would groan and instinctively put their hands on their tummies whenever they were picked to spar with me.
In my second smoker I landed a clean hard teep within the opening seconds, and my opponent was hesitant to move forward for the rest of the match. Every time he moved forward or thought about it, he knew that teep would be there. I could take my time and pick my spots.
Over multiple fight camps I developed a fighting style built around my teeps and that technique became an integral part of my identity as a nak muay. I would try to counter my opponent’s movements and strikes with teeps and then move in for my own combos.
One evening while training for my fourth amateur fight, I was sparring with a teammate and predictably I tried to teep him in the gut. My teammate brought up his knee to block my teep and even though I didn’t feel any pain, as soon as I put my foot down, I could tell that something was wrong.
One problem with having a technique that you throw all the time is that people who know you expect it. So as one can imagine, everyone that I sparred with got really good at blocking teeps.
When I looked down I could see that the second toe on my left foot was straight-up bent at a ninety degree angle.
“Oh my god, how long is this going to keep me out of the gym,” I asked myself.
Still in shock I hopped my way to my car and drove to the emergency room. After four hours of getting x-rays and sitting around waiting, I was informed that my toe was not broken, only badly dislocated, and the doctor popped it back into place in three seconds.
Once my toe had healed enough to get back to training I found that I was totally lost without being able to teep. I realized that I didn’t really know what to do with my hands. The entire clinch game was a mystery to me.
Frankly, it didn’t occur to me that knees were something I could do.
While waiting for the ligaments in my toe to get strong again, I couldn’t throw any kicks at all so I had to just work whatever techniques I could. For more than a month I trained nothing but hands and clinch.
With my kru’s support and encouragement I realized that this was a great chance to turn my weakness into a strength.
By the time my toe felt solid enough to kick and teep on, I had come to feel as confident in the clinch as I had with my teeps. Nevertheless, nobody at the gym was happy for me when I started being able to throw teeps in sparring again.
Now, I still teep. But it’s part of a much more well-balanced style. My injury forced me to pay attention to things that I had ignored, to my own detriment as a student and a fighter.
When you really love something, you can get too focused on it and everything else becomes eclipsed. When that happens, you miss the beauty of the other things around you.
It’s easy to like doing something when you’re good at it and it feels like crap when you know you suck at something. For me, perhaps like most people, that makes me not want to do it as much. Some people have the discipline to fight through that feeling, but for the rest of us it’s nice to know that accidental circumstances can come up sometimes to give us an extra push.
- Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature. He has taught courses on Daoist philosophy, the Beat poets, among others, at the University of Connecticut and Springfield College. He has been training and fighting muay thai for almost 2 years.