Whenever someone asks me what I think about Muay Thai, I invariably say the same thing: “It makes me angry.”
It made angry the night I crawled out of my first session, and it makes me angry today, which leaves many baffled as to why I keep subjecting myself to repeated brutalisation. Is it a case of Stockholm Syndrome? I hope not. The truth is that I don’t really have an answer, but I do have my suspicions. I go back to Muay Thai because I leave every session knowing that I could have done better, and knowing exactly how I can be better the next time.
In some ways, the exercise is Sisyphean in nature. There will never be a point, I imagine, where I am good enough for me. But I don’t want to plateau, or to reach a point where I can declare that there is nothing else to learn. As much as it makes me enraged at my own inadequacies, I enjoy the pursuit, the endless puzzle that is developing cardiovascular strength and learning the ways that the muscles give under certain strikes, how bone and cartilage will bend when you’ve delivered the perfect kick or punch, how they will resist when you’ve gotten it wrong.
Unsurprisingly, Muay Thai resonates with the part of me that exults in writing violence. My fiction tends to be savage. The fight scenes are never glossed over, and I spend possibly inordinate amounts of time researching injuries and the consequences of those injuries: whether geysers of blood would be a piece of Hollywood theatrics or a plausible result of a certain action. (I am told that I’m a terrible dinner guest when I’m in research mode.)
Muay Thai—and most martial arts, I imagine—invites similar levels of meditation. Ask anyone who has spent any time learning combat sports and it’s likely that they’ll tell you the same: a punch is not just a punch. It is the rotation of the hip and the thrust of the shoulder, the way you push kinetic energy along the body, the snapback of the arm as you flinch back into a defensive position.
And I love that. That sense of trying to internalize and perfect a skill that can never be fully explained, only inadequately described through the limitations of human language. Honestly, there is nothing more beautiful than that moment when it all clicks and your body, pouring through a motion that can barely be counted in seconds, does that thing your instructor has been helplessly trying to illustrate and you go, “Ah ha.”
Kind of like writing.
I never thought I could write fiction. When I first delved into nonfiction, I didn’t think I could do that either. I was stubborn, however. And angry at my own inadequacies too. I knew enough about literature to know that my early attempts were anything but good, although I lacked the ability to define why they weren’t good enough, let alone correct them. But I had my rage, and I had my determination to be better than who I was.
So I read books and articles on how to write like someone different, someone who knew what they were doing. I tried out the techniques. Some worked, some didn’t. Most came prefaced with clear instructions to understand that this was one person’s methods for success, and it wouldn’t necessarily work for anyone but them. And that was 100 percent true. Writing can be taught, but it can’t be really be understood until you’ve figured out how to match those lessons with who you are – the same way that someone can talk until they turn blue about how best to throw a punch, but you’ll never learn until you figure out how to make that advice work with your own physique.
(Or you might make it through on instruction alone. I don’t know. The beauty of life is the unpredictability of its inhabitants.)
All said and done, I don’t go for Muay Thai training enough. I travel too much and I not-so-privately despair over the idea that I’m going to be a beginner for life, trapped with rudimentary-level sparring skills and the need to relearn that stupid hip-twist every few months. (For those unfamiliar with Muay Thai, there’s a rather tricky motion that is integral to performing a good kick, something that inevitably escapes me every time I allow any distance between myself and the sport.)
But I’ll keep doing it. The same way I’ll keep writing, even when I feel I’ve lost all ability to do so. Because muscle memory is a thing and I’m frequently angry at the world, and the idea of using that anger to do something as opposed to just flailing about, is occasionally the motivation I need to get out of the bed some mornings.
Also, because Muay Thai is incredibly good at making you look great.
Originally posted on Tor.com