Physical combat for inner peace: is there a case for martial arts?
When was the last time you got punched in the face?
For me, it was last Saturday and it happened at least three times.
“I’m only doing it because you’re not putting your head down,” my partner explained. “You’ve got to keep your head down. And stay relaxed!”
Head down. Got it. Stay relaxed. Got it. Head ache.
Strangely enough, it’s hard to stay relaxed when someone is punching you in the face. Weird, I know. What’s weirder is that once I do relax, it’s easier to defend the incoming blows.
Duck, brush, get one back. Duck, brush – argh, not again?
In my 16 months training in kickboxing and Muay Thai I’ve gotten better at a lot of things. I can kick pretty quickly, punch a little harder, skip a touch higher.
Still, I just can’t seem to keep my head down. So it’s a good thing then that I am becoming much more relaxed.
These days, when I get punched in the face, I laugh.
At Double Dragon, my kickboxing and Muay Thai gym, the sport looks like it’s almost religious to the dedicated. They’re always there, torsos like wooden planks twisting as they grunt, kick and throw each other to the ground. Their satin shorts often match the red and blue bruising around their eyes.
For others (like me) it’s more of a hobby and a challenge.
I started training when I arrived home after a year of eating cheese and drinking sangria in Spain. Leaving the ancient cities, salsa dancing and lazy lifestyle of Castilla y León was hard and I needed something new. I also desperately needed to get fit.
In my first session, a combination of summer heat, flickering lights and – let’s be honest –that lack of fitness meant I nearly fainted. It wasn’t an auspicious start. Nevertheless, I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve come away with injured toes, the odd poked eye, sore ribs, throbbing heads and more bruises than I can count. A couple of times I’ve felt queasy and learnt that when it’s hot, you need to eat a lot more to stay upright.
As I write this, I’m stretching out the knee I corked last night and considering the fact that the scratch left on my arm by my trainer’s big toe (eww) has only just healed.
It’s not putt-putt. But I keep coming back.
The thing is, training in Muay Thai is not just about fitness or strength. It's that plus strategy and focus. It’s about building confidence and learning not to blink when there’s a foot coming for your head (I’m still working on that). It’s about not prancing away from an aggressive partner (working on that one too). And, it’s about staying relaxed under pressure. I’m glad to say I’m getting better at that.
Over my period of training I’ve completed university, worked multiple part-time jobs and internships and began work at Momentum Media. It might sound silly, but the ability to attend a session and think of nothing but the sport has been a welcome constant.
Even now, when everything is much more stable and much less stressful, an hour at the gym is often the best part of the day.
Mentally, I feel tougher, calmer and more in control of everything going on.
I think it’s to do with the drills we do. When we’re practicing defence, my trainer likes to describe it as “taking care of business”.
Any combination of kicks, elbows, punches and knees could be flying at you but eh, it’s fine! You’re just taking care of business. If you cop a hit you laugh it off and think: “Yeah, well done buddy. Good shot. I’ll get you back next time.”
It’s hard to not have this mental toughness flow through into the other parts of my life. If there’s a stressful period at work, I figure it’s best to just take care of it. Don’t dwell on it; don’t become anxious, just take care of it.
If something goes wrong I acknowledge it but again, try not to dwell on it. It’s like getting kicked in the shin. Yep, that happened and oof that hurt. Let’s not do that again.
It should be noted that kickboxing and Muay Thai can be brutal games. This sport isn’t for everyone – I’ve seen a lot of people come for a month and drop out.
But the people who stay are the maniacs like me. They just love it.
So, if you’re feeling stressed, maybe it’s time to ask yourself: when was the last time you got punched in the face?