Posted in Feminism, fighting, fitness

Things I Learned From My First Sparring Class

Yesterday, I decided to attend the mixed muay thai class at London Fight Factory for the first time since my friend and trainer Aaron took over teaching the class. I’ve been thinking about where I want to go with muay thai and I got this worm of an idea in my head that I just can’t get rid of. I somehow got it into my head that I might eventually (like, next year) want to fight. For real.

I know, I know. Its a crazy idea. My sister gave me the most incredulous, horrified look when I told her. I think she was already having visions of my broken nose, among other parts of my body that could potentially be damaged in a real muay thai match. Why, why, WHY would I want to do something so crazy?

But. I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve never really pushed myself to do something so far out of my comfort zone. I’ve always been afraid to try anything that’s not academic or intellectual because that’s how I always saw myself. I’ve placed my abilities in a box with very defined limits and everything I’ve done has been based on that. In one of my previous posts, I’ve already talked about how muay thai has changed the way I see myself. And now, for the first time, I’m thinking that if I commit myself to training and if I work hard enough, maybe MAYBE I can get to a level where I can at least put up a good fight. If nothing else, it will give me a goal to works toward and that’s always a good thing.

So, Aaron thought it would be a good idea for me to attend the mixed class and start sparring so that we can see how I do against other people in a controlled environment. I bought a mouth guard to protect myself while sparring, although I ended up not being able to use it because it was too tight (I must have set it wrong, lol). I was so excited and nervous going into the class. Honestly, I’ve seen what these guys do whenever I’m a little early for personal training and Aaron’s still finishing up a class, and its incredibly intimidating.

But you know what? I’m glad I came because it was a real eye-opener, not to mention a shitload of fun! Halfway through I found myself too busy and too focused to be nervous. I didn’t even realise we were already getting to the end of the 90-minute class.  Time flies when you’re making sure you’re able to dodge those kicks and punches. There’s a few things I’ve learned in that session that applies to both my training  that I’d like to share with you guys.

Think about where you can do the most damage

When you first train with muay thai, you start out by hitting pads. I think I somehow got so used to pad-work that I never really thought about the real goal here, which is to aim for actual body parts to either set up your next move or to do the most damage. Because again, its a fight, not an exercise. You’re not hitting pads anymore when you fight, you’re hitting another person.

In our last one-to-one, my trainer gave me an impromptu anatomy lesson so that I would know what I’m hitting when I aim for certain body parts. Like if I do a right body punch, I’m hitting the liver which – if you punch hard enough- is apparently the equivalent of a man getting kicked in the nuts. I’ll take his word for it as I will never have the opportunity to know.

With the first few rounds of sparring, I think I was aiming for the other person’s glove because I was still in a pad-work state of mind. Its only when my partner, Helene, started saying ‘aim for my face’ that I realised that the training wheels are off. I am now punching and kicking a moving, reacting target and I have to punch THEM because for sure they will punch ME. Its something to think about when I attend the next class.

 

Get them before they get you

When I do personal training, we do these drills so that I’m quicker with my punches, especially the jab. See video below.

I never fully understood the point of this exercise until yesterday. You really have to be quicker with the punches and get your hits in so that you’re in control of the situation. That left jab sets up so many of your next moves so if you’re lightning quick with its, the other person literally won’t know what hit them.

Also, I really have to stop apologising whenever my punches actually land. I found myself doing this A LOT yesterday. Like one of my fakes (see next item) would actually work and I’d get a punch in only to ruin it by stopping to say ‘oh sorry, I’m so sorry’. That’s good, I guess, because hurting people does not come naturally to me and goes against my Disney Princess instincts. But this is a fight. Hurting people so they can’t hurt you is kind of the point.

 

The art of misdirection

This was, by far, my most favourite lesson. On our last one-to-one, Aaron taught me how fighters used ‘faking’ to either open up a target or lure their opponent into a trap so they can strike where it hurts. I tried to apply this to sparring yesterday and I think it helped me land a few shots. However, I think I was giving myself away far too much (amateur!). Despite my intense concentration on the opponent before me, I could hear Aaron’s voice in the periphery saying ‘Eyes front Angela, you give yourself away each time because you’re looking at your next target’.

I know I keep talking about how I’m doing muay thai to prove to myself that I am more than just my brain but the truth is, it is way more mental than people give it credit for. You really have to have a strategy and think about what you can do, or how to do something your opponent won’t expect or won’t see coming (and therefore, won’t be able to block against).

A good defence is a good offence, and vice versa

So I’ve talked about being lightning quick with those jabs, but really there will be times when you WILL be on the receiving end of said jabs and you have to put up a good defense. I think this is the area that I have to work on the most. I could have done better with blocking some of those punches and kicks that I received (and maybe avoid getting hit in the b***bs so much). I let my guard down a lot of times and got my fair share of jabs, and they really hurt. So when Aaron was giving me those anatomy lessons and saying how a punch straight in the nose will disorientate your opponent? Oh boy, he wasn’t kidding. Getting punched in the nose, even in class, is not an experience I particularly want to repeat.

Nor do you want to put yourself in a position where you’re just defending and blocking all the time. You somehow have to find a way to extricate yourself from that situation, or back yourself out of that corner, so that you’re in the offensive – and in control – once again. I’ll have to work on this. I think I have good reflexes and really, its only natural to move out of the way when something comes at you but I have to channel those natural instincts into a skill.

 

Kill the boy, and let the man be born.

Line sounds familiar? Its from Game of Thrones for those of you living under a rock. Maester Aemon gave this advice to Jon Snow when he first got elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and it just came to me when I was thinking about the class I’d just attended, and from the watching the other women in class. Its amazing: they ask for and give no quarter. They pair up with other men and get treated and respected as an equal.

I came to class thinking I’d tell my teacher and whoever I ended up being paired with to go easy on me because I’ve not sparred before but actually, I realise that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to FIGHT. I wanted to take the hits and know that the world didn’t end because I got punched in the nose a few times. I can only learn from it (BLOCK, ANGELA, BLOCK) and be better from it. I think if you do muay thai you have to be strong mentally as well as physically.

By the time I got to my third partner for the day, I was actually saying ‘its my first time but don’t hold back on me’ (I mean, don’t hurt me or anything, but don’t hold back. haha). I wanted to learn and believe me, I did. Kill the girl, and let the fighter be born. 

 

If anyone’s interested in attending these classes, you can find the London Fight Factory Timetable here. Its really great and people are really supportive, I’d really recommend it!

Author:

Extraordinarily ordinary. Nurse. Teacher. Part-time traveller, full-time bookworm and music lover. I incorporate wishes, dreams and being a hopeless romantic with a sense of realism grounded on life experiences. I have yet to fully take off my rose-coloured glassed when it comes to life -despite occasional disappointments - and I prefer to keep it that way. I am in love with London, my adopted city. Every day is a new adventure, a chance to try something new. It has become such a part of who I am that I can't imagine living anywhere else. I am under the illusion that people will actually want to hear what I have to say and if it does turn out to be just an illusion, who cares? I want to put my thoughts out there for anyone to listen. I want to be heard because I have so much to say and I'm going to have fun doing it. I enjoy banter and a good back-and-forth. There is nothing more stimulating for me than an interesting conversation. So feel free to comment, express your opinions and let me know what you think. Let's get the world talking, one blabbaholic at a time.

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