Behind the Glory: The Unfiltered Reality of Becoming a Fighter
Inspiration behind this blog: “I’ve had 3 members who are mothers of teenage sons approach me in the past concerned that their sons have said they want to be fighters. I’ve also overheard similar conversations around the gym. This is aimed at those interested in pursuing Martial Arts – aiming to provide a reality check based on my experiences as a professional Muay Thai fighter.”
You see the end product – all the glory of a fighter with arms raised in victory, a testament to their hard work, and often not even a sign of a fight other than the sweat glistening on their brow. It seems attainable, doesn't it? Your emotions surge, making you feel like you, too, could step into that ring (or cage). But can you truly?
I've been a gym trainer since 2010, starting out as a boxing class instructor. At that time, I was still actively competing in Muay Thai kickboxing at a professional level. Over the years, numerous individuals – usually aged 18 to 25 – have approached me, or I’ve overheard them in the gym talking confidently about how they want to be a fighter, or even wanting to ‘knock someone out’. The latter sentiment is unsettling, I admit. As a former competitor, it raises concerns for unsuspecting people in clubs seeking a good time. In such instances, an individual, bolstered by alcohol-induced confidence, might attempt to replicate what they've seen in UFC fights. This is commonly referred to as the "coward punch."
In reality, becoming a fighter encompasses far more than the occasional white-collar boxing match or practicing jiu-jitsu. I want to clarify that I hold no disdain for jiu-jitsu; however, it's essential to recognize that it can't be equated with sports involving heavy physical blows. This comparison is akin to equating soccer with NRL. I'm referring to the commitment required for pursuing a sport where aiming for a state title or beyond is the goal. This path demands rising at 4:30-5:00a.m., running 8 km or more five days a week. Subsequently, evenings are dedicated to gym sessions involving pad work and sparring.
Now, let's delve into the real trial – sparring. You'll spar with peers of your level and also challenge yourself against experienced fighters, individuals significantly superior to you. This is where genuine learning takes place. It's an opportunity to decipher what techniques are effective and which ones fall short. One mustn't deceive themselves into believing that hitting pads directly translates to success in an actual fight. Human behaviour is unpredictable, especially in the context of a fight.
Expect to endure some harsh realities. You'll absorb beatings, sometimes frequently, contingent upon your sparring partners' willingness to assist you on any given day. They might provide feedback on your strengths and areas for improvement, or they might opt to let you discover these aspects through challenging experiences.
For those entering the realms of Muay Thai or MMA, early stages are characterized by black eyes, bruised thighs, sore ribs, and an assortment of bruises. You might even contend with headaches. Do you still aspire to becoming fighter?
Consistency in gym attendance is key to earning the respect of seasoned fighters. If you're irregular in your training, such respect will elude you.
Now, if you've firmly decided to embark on a competitive journey and communicated your intentions to your coach, brace yourself. Sparring intensifies, as does your pad work. You're now an embodiment of your gym's reputation when you step into the ring. This endeavour extends beyond your personal aspirations; you represent an entire entity.
Here comes the litmus test – initiated by an experienced fighter. The coach seeks to gauge your resilience against powerful blows and assess your response. This juncture reveals whether you possess the fortitude required for this path or if you shrink back.
An accomplished fighter administers a liver shot or, in unfortunate cases, a head shot. Should you continue sparring after recovering from a knockdown, you might possess the necessary mettle. Alternatively, this could mark your confrontation with the harsh realities of fighting, leading to self-preservation instincts overshadowing your desire to fight.
Perhaps you rise from the canvas, yet introspection follows. In the quiet moments, you confront the truth – Wednesday's sparring was a mere precursor. Training resumes tomorrow, followed by another sparring session on Saturday. The same opponent responsible for your fall will be present. This cycle endures for at least six months, or until your coach determines your readiness. In light of these prospects, do you still aspire to becoming a fighter?
Geographical factors also shape the fighter's journey. Hailing from an affluent family residing in an upscale neighbourhood affords privileges unknown to those residing on the other side of town. The question is – why do you wish to fight? Is it to validate your worth? While you can acquire skills and techniques, I must caution you. The insatiable hunger that propels individuals from less fortunate backgrounds is a force you can't replicate. Engaging in fierce competition with them exposes the disparity in resolve. Their determination is rooted in the belief that this moment, this battle, defines their existence. They strive for titles and dreams of turning professional. In contrast, your motives might seem hazy. They fight as an escape, their outlet. Nothing else anchors them, and you stepping into their path signifies a threat to their survival. They won't yield; surrender isn't an option. Are you still resolved to become a fighter?
Days of self-doubt will haunt you, as will the weariness of enduring strikes. Just as your black eye fades, another emerges.
Should you persevere beyond your inaugural fight and choose to continue, the mental challenge eases with experience. You become accustomed to the pressure and gradually gain mastery over your nervous energy. However, reaching this stage requires multiple fights and an abundance of arduous work.
Oh, and you can forget about alcohol-fuelled weekend parties with friends. Although you can partake, consider this – are your opponents doing the same? Perhaps initially, but eventually, they'll abstain. But at some point, a dichotomy in resolve will unveil itself, highlighting the contrasting paths you've chosen.
A mere elbow strike can yield a severe cut, leaving a lasting scar. Each time you look in the mirror, these marks will serve as reminders. A forceful punch could shatter your nose. If you take pride in your appearance, such outcomes might not sit well with you. Unfortunately, the likelihood of such injuries escalates with every fight.
Maintaining a healthy diet and ensuring you meet weight requirements is paramount. Being overweight reflects poorly on your trainer and might necessitate last-minute weight cuts – an ordeal best avoided. Does the prospect of becoming a fighter still appeal to you?
It's essential to emphasise that this blog is not intended to discourage your aspirations; rather, it aims to provide a raw glimpse into the journey of becoming a fighter. The path is undeniably demanding, marked by gruelling training, physical trials, and unyielding dedication. It's a reality check, a chance to contemplate the sacrifices and challenges that lie ahead. If you are still determined, if you're willing to face adversity head-on and carve your place in the arena, then this is a path that calls to you. Ultimately, the decision rests in your hands, armed with a newfound understanding of the commitment required.