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What I Learned During COVID-19 Lockdown

When I went back to the US to visit my friends and family in February I never imagined the rest of 2020 playing out as it has so far. I got back to Thailand on the first day of March, and it seemed, at least for the first couple of weeks, normal. I wasn’t worried about COVID-19. I had been alive for long enough to see many other viruses be sensationalized just to disappear from the news a week later. I thought this would be no different.

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After a training session at Sitan Gym NY

When lockdown and quarantine happened, everything felt surreal. Something that affected everyone globally? We all had to stay indoors? Curfew? I felt like I was in a movie. I’m sure most people felt the same, so that was something most could connect with. Not to discount all the death and other unfortunate consequences that happened as a result of COVID-19 (massive unemployment, people being evicted, etc.), but I did come to realize and learn quite a few things I probably would never have otherwise (or, at the very least, it would’ve taken me much, much longer to) thanks to the surplus of time I had on my hands.

The Fluidity of Priorities

Muay Thai has been a huge release for me in more ways than one. It really wasn’t until I started competing that I felt like I was doing something that I truly wanted in life. Everything else I had accomplished and achieved before that, I have absolutely no regrets about, but I did mostly because I thought it was “the thing” to do, or because I was expected to.

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My second amateur fight in September 2013

Living in Thailand has allowed me to grow into who I really am, and it’s given me both the opportunities and time to pursue things that I never had the chances to do before – one of which is writing and content creation on a public platform. That being said, I am so grateful to the sport and the people I’ve met during this journey, but I’ve also come to realize that Muay Thai is not everything. It’s become to feel like it is everything for me but, in the bigger picture, that’s not what it is.

My most recent time in the States made me realize how much of my life lacked outside of Muay Thai. I am not one to compare myself to and feel jealous of others, but I truly felt like I needed other aspects of my life to move forward. I had prioritized Muay Thai for so long (pretty much since I decided I wanted to start fighting back in late 2012!) and training has only taken up more and more of my life since then – I competed a few times on an amateur level in the US starting in 2013, I went to Thailand for right before the start of 2016 to experience what it was like to train full time, and moved to Thailand shortly after to pursue full time training and to compete professionally.

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Getting a pre-fight massage before my second fight in Thailand in March 2016

Before coming back to Thailand in March 2020, I had a few things that I wanted (and needed) to change. I made a tentative plan for myself.

One, I knew I needed to change some things about my training situation as I had no training partners left at Sitsongpeenong. Two, I knew I needed to make some other changes while in Thailand for the sake of my life outside of fighting.

I wanted to get back into the routine of training full time again, I wanted to learn from the mistakes I had made in my past several fights, I wanted to get into the big shows… and for some reason, I gave myself a deadline to get all those things done. I told myself, “One more year in Thailand.”

So, just like that, training went back to being number one of my list of priorities again.

After I started training again, I was very unsure of what moves I needed to make next. I knew I needed to make a very difficult but necessary change, but didn’t know where to start. Just as I was starting to get back into shape, things started closing down. Lumpinee Stadium had a cluster of outbreaks that really did Muay Thai in – no more fights for the foreseeable future and all gyms were forced to close by the government.

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My last fight pre-COVID in January 2020. Image property of Muay Hardcore

And there I was, in Thailand, the land of Muay Thai, but unable to train, unable to fight, unable to work on any of the things I had planned to. My entire schedule had revolved around training and fighting for so long – wake up at X a.m. to go running, start morning training right after, eat and rest before going back for the afternoon session, eat and go to bed by X p.m. so I can wake up the next morning to do it all over again. There was no time for anything else (aside from the work I picked up to financially keep myself within the country). Then, all of a sudden, I had all the time in the world, but there was a catch. Well, many catches.

The country went into lockdown. Parks closed so I couldn’t do my morning runs there anymore. Malls closed so I couldn’t just go to one to walk around. Coffee shops and restaurants were only open for take-away so going to sit down in one was out of the question. Airports closed so I couldn’t fly to another city and travel. I was confined to my little apartment for the most part.

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The view from my apartment balcony

In the beginning, I did everything I could to keep myself busy. I made myself a schedule to wake up at a certain time, do 30 minutes of yoga followed by some kind of strength and conditioning workout, make myself breakfast, start writing and working until it was almost the evening. In the evening, I would go running, have dinner, watch Netflix, and go to bed at a certain time. I made the schedule to make sure I was staying productive and sane, but more so to not dwell on the fact that the world was (is) in the middle of a health pandemic, people in my hometown were dropping dead left and right, the future was uncertain, and that I was not moving forward in anything (at least, that’s what I thought).

Above all, I was alone.

I had no family in Thailand. I didn’t have any friends from back home around. I was alone, had to do everything by myself, and went days (sometimes entire weeks) without speaking to anyone (other than when I ordered food). As introverted as I am, this was just way too much alone time and way too much time with my own (and often irrational) thoughts.

Finding Balance Within Chaos

Like many others, I went through my phases. I went from being productive, to sad, to buying unnecessary things online, to feeling like I was going insane, to resigned, to curious. Because I eventually realized that I had to just make do with the current situation and accepted that the current situation did not involve Muay Thai, I started to revisit old hobbies. Like I mentioned before, I did yoga in the mornings, which helped me to take on the day without feeling like the loneliness and uncertainty were too overwhelming. I started to cook much more, something I tremendously enjoy doing. I got to catch up on reading and Podcasts. And I started to play with some new hobbies that were stay-at-home friendly. The main one that stuck with me was sewing. I watched a bunch of tutorials on YouTube on how to use a sewing machine and I ordered right away. I remember feeling antsy for it to come because I was excited to take on a new skill that would also use up a lot of my time. I don’t remember the last time I looked forward to learning a new skill as eagerly as I did with sewing.

sewing machine needle bobbin

I adapted to the situation and made the most out of it. It would’ve been really silly (and seriously stupid) of me to have kept prioritizing training when there was no possible way for me to get to a gym (none were open!) and no way for me to fight (there were none!). Putting training and fighting on the back burner and knowing that I will go back to it once the situation improved within the country eased my mind tremendously. It was the only practical solution. It also gave me a way to pursue other things and gave me space to figure out what else I could possibly enjoy doing outside of training. This, in my opinion, was so important.

Because everyone around the world was at home during this time, I got to speak with my friends and family much more. We did video calls and messaged each other a lot more. Even though a lot of what we spoke of was equally to rant about the current situation and about nothing at all, it was comforting to hear familiar voices in such an unfamiliar situation. I got to know some people much better because we had the time to have deeper conversations. In particular, I got much closer to one friend who lives in Bangkok. I got to see him every week to hit pads together, watch some Netflix, and order food. This was one of the few times where things felt normal for me, yet so special. These moments with friends and family were the interactions I was craving for so long – meaningful moments, not just fleeting ones out of convenience.

Being by myself for months with little distractions also meant I had to come to terms with the irrational thoughts that had been living inside my head for a very long time. During lockdown, I had to muster the strength to confront those old thought patterns, break them down, and do my best to program new thoughts. New ideas. More confidence. More hope. My mental health definitely fluctuated a lot during lockdown, but no more or less than it did outside of COVID. If anything, I believe lockdown forced me to learn how to manage and take care of a lot of things better than I did before. There were certain points where there was an odd stillness and placidness in my mind when I knew that, even though the future of the world felt so uncertain, I can be proud of myself for coming this far.

“If you love something, let it go…”

How do you know if you really love something? How do you know if you truly need it in your life? Void it from your life for a few weeks. A month. A few months. Maybe even a year. Tune in with your feelings during that time. Do you miss it? Do you really miss it? Even as time goes on? Would you change your current schedule to make time for it? Would it make you feel more like yourself? Would it make you happier? Would it fulfill your life more?

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Photo taken by Helen Tran

It’s amazing how many things we have in our lives that we feel like we absolutely need. We have so many material possessions, so many things we spend time on out of habit that we would never hesitate to say we could never live without them. The pandemic has really forced many of us to re-evaluate what we truly need in our lives and what we don’t, what we don’t value enough and what we give too much value to.

I didn’t choose to step away from Muay Thai in terms of training and fighting. I was forced to. And although I eventually became comfortable with the idea of not waking up at the crack of dawn to go running every morning, I missed the grind. I missed the short-term goal setting. I missed the rush of fighting. I missed the interaction, the sweat, and, above all, I could not just let my story end where it was. Not yet. And being away from it for a few months made me know that. Not just believe it, but know it.

I was so caught up with preparing for my fights and recovering from training that I didn’t get to see the bigger picture. And to see the bigger picture, you need to sometimes take a few steps back. Doing so, it made me love Muay Thai even more. It made me fully appreciate the sport, the people, and my experiences through it.

There is No Perfect Time

I had (and sometimes still do) a tendency to wait for the perfect time to do things. This can vary from life decisions to things related to Muay Thai – waiting for the perfect time to break news to my parents, waiting for the perfect time to tell a friend something important, waiting for the perfect opening in sparring and fighting, waiting for the perfect time to change gyms… This even extended to my writing. I often wanted to write only when I had a three-hour slot in my schedule so I could really concentrate on just writing and finish without interrupting my flow. I wanted the writing process to be perfect. I wanted the writing to be perfect.

In reality, there is almost never a perfect time. And the more time I spent waiting around for the time that never comes is just time wasted. It’s time I could’ve spent moving on with my life, doing the things I planned to do after “the perfect moment”.

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Sun rising at Suan Luang R. 9

During lockdown, even though I had all the time in the world to “perfect” my writing, time was of the essence with the topics I was writing about. I had to release news and features quickly as relevancy changed quickly. So, I just wrote, proofread, and released. And I did this everyday for months. In a way, this was really liberating and I wondered, “Why didn’t I do this earlier? Why did I take so long before to write articles?”

Because of the increased volume of articles, there was much more traffic to my page and social media accounts. The following for Muay Ying grew and I got more support in many ways, including financially via Patreon. Although I have so much more room to take up in the industry, had I kept waiting for the perfect moments to release the articles and give news, I would not be where I am now.

I try to keep this lesson in mind during my training and fighting now. Instead of waiting, for a picture-perfect moment, sometimes I just need to be active and go. And, so far, it’s been working for me. It keeps me active, makes me second-guess myself a lot less, and I’ve been told I look more confident as a result! Note to all and note to self: the time is now!

Growth

As mentioned earlier, I invested so much time into muay-ying.com, writing articles every day and promoting the website and Instagram as much as I could. This paid off tremendously because most people were stuck at home looking for things to read about, and I believe it was during this time period that this page really took off. Muay Ying grew, but so did my sense of duty to this page.

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The female support network I have at the gym. From my first fight post-lockdown. August 2020

When I created Muay Ying, it was to fill a void in the Muay Thai community: highlight and provide news on women in Muay Thai. I never doubted that what I was doing was valuable to myself and the sport, but I never knew if others found it to be just as valuable. Thanks to the feedback and support I’ve received, I’ve come to realize that this page exists not just for women like me who want the news and the women (and occasionally men) I write about. This page exists and will continue to exist to normalize women in combat sports and to increase their visibility for the next generation of up-and-coming fighters and the generations after that. Better pay, better opportunities, better treatment. It can happen, and it has to start with us using our voices (and pens, computers, etc. It is the 21st century!).

All of these lessons, I believe, have led me to become a better Muay Thai practioner. And they’ve bled into other areas of my life. Lockdown sucked, yes. But I can say, without a doubt, that I didn’t get nothing out of it.

2020 has been extremely weird and rough for all of us. I’m extremely grateful to be in Thailand and to have resumed my training and fighting. Thank you all for all your support. I wouldn’t be able to do what I currently am doing with this blog without it.

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Currently training and fighting full time in Bangkok. Originally from NYC. instagram.com/angelasitan

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