Growing up, I didn’t like playing with dolls (I often ripped their heads off when my aunt gave them to me as gifts) and cherished my stuffed animals instead. I loved chasing and being chased outdoors after school (my childhood was full of scraped knees) and enjoyed watching action and fighting movies with my dad. After watching JCVD fight all these people and do all these tricks and spins in Kickboxer and Bloodsport, and I immediately turned to my dad and said, “I want to learn that.”
“Girls don’t do that stuff,” I was told. “How about piano instead?” So I took piano lessons, went to Mandarin Chinese tutoring, learned how to swim, played clarinet and saxophone in band class…all of which I’m grateful for because my parents gave me opportunities, that many don’t have, to learn new skills on my free time as a kid.
As time passed, the desire to learn how to kick and punch (properly) never really went away. This was obvious in my method of playing with my classmates in middle school when I jokingly jabbed them in their chests and low kicked their legs.
Because of this, I was often lightheartedly called “violent”. Many of my memories from 8th grade include exclamations from others asking me why I (eye roll) act “like a man” and (I find this one a bit amusing) watching people flinch from the corner of my eye when I raised my hand to tuck hair behind my ear.
Middle school was also the time I, along with many others, became self-conscious and was the beginning of trying to find myself in the world. At the risk of sounding like a “pick me girl”, I found that I preferred being active over other things my classmates did, such as shopping.
Come high school, I started running at the park on my own and joined the track team to challenge myself (and to get proper training). I was on the handball team at the same time, and noticed track helped immensely with my speed and cardio with other sports.
I continued to run and, to this day, I contribute being on the track team as the main factor of why I have high aerobic endurance, even when trying new sports or doing new workouts. Through running, I learned what it was like to just let your mind go and let your body take over while simultaneously sorting through your thoughts. It was also through running that I learned I can push my body to go further and faster, and it will go and improve over time. It was incredibly therapeutic and gave me the mental and physical edge that allowed me to think “this isn’t so bad” later on when I started to do other physical activities. Through surrender, I found freedom.
My university offered fitness classes that I regularly attended. I ended up making a list of things I wanted to try or skills I wanted to learn. On it was yoga, spin, bootcamp, weightlifting…and I did all of those in order, enjoyed them immensely in different ways, but got bored very fast. Next on the list was kickboxing (I was open to all types), and after that was dancing.
As if it was perfect timing, Groupon had a package deal at this kickboxing gym nearby. When I stopped in, the instructor was kicking the teardrop heavy bag while the class was running laps to warm up. It was my first time taking a martial arts class, and I was very excited. My inner child was jumping with joy.
The two instructors there were Muay Thai fighters, and ran the classes the same way they trained, even though the class didn’t have any fighters in it. To say the least, the classes were intense. Our warm-up could’ve easily been a workout in and of itself. The drills we did were both technical and high-paced, and got us pushing to our limits, Not everyone made it through the class…but most people came back for more. I felt like the main character in my own action movie!
Because the instructors there were so professional and genuine in their teaching style, I was not aware that the owner had signed a contract with one of the kickboxing chains (I won’t be dropping any names but IYKYK) well before I joined. This explained the periodical massive influx of people who came in on short-term packages promoted by the chain.
I started by training just once a week. When my friends were out partying Friday evenings, I was at the gym. When they started offering Sunday classes, I started going to those, too. It only took a few months for me to crave Muay Thai, to want to be in a loud atmosphere where everyone is working on the same thing (even with different goals), to want my shins to bruise from kicking the heavy bag, to want to walk away from the gym with my arms shaking from exertion.
The encouragement I got from the instructors was amazing, and really motivated me to keep at it. I sparred for the first time 3 months into training. I had no idea what it was like to have someone come at you and try to punch you in the face until then. I instinctively closed my eyes and turned my back. Not knowing what to expect and leaving frustrated, I used that as further motivation to use what i learned during class into something functional. Sparring made me realize the importance of not just going through the motions and why everything we did had its purpose.
What was most difficult to deal with? It wasn’t the regular questions of why my arms and legs were bruised. It was not having to do so much conditioning during class that my legs almost gave out on me walking up the stairs of the train station. It was not staying awake until late at night because I was so wired from sparring. It was not having to drive home with my arms shaking. What was most difficult was my friends asking me why I chose to be at the gym over them.
Correction: It was my friends asking me why I chose to be at the gym over drinking. I realized that I’d rather do something productive that I immensely enjoyed rather than party for no reason. Simple as that. But not everyone understood, so over time, a lot of my friends and I lost contact because I chose to do different things with my free time.
But through Muay Thai, I gained another set of friends who were quite different from people I had usually became friends with. Before, I often became friends with someone because they had similar goals or wanted to study in the same field. Now, I met people from all different fields of work. And it was truly a beautiful thing, watching people that were so different from each other helping one another in the gym, pushing and being pushed to become better versions of themselves.
Maybe 6 months into training, the idea of competing popped into my head. Days passed and the idea became more of a desire, then I decided that it was something I wanted to try doing. I asked one of the instructors about it, and he said that it was a great idea…but the currently gym was not the place to meet that goal, so I should try out the gym he trains at: Sitan.
I went from learning in an environment of people working out to an environment of people training. And if it’s not something you’ve experienced before, the difference in dedication is astounding. People who train are prepared, methodological, and move with a purpose other than to get in shape/look good. It was a bit intimidating but I loved the intensity. Sitan Gym NY became my new home.
Being around people who were driven and passionate about Muay Thai helped to motivate me become a better version of myself, both physically and as a person. I was always a bit awkward in social situations, but I found my voice when it came to motivating others and keeping them going. I truly enjoyed the teamwork and becoming friends with others in the process.
I told the head trainer that I wanted to fight, and he kept an eye on me during classes. He saw that I was showing up consistently, and saw how hard I tried. I felt like I sucked, tough. I felt like, despite showing up everyday, that I wasn’t picking things up and always getting my ass kicked during sparring. I was always on the ground during clinching. It was discouraging yet motivating.
10 months after joining Sitan, I was finally confirmed for my first amateur fight! It was difficult to match me up because of the sparse events then, coupled in with the fact that I had no fights (promoters care more about ticket sales). I gave that fight camp everything I had, leaving no stone left unturned. I did everything that was asked of me. Looking back, I made plenty of mistakes in my recovery and nutrition, but I wouldn’t change anything if I could.
I ended up winning my first fight via decision. The win gave all the effort I put in so much validation, and I was completely in love with the process of train, fight, get better for the next one.
That’s just the start of how it all began! Of course, there is much more to the story when it comes to my journey on self-confidence, challenging my body dysmorphia and eating disorders, moving to Thailand to pursue Muay Thai fulltime, and more. I hope you found my story at least a bit interesting. It would be awesome if I could inspire just one person to take a chance on themselves!
If you want an in-depth guide to training in Thailand, I’ve got just the thing.