Win or Learn: Part 1
“Don’t worry about it, I was 130 pounds last week,” my opponent said proudly, with the gleaming gold medal around her neck.
In that moment, I felt like a failure. I trained and fought despite my short height and small build. Now I believed that I lost because of my height and build. When my opponent revealed that she is 20 pounds heavier than me felt like a justification that she won simply because she was bigger and stronger. I walk and fight at 110. How she managed to drop 20 pounds to be in the same category as me was irrelevant. Match-ups are determined by weight class: so long as both fighters are the same weight on fight day, having a heavier weight before the fight is not illegal. This is the name of the game, some fighters drastically drop weight to fight smaller opponents. During my previous fights, I faced girls who were around the same height and build as myself. In this case, I was the significantly smaller one.
Determined to redeem myself, I took another fight two months after my first loss. However, during my preparation, and during the match, doubt clouded my mind:
Am I good enough? Do I have a chance to win again?
My anxiety prevented me from dealing with an opponent who was the same height and build. This time it wasn’t a drastic physical disadvantage, but a mental blockage, that cost me the fight. Fear took over during each round, I failed to attack and defend when the opportunities came: so I lost again.
After the second loss, a senior student who also volunteered during that fight gave me my medal. I left the venue before the medal ceremony, and he held on to it until we saw each other again at the gym. As he gave the souvenir of my loss, I held back my tears, shaking my head. I didn't want it.
“Sometimes we win or we learn,” he said. “You learned this weekend, doesn’t mean you won’t win again.”
I took the medal anyway, just to be polite. At first I thought he was trying to soften the blow of the fight, by saying “learn” not “lose.” Despite my disappointment, I kept training. I loved Muay Thai too much to let it go despite the results of the fights. The more I trained, the more I realized the truth of what he said. In order to win, I had to learn.
My first loss was a result of not knowing how to deal with bigger, stronger opponents. My second loss was due to a lack of confidence in myself, I allowed the trauma of my initial loss to cloud my judgement. So I trained more frequently with bigger, stronger classmates, to the point that I stopped fearing them. Knowing that I could finally handle the physical differences better in training, I regained my confidence.
For my next fight, I got too confident. Instead of succumbing to the fear of losing, it was lust for victory that took over. Intensity is important in a fight, but too much intensity can sometimes blind a fighter from deciding the best time to attack or defend. In that fight, I was blinded by rage: only wanting to attack and ignoring when I should defend. My ignorance gave my opponent more opportunities to strike me, more than I was able to strike her. And so, I lost again.
I had already learned to deal with physical differences, but I had yet to learn emotional control. I needed both. I diligently trained my emotions as well as my body. During training, instead of reacting out of anger or fear, I learned how to react with logic: to hit what was open, and avoid getting hit. Instead of being overconfident and dismissing my sparring classmates’ physical advantages, I defended against them, while capitalizing the opportunities in which I had the advantage.
After months of improving both technique and temperament, I felt ready for my next fight. But a week before the fight, I was challenged to deal with my emotions again; I had to deal with a loss outside the ring before getting in.
End of Part 1
-Poo Choi Kru Kat