1,000 punches, 1,000 kicks, 500 knees, 500 elbows.
For six days a week, seven hours each day, that was my life.
It’s called Muay Thai, the art of eight weapons. Thailand is the birthplace and mecca of Muay Thai, and for 18 months I lived and breathed it.
I don’t have anger issues, or a ton of bottled up frustration. In fact, the most gentle, kind-hearted people I’ve ever met are professional fighters. The stereotype that fighters are more bloodthirsty than vampires is unfortunate.
So why on earth would anyone engage in something where pain and injury are guaranteed?
It’s that paradoxical truth of profound growth in the midst of pain. It’s surprising how much stepping into the ring can teach us about life. What happens on the canvas never stays on the canvas; the scars we suffer suddenly become our strengths.
Here are seven life lessons I’ve learned from professional fighting:
1. Respect can still be shown.
The blows exchanged can be delivered with tremendous mutual respect. We may be trying to knock each other out, but we’ll be the first to buy each other drinks once it’s over. Before the final round, many fighters will even hug to acknowledge one another’s efforts.
I’ve learned that if I can respect someone trying to knock me out, I can find a way to respect those people in life I am at odds with. Even if we don’t agree with someone, we can still acknowledge their passion for their beliefs, their determination to live life according to their convictions.
2. Fears are best faced head-on.
Scared of heights? Jump out of a plane.
People often ask me when I’m fighting, Aren’t you afraid? The answer is yes.
It’s impossible to completely blot out fear.
The power is in mastering fear. To recognize it, and overcome it.
Fear is a good thing, it can keep us alive. Yet it can become crippling if it holds us back from truly being alive. We need to shift from being controlled by fear, to being in control of it. Death ultimately underlies all fear, but we falsely tie death in as an immediate result. And that’s rarely the case.
I’ve learned when looking on the other side of fear, the positive growth massively outweighs the temptation to flee.
The reward is worth the risk.
3. Everyone needs a “Fight-Night.”
All those times we just wanted to stay in bed, never wanting to get up for training, putting in those extra hours after everyone else is gone. It all finds its culmination in the ring.
We’ve done all the homework, now it’s time to take the exam.
Whatever we’re engaged in should culminate in a “Game-Day,” or a “Fight-Night”. A setting in which we put all of our training into practice. Whether you are a musician preparing for a gig, or a CEO giving a keynote presentation, massive reward comes from being truly tested.
4. Victory happens when nobody’s watching.
What happens in the ring is only the tip of the iceberg. Fights that we may have trained months for can end in seconds. Yet hidden in those brief moments are endless hours of blood, sweat, and tears.
Muhammad Ali said it brilliantly, The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.
Don’t get swept up in the highlights and miss what’s required behind the scenes. People who are “blessed” are usually those who work hardest when nobody’s watching.
5. In the red corner…
The Preacher…The Gunslinger…The Diamond…
The native Thai fighters adopt names that embody a virtue, or reflect one of their strengths. Other fighters dye their hair blue and have signature moves. They are exciting because they stand out, because they leverage what is unique about them.
Everyone has a unique quality they can leverage.
Dr. Seuss said, Why fit in when you were born to stand out? Don’t hide what’s quirky about you.
Embrace it, and leverage it.
6. We’re all born to fight
Maybe not in the ring, but we’re all fighting for something. Ambition manifests in myriad ways. We all crave significance and recognition. It’s human, and it’s healthy.
Fulfillment comes in battling for the things we love, and it starts with recognizing our potential for greatness.
Figure out what you are passionate about. What do you think about when you lay down to sleep every night? Start fighting for it.
Declare to the world your intentions, and manifest it with some real action.
7. The road less traveled
There was a lot of confusion from family and friends as I packed my stuff and moved to Thailand, to live my dream of professional fighting. Yet I was encouraged by Robert Frost’s moving poem, The Road Not Taken.
It closes with:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Nobody celebrates walking across the street, they celebrate walking across hot coals. It’s easy to follow the mainstream, but that often leads to the mundane. We call things extraordinary because they are extra–ordinary.
If you want to make a difference, try doing something different.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Chrissy Tustison / Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Courtesy of author Thai Nguyen