I can’t believe I did it. I won my first Muay Thai competition.
Rewind back to a couple of months before the day. I’d been doing Muay Thai for about two years, previously at a few gyms across the island before planting my roots in Hilltop Academy on Serangoon Road.
One day during training, my coach came to me and asked if I’d like to compete. Now, if you know anything about Muay Thai (or martial arts, at least), competitions are never risk-free. I mean, the goal is to win, but everyone wants an impressive win by knockout. We decided that I’d first go through the fighter programme, leading up to the next competition in slightly over a month.
I had to drop three kilos to meet my fight weight (53kg), but that wasn’t even the hardest bit. Two weeks into training, I’d already lost two kilos. I ate as per normal, only limiting my junk food and sugar intake. Oh, and I was also on an alcohol ban – now that was tough! Another challenge was making sure I didn’t lose too much strength in the process, as this would affect my performance during the fight. To help with that, I loaded up on my rest at night and ate healthier snacks before each training.
Let’s talk about the training, or “fight camp” as it’s known. It’s called training for a reason; the aim is for you to be pushed to your limits, so each session only gets tougher. Have you ever done a workout where all you want to do is shout and cuss, then collapse in exhaustion? Imagine repeating that regime four times a week. The warm-up starts with a 5km run, followed by 20 minutes of non-stop skipping. After a series of drills including shadow-boxing, three rounds of pad-work and 200 sit-ups, the three-hour training finishes with sparring – the thing I dread most. Getting hit is no fun, but I had to face my fear if I wanted to survive in the ring.
My teammates had warned me about it. It’s very common for first-time fighters to panic, they told me; so, your opponent will most likely charge at you and you’ll forget everything the coach has said. Gee, thanks guys. Turns out they were right!
Round one is scary. Flailing hands come at me and, as predicted, I forget practically everything my coach has told me. My opponent throws her fist from all angles imaginable – across, over, under. I am taken aback and eat plenty of punches without a firm defence. Not a great start.
The bell rings and I’m awoken from my state of shock. I return to my corner where my coach takes out my mouthguard, splashes water on me and gives me a pep talk. Rest time is a tight one minute before the bell rings again to signal the start of the second round.
Round two picks up with me landing more kicks, but my opponent dials up on her aggression, too. These become the longest two minutes of my life. I actually consider turning back to my coach and calling it a day, but the thought of disappointing everyone makes me shrug it off.
When you’re in the ring, everything around you comes to a standstill. It’s as if time has frozen and your opponent is all you can see. Every sound is drowned out and all I can hear is my heavy breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Deep breaths, then repeat. For a brief moment, I look into my opponent’s eyes and feel her fear. Yes, sis, me too.
Round three: it’s all or nothing. We’re both exhausted by this point, but we’re giving it our last shot, no less. Somehow, my mind clears up and I manage to discern a faint yet familiar voice of my coach amidst the hoo-ha. “Use your knees!” And so I do. I go in at every opportunity and aim my knee into my opponent’s body, while suffering the brunt of her fists. Adrenaline kicks in and I press on.
“I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing…”
I’ve never truly understood the first line from hit song “Breakeven” by The Script, until the very moment I hear the final bell. It’s finally over. After three rounds of scuffling, I’m breathless and beaten but awake and alive in every sense. We gather to the middle and the judge announces the winner. “From the blue corner…” My hand is raised and my team erupts in cheers! The referee presents the medal to me and I walk down from the ring feeling like everything that has just happened is a dream. It’s surreal. Later on, I remember asking my coach if it was over, and repeatedly saying that I was done with fighting because of how tough it was.
Is this it?
I’d sworn that this would be my first and last fight. My parents let out a sigh of relief too audible to ignore when they heard that. Mum wasn’t very happy about me getting punched in the face. Understandably so, but kudos to her for watching the whole thing on my Instagram (recorded live by my fiancé) without passing out!
My friends are sceptical, and rightly so. Who am I kidding? The training might be hellish but the adrenaline is addictive. However, I do have to think about my husband-to-be. I’m getting hitched in four months and nobody (especially him) would want to see a bride with a broken nose. So for now, I’m going to allow myself to be a sloth and eat cake all day.
At least until my coach looks me up again.