The lover and the fighter in me.

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For the past couple months, I’ve been preparing for a Muay Thai fight while also diligently studying in medical school.  It was a relentless schedule of 12-15 hour days filled with extreme mental and physical exertion.  I was constantly exhausted.

There were days when I barely had enough physical energy to stand up or enough mental capacity to eloquently respond when people said things like, “Hello!” or “What is your name?”.  It was fun.  I kind of enjoy being pushed that hard.

The real reward was supposed to be the fight, but it never happened.  The day before the fight was going to take place, I went to the venue for weigh-ins and was told that my opponent dropped out.  The promoter assured me that they were doing everything they could to replace him.

They were able to find another opponent, but he only wanted to compete in a mixed martial arts (MMA) match.  I agreed.  Muay Thai and MMA are very different sports, so I spent the rest of the night changing my strategy and approach.  I was ready for whatever sport I was going to compete in.

On fight day, I arrived at the venue and when the promoter saw me, he shook his head.  I knew right away what that meant.  I was forced to spend the rest of the evening in the audience with my arms crossed, watching other people fight while pouting and angrily mumbling to myself, “Whatever, I could totally beat that guy up.”

It was definitely a disappointment, but I was still able to take an important lesson away from the experience.

On my last day of hard training before the fight, my coach offered me some of his final thoughts.  He said, “I like the way you’re moving.  You’re looking sharp.  Your technique is clean.  But I notice that when you’re sparring, you’re kind of nice to your training partners and, come fight day, I’m going to need you to be a little, um, meaner.”

He was totally right.  My entire life revolves around kindness.  It is a top priority.  And I’ve gotten pretty good at being nice to people.  But when it comes to fighting, this is a problem.  And it’s certainly something that’s been on my mind.

I’ve competed in a handful of Jiu Jitsu and submission grappling tournaments, but, while it’s definitely a competition, it’s more of a chess match than a fight.  It doesn’t require too much aggression.  The first time I ever submitted someone in competition, I had him in a pretty nasty shoulder lock.  When I heard a slight yelp and felt him tap out, I immediately let go, grabbed his shoulder with therapeutic intentions and said, “Oh no!  Are you ok?”

I have many stories like that and it certainly doesn’t build my case for possessing a fighter’s killer instinct.  I end up making lots of mistakes and get myself beaten up in the gym because I’m actually putting an immense amount of effort into making sure I’m not hurting my training partners.  I’ve somehow managed to find a kind and gentle way of punching someone in the face.

When my coach pointed out my kindness as a potential problem, it really became a source of anxiety for me.  It doesn’t matter how good I am, if I’m fighting a guy who’s trying to knock me out while I’m trying to not knock him out, I will absolutely lose the fight and probably get horribly embarrassed in the process.

I initially thought, hoped, prayed, that my mentality would change during the fight after I got hit really hard.  A sort of “sink or swim” situation.  But I will admit to seriously worrying about it.

The week before my fight, I was on spring break and didn’t have classes or studying to deal with, so I was able to spend some time alone.  I did a lot of soul-searching.  I spent the week thinking about my fears, my doubts.  I had an endless list of insecurities running through my head, but one idea found it’s way into my stream of thoughts and changed my entire outlook:  I will win.

I started to think about all of the times I’ve been beaten up in the gym because I was too focused on being nice to my training partners.  I started thinking about all the times in my life I’ve been taken advantage of, the times I let someone get away with being rude to me.  I thought about all of the times I’ve been walked all over, all the arguments I let myself lose in order to keep someone happy.  These memories played back to back in my mind, like watching a non-stop movie montage.

I have no resentment or anger over these kinds of situations.  These things happen because I let them happen.  In fact, I’m really proud of myself for it.  It happens because I do not view life as a competition.  Coming out on top in an argument or getting my way or being understood aren’t usually my goals.  My goal is to make everyone around me as happy as I can possibly make them.  (I constantly fail at this, but it’s not for a lack of trying.)

Life is not a competition.  I mostly feel sad for those that think it is and I’m happy to let them think they’ve beaten me if it means so much to them.

Fighting, however.  That is a competition.

As the fight day grew closer, I felt myself changing, transforming into something else.  I felt myself allowing kindness to slip off my list of priorities as winning made its way to the top.  All of my demons began stirring up inside of me as my need to win inflated like a balloon in my chest.

By the day before the fight, my fists were permanently clenched and I had a scowl stuck on my face.  Anyone that agrees to fight me in a ring or a cage with rules and a referee and judges will get hit as hard as I’m capable of hitting and I won’t stop until I’ve won.  I will show them how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am.  Any attempts to stop me from winning will be punished.  If I get hit, I will seek immediate revenge.  Nothing will stop me.

Unfortunately, this time around, I didn’t get the chance to fight in order to truly test the extent of my dedication to win, but I’m totally convinced.  If you know me, this might sound ridiculous or even laughable, but I am absolutely capable of being vicious and scary.  And if you don’t believe me, I invite you to watch my next fight.  That is, if my opponent shows up.

But, of course, the big, profound lesson here is not that I can be vicious and scary.  That’s not my style and this particular quality isn’t something I think should be celebrated.  The lesson here lies in the bigger picture.  I pushed myself way outside of what I’m comfortable with and I adapted.  I transformed.  I found a deep, hidden piece of my character that I didn’t think could possibly exist in me.  There’s more to me than I know about yet.

I’m not excited by the discovery that I can be mean.  I’m excited by the discovery that I can become whatever I need to become in a given situation.  And while I’ve learned that I have the capacity to be a lover and a fighter, don’t worry.  I much prefer being a lover.

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8 thoughts on “The lover and the fighter in me.

  1. As always, I was quite moved and feel honored to have a window into your internal evolution. Well articulated, and I absolutely believe you have the capacity for viciousness should you need to access it. Strong people like you have the ability to be however you need to be in a situation. Rock n’ roll, James! I’m very proud of you!

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  2. I came across a quote recently on Instagram that says “A gentleman is simply a patient wolf.” Your story here reminds me a bit of that notion. Maybe the true test isn’t being one or the other…but having the ability, patience, and wisdom to be both the lover and the fighter. In fact, maybe we should buy you the domain http://www.theloverandfighter.com. 🙂 Be well, friend.

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  3. James i loved your post. more because i am practicing Muay Thai and being a cancerian i am more like a patient wolf.I can totally understand your dilemma and am looking forward for you to post about your first fight.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! Patient wolf is such a great phrase. I think I’m going to make that my self-appointed nickname. I’m hoping that first fight comes soon and I’ll definitely be writing about it.

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