I often think of things from the comfort of home that sound like they’d be exciting and adventurous in far-flung lands. They tend to be slightly different in reality than in the imagination. Like finding myself wringing in sweat, a muscle-bound Thai boxer pouring ice water over me and rubbing ice down my battered legs and knees. And a little trip later to Surawongse Medical Center (in Patpong, a clinic that specializes in “erectile dysfunction” but had a perfectly nice and helpful doctor that charged about $12 to see me).
When I decided that because I couldn’t keep up my CrossFit workouts while traveling I should find something just as challenging in Bangkok, Muay Thai — Thai kickboxing — sounded perfect. Of course it did. A bloody, violent sport practiced by powerfully strong, lean fighters who begin training as children is a great idea for a lightweight 30-something American female tourist who can, barely, do one pull-up, and eek out a few jump ropes.
So sign me up! I booked a private lesson with a Thai kickboxer at Sor Vorapin #1, much to the amusement of the hotel staff, my guide earlier in the week, and the taxi driver who drove us to the gym.
The open air gym made Derby City CrossFit look like a country club. A ring and four punching bags. And some jump ropes. I changed (into my own workout clothes, not the loaner boxing shorts Phol offered me) and off we went. With a jump rope. 9,000 miles I’d come, excited for my kickboxing class, and I start with a jump rope. Which I hate. Immediately sweating, I huffed through them until Phol told me I could stop.
He bound up my wrists, I kicked off my shoes and we climbed into the ring. And I learned what his English included. Jab, left, right, knee, elbow, kick, block, up, power, good and break (“blake”). For an hour and a half, I battered my legs, elbows, knees and hands against this powerhouse. Sweat poured off me, almost comical in its quantity. I jabbed, the force of the impact against his iron stance reverberating through me. I slammed my elbows into his hands, jarring my skull. I kicked, trying to mimic the natural grace and elegance with which Phol moved about the ring, wincing at the slam of my shin against him every time. But “power!” he said so I slammed with all my might, thrilled when I got a “good!”. I drove my knees at his stomach, stopped short by his hands — something like being stopped by a brick wall. Over and over and over until “blake,” at which I swigged water greedily as possible handling the bottle with boxing gloves.
We moved to the bags for a while and despite my clumsiness at the work, slammed my elbows, knees, hands and shins into it over and over and over. Displaying my utter lack of a natural fighter’s grace was humbling. During one particularly pulverizing move that seemed would never end — holding the bag, driving left knee in, hopping straight to right knee, repeating — I called on all my willpower not to stop, not to fail. Dying to hear ‘blake” I pounded, hopped, pounded, far longer than any CrossFit work I’ve ever done, more determination than actual strength or endurance getting me through.
Seeing the condition of my knees and shins, Phol took me to the ice bucket, put my foot on a bench, and dumped freezing water and ice cubes on my poor leg. He rubbed the ice in and I could have swooned with relief. Both legs done, back to the ring and round after round we went. I’d arrived early, but Phol didn’t seem to mind that we were going into overtime. An hour and a half of the most insanely difficult workout I’ve ever subjected myself to and at last we stopped for stretches and a cool-down set of sit-ups.
I emerged from the ring as drenched as if I’d come from a swim, and was intrigued to see how furiously my hands shook after he unbound them. I’d done it. I’d survived a Thai kickboxing lesson and lived to tell about it, with an immense new respect for the work and skill of the fighters. Never mind that a few hours later Brian had to ask me to stop screaming as he helped me with an ice bath, I’m slicked with an exotic ointment I bought for “bruises” and my legs, arms and knuckles are rapidly turning some interesting shades of purple, red and blue. I went into the ring with a fighter and I didn’t fail, cry, or otherwise disgrace myself.
(The stop in Surawongese Medical Center was to treat my souvenir from the lesson — a sprained wrist. I may not be the badass I wish I were, but I didn’t pull any punches.)