I've started Muay Thai around 4 years ago and I've had my fair share of trainers from various gyms. While I've not been entirely sure I was going to compete nor fight when I first started out, I am now. Apart from Onyx, I've been to 3 other gyms. Some have closed down; because the trainer left, or perhaps an issue of motivation, or perhaps progression. But I was training recreationally, so things were always with the flow of events, the dynamics of the personalities didn't make a huge impact on me.
Many of you now are like me, when I was training recreationally. We get to see and witness the trainer/fighter dynamics whilst the trainer is giving the fighter a hard time. It seemed to me that the trainers had no mercy and no compassion, hitting them with pads, the constant shouting and scolding, and the strikes that were always impossible to block. When we actually get to train with, or spar with the fighters, there's always warmth acknowledging the difference in levels, while admittedly convincing ourselves; "that's why they train so hard for".
But when I see the fighters beaten to pulp by the trainers, I had a re-look and internalised the thoughts of the fighter/trainer relationship. The curiousity in me wondered why the fighter willingly takes in all the monstrousity thrown in his/her face, and never gives up. Flip the coin, and I questioned the tenacity of the trainer, and where did the usually kind and patient trainer (to us, the recreational folks) go? Did he magically flip a "Monster" switch?
I never understood this connection until I started seriously training at Onyx. There was a point, before Onyx, that I thought I did. But alas, I didn't and I got really pissed off and frustrated. I wanted to walk. It took a lot of reconciliation on both ends to got me back on track and realised the importance of having "the trainer".
My personal opinion, the equation of the trainer/fighter relationship boils down to a simple framework of respect, trust and loyalty. I read somewhere recently from a fighter's post that if he could turn back the clock, he would have hoped that he had met "the trainer" for himself. Instead, his fighting career was mostly lonely, and having to fend for himself. I am a bit luckier in that department.
Respect, and truly deep respect for the trainer must come from within, and is the start state of everything. Not all trainers allude to the same imagery, not all trainers look "the look". Some may look benign while being absolutely fantastic at their craft. Not all trainers are old retired fighters; not all trainers have a big beer belly. I've gone to places with my trainer and hear the unknowing public comment that he doesn't even look like a martial artist, much less my trainer.
In my case, although it doesn't look like it, my trainer is younger than me. A strange phenomenon for many stereotypical martial arts film where the master is the old dude with the white beard. But I am here today, with new tools to fight with, with new found skills, confidence, and better finesse because of my trainer. I've seen him research endlessly and plan my training camp until the hair changes colour. There is always reasoning and clarity in explanation on the steps that he makes me take, or demands the behaviour and mentality in a certain manner.
My trainer has a pretty nasty aura, and a face (whilst training me) to back it up. He is always ready to criticise and scold me. But the most bizarre thing to me, is how he maintains the balance between scolding, and motivating. Whenever I feel like I'm in the dumpster, and I suspect a "siao liao" moment coming, he'd motivate and encourage. What he tells me, "the right treatment, for the right moment."
Welfare aside, we do get our fair share of scolding. But we do not argue, nor do we doubt. After being in Team Onyx for a significant amount of time, the basis in which trainers pick their fighters seem to weigh heavily on the aspect of trust. While I know that I do trust my trainer wholeheartedly, out of respect and such, I never got through to the importance of it. I pondered, and I questioned, and the answer was a simple one. The notion of trust stems from the need to listen, to not question, and to trust that the very instruction told to us, while we are in the ring, in danger, and unaware of the surrounding, that those instructions are the best options for us. I cannot imagine a situation where I would act otherwise, but when the danger of getting hit becomes a reality, it is extremely likely that we will fall back to our natural instincts, to fend for ourselves. If trust is lacking, then simple words like, "punch back!" would fall easily on deaf ears.
The best perk of being an Onyx fighter, is that we never ever have to worry about the martial arts aspect. The only worry that I usually have, is whether I will make it out of training alive. I do not need to think about game plans, I can communicate my nervousness to my trainer and somehow it'd go away, and best of all, I don't even worry about my meals. On fight days, I worry whether I've brought my mouth guard, whether I've brought my fight top, and the ever pretty fight team shorts. My trainer arranges all other things for me, from the departure at the airport to the moment I enter the ring and beyond. In between the first round bell, and the last, I perform and react to the best that my trainer says. He says, "there must be absolute trust."
And because of all these, when we do fight as Team Onyx, we fight for honour, and we fight for glory. When we sometimes do gain some glory, we share it with our trainers and honour the gym. Admittedly, sometimes we bask in the glory a little bit and indulge ourselves in it. But the next few days, if without injury, we turn up and train again. Loyalty, as it seems, comes in different forms and different ways. As I write, it seems hard to pin point the exact manner in which loyalty comes about. I would choose to opinate that it origins from both the fighter and the trainer, and is towards the gym.
My trainer puts it across in a different way. He says that while we, both fighter and trainer, are working towards something, perhaps a fight, perhaps a breakthrough, there is common grounds in which both exists: the gym, which is home to us. But after that goal is attained, i.e. after the fight, the fighter has options. Option to continue training and work towards the next fight; option to pursue other interests in life, or option to perhaps find another trainer. But that particular trainer has little option, but to stay at home, at the gym. The trainer stays back at home, with the hope that someday, the fighter will return back home.
The trainer shouldn't be just one who hold pads for you, wraps your hand, or give you water. It is a special relationship of love, trust, respect and loyalty.