"Turn your hips more!"
The instructions came thick and fast, atypical of the Onyx trainers, but my mind was just a hazy blur. I tried my best to make my body obey, fighting through the fog of fatigue and throwing out punches and kicks as commanded, but everything came out 2 seconds slower.
The staple command that we are all so familiar with, but dread with inevitable fear.
I exhaled sharply, placed my left foot forward, and swivelled my right leg in a diagonal arc. My shin gave an unconvincing *piak* as it made weak contact with the pads. But by then, I was too tired to bother, so I continued yanking my legs up and down repeatedly, not caring whether it was too high, too snappy or sideways. All I wanted, was for the time to be over, so I could stop moving and lie weightless on the mats.
I bent over, wheezing and panting desperately as though I was drowning. And even though it was only the end of the first round, my lungs were on fire; my stomach was tightly knotted; lactic acid weighed my legs down like watermelons; my arms were dead. It was my first time back at Onyx after 3 full months, and it was painful.
I took 3 months off training and fighting to spend more time with the family. Like most of you who's taken a sabbatical off Onyx, I ran, hiked, cycled and played other sports, with the wishful thinking that it would be enough to at least maintain my stamina. But to be brutally honest, as time went on during the 3 months, the fear of resuming training at Onyx grew at the back of my head, exponentially. I had gone from daily runs and training 5 times a week, to a plain zero. It did not help that I had put on 7 kgs, and the weight gain was in the most discernible regions, - I now had a moon for a face.
"What will my trainers think?", "what a huge waste!", "it will be so exhausting now", "I will have lost my skills."
These doubts hovered over me constantly and cast a heavy pall over my impending return. I started coming up with more and more excuses to delay the going back. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. Oh, it's too hot, maybe later. Plus, it felt nice and comfy to have so much free time to meet up with friends and sit around watching television.
The dread and doubts settled deep in my bones. Whenever Onyx appeared on my social media feed, I would feel happy seeing the familiar, smiling faces and then, guilt would hit like a wave and it would be crushing. Look at how determined all these people are, keeping fit and improving ever more, and here I was, bingeing and lying down on the sofa for hours at a go. It was a conflicting emotion: to want to get fighting fit again, but paralysed by my doubts, and the comfortable sofa, mixed in with a shameful regret of how all my stamina and skills had probably gone kaput.
As time went on, the imagined burden grew too heavy to bear. I decided to stop thinking so much and just go for a class. Going for a class, any class, would be better than staying at home and fretting about how I am not going for class. A start is a start right?
So I set a date and hauled myself to Onyx one evening, after 3 months. The training, was every bit as tough as I had feared. It is Onyx after all. But despite the weariness, a little lamp powered by adrenaline grew in me. The battling ropes were out that night, and I felt every bit of the heaviness with each rotation; my wrist hurt. So, I grabbed the lighter ropes, and did it slowly at first. I gradually found back my old rhythm, singing the same old tune in my head. Hitting the bags made my used-to-be seasoned shins red and patchy, so I took it one at a time and took care to look through my form and posture.
Pad work was (as usual) terribly draining. I was breathless, winded, gassed out, aching, and careless. I was now, what you'd call a noob. I felt the extra folds of fats around the hips as I kicked, and I've lost all sorts of muscles and flexibility. There is no immediate solution to that, not within the first class anyway. The hard truth is that I took a break from Onyx for 3 months and my body has forgotten everything that it had been through before. Still, even through the wretchedness, something that felt familiar kept popping up. A strange feeling, very familiar, very exciting, something that I haven't felt for 3 months.
It felt like FUN. So much so that it was thrilling. It was thrilling to revise the ways and techniques and movements. It was exhilarating to attack and smash the pads with wild abandonment. It was rewarding to rediscover and be reminded of my limits and now, try to break through them again. It was why I had started doing Muay Thai in the first place; good old sweaty fun.
You know Onyx being Onyx, not a day goes by without the tease and the nonsense. The coaches and the family alike, teased me, and the coaches remarked in jest that my legs were much heavier than before. But they were respectful of the break that I had taken, and did not judge nor question my disappearance. Instead, they re-taught me the things I've forgotten. When I was just about to give up from my demerited stamina, they shouted louder and more fervently for me to press on for just a bit more, for just that much longer. The other members also chimed in, agreeing on our shared fatigue. It was very very exhausting, but not in any sense less enjoyable, because I was not alone. I was at Onyx, with the community of people around united by the common purposes of learning and pushing past limits.
If you are reading this, and coincidentally haven't been appearing for training, and is still wondering when is a good time, the only answer is now. The first training back after a hiatus is, not going to lie, going to hurt and ache like crazy, perhaps much more than it had ever before. And so will the second, third, fourth, and so on. But that shouldn't stop you, because the pain will always be there, whether you come back tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. It is unavoidable; it is Onyx after all.
Rather than overthinking and fearing a worst that gets worse everyday, it may be less distressing to face it head-on. Tell yourself it's going to be excruciating, but so what? You've already been through such pain before and survived it like a boss. It may be more arduous now, but you never know until you actually go through it. In any case, the agony will not lessen, unless you do something about it. And even if you do try and get close to the brink of failing, there are many people rooting for you to continue trying (with a joke or two first, of course).
While the words "pain" keeps repeating itself in the above passages, but that's just the superficial feelings of my return. There's something at the core which is deeply rooted in me that brought me here, willingly or not. It was that very moment, when I pulled up in the drive way at 600 West Coast Road, and there was the same familiar silhouettes standing around in the distance, by the benches near the entrance. I was dreading the return with confused feelings, anxiety, self-consciousness, and fear. Then, suddenly, "OOO-HOIII!!!" and high-fives and fist-bumps and jolly voices rang out around me, and it all became joy; the same old fuzzy warmth that washes over you upon reaching home.
That very moment, I knew, I'm back home.