It started almost like a joke. Sometime in late June 2016, somebody, I can't remember who, said half in jest, half sincerely, "why don't you try out boxing?". The idea floated through my mind for a few days and took root slowly, growing from a snarl of doubts into a simple "why not?". At that time, I had been doing Muay Thai regularly for a couple of years, so it might prove to be a nice change, a fresh breeze to breathe into the workout routine. Even if I didn't continue with it long-term, boxing would help improve my striking in Muay Thai. I wouldn't be a complete newbie either, as there is punching in Muay Thai too, and the techniques, jabs and crosses and hooks and uppercuts, would be easily translatable. Or so I had initially thought.
Then I tried out boxing for real and I felt like a complete newbie. Haha. Nothing could have prepared me for how out-of-depth I was. Although the techniques were similar, the movement and tactics were totally different. The most fundamental thing, the footwork, turns out to be the hardest thing to learn. For Muay Thai, the starting position is wider, because one required a good balance to execute a variety of kicks and knees. Footwork, for me at least, is also slower and more deliberate, because it is more difficult to approach in Muay Thai, in case of push-kicks or Superman punches etc. The rhythm was much faster for boxing, the angling was something I had never thought about so deeply, the feints were more elaborate yet precise, and this was before I even started learning how to slip and weave. It only got more confusing after that.
For the first few lessons, my forehead became best friends with the pad because my reactions to incoming punches were always two seconds too slow. I would slip to the left into an incoming jab, or weave into a hook, or walk right into an uppercut, as if my torso was secretly sabotaging my head. It was a comedy of errors. I could only look on in envy at the other students in the class who have learnt boxing for a few years, mesmerised by their fluidity and their grace in movement, and their sharp viper instinct when it came to punching.
The transition was frustrating, to say the least. For Muay Thai, I could execute certain combos and hits comfortably, without much thinking or effort. But for boxing, I floundered around like a fish on concrete. My feet would get tangled up with each other, or lag behind one another. My hips are stiff and not used to crimping in certain ways, and my calves and thighs cry out after 1-2-step-back-step-forward-1-2-3. Somehow, my body was not my own and it was dispiriting. Discouraging and disappointing, because I didn't know how and when I would be able to regain control, if and when I would be able to translate my intentions into proper boxing actions. I was halfway decent somewhere else, and in boxing, I was a total dud.
So I put my pride aside and trained. And trained, and trained, because training was the only thing I knew to have helped in Muay Thai, so maybe it would help in boxing too. At first, it felt like it didn't. After a month, I was adjusting better to the movements and could pull off some combinations during padwork, but that only made me aware of how much more I had to go, which seemed infinite. If it was not power, it was precision. If not precision, it was agility. If not this, it was that. It was learning from scratch all over again; there isn't any shortcut or any way around it. There was groundwork to be done, and it only worked through grinding. "HARD WORK AND DEDICATIONN!," as Onyx's boxing coaches, Iskandar and Zim, would drill at every training session.
After a few months, I was asked if I would like to try competing in boxing. Training had been going well, and it was heartening seeing myself progress, slow and intermittent as it may have been. The millennial part of me yelled "YOLO!", so without thinking too deeply, I said yes. Soon after, there was a competition coming up, and an opponent was found. Suddenly, I had 7kg to lose in 2 months. I had forgotten about the weight cut.
The weight cut has always been the part of fight preparation I dreaded the most. Run 7km? Sure. Do suicides? Hmm alright. But give up on rice and bread? TORTURE. Bid goodbye to cakes and chocolates? Such cruelty. For my last competition in 2015, I sustained myself on sweet potatoes and salads and tuna sandwiches. I remember my stomach grumbling continuously and how tired I felt every day, needing to train but not having enough to eat: after a 3 hour training, all that I could have for the night was a glass of chocolate milk. The days got progressively harder, as my energy levels dipped from a lack of proper food or getting sick of what I was eating. It was a state of wretchedness: not wanting to push during training, still training anyway, and seeing the weight dropping only slowly.
The pain was getting to me, to my mind, and affected my performance during training. I wasn't a strong defender against the lures of food to begin with, but clean eating took a toll on me. The reality of a being a fighter slowly set in deep within me, and past a certain point of clean eating, I was dreading every moment, often questioning my mettle and strength to survive through it all.
Just like that, one day, Chocolate brought a piece of news that was like a godsend. She told me that a nearby western food place, Ministry of Ribs had heard of my weight cutting woes and offer to prepare my meals for me! I immediately offered my 90 degrees angled bow and kowtow-ed to the ever pretty big boss Chocolate.
Every day, the steakhouse provided me with hearty and wholesome meals. It was all the good stuff: Iberico pork steaks, tender smoked ribs, grilled chicken breasts with my favourite (and slightly cheating) wild mushroom sauce. The proteins came with sides too, crunchy broccoli and cauliflower and sautéed carrots. Their meals were always substantial and satisfying. It was the first time that I looked forward to the weight-cutting process. I felt energetic and strong, training hard and eating well and healthily. The physical workouts were taxing, but for once, I felt nourished, with a full tank of fuel to tackle things. Mentally, I was untroubled too, as I didn't have to worry about nutrition or crack my brains about where and what food to get. Ministry of Ribs was a saviour and I cannot thank them enough for helping me through this journey.
With food and training settled, the last month fell into a pattern. Run, skipping, technique learning, bagwork, sparring, and repeat 6 days a week under the patient teaching of Iskandar and Zim. There were 9 of us training for January 21, and we would be at the gym together every other day, covered in perspiration from punching one another. The last week before Fight Day was a race to make weight. We rationed our water out, put on jackets, put on sweat suits after that, stewed in a small room, and waited for the water to drain out of our systems. The last 24 hours, we sat in the sun and washed a car to take our minds off things and fantasized about what we would eat and drink 24 hours later. Rice was a favourite, just plain and hot piping white rice, the simplest pleasure. Not quickly enough, the time for weigh-in finally arrived and we all made weight(!) and a minute later, we were stuffing our faces with chocolates and bread. JUBILATION! Finally, we could hear the birds singing again. Then, it was time to prepare for Fight Day.
Fight Day felt like any other day. Actually, even better than the preceding weeks, because alas! I had the freedom of food and hydration. I was pumped, and having gone through so much preparation, it felt like it was time to complete the chapter. The hours evaporated quickly. Reporting done, medical done, and the bouts whizzed past. There were 7 Onyx boxers taking the ring that day, and I was smack in the middle. It is a funny sensation: cheering for the rest while a queasiness fluttered in the stomach, in the arms, in the toes. I wanted my bout to both arrive and be done already. The doing, that is the scary, exciting thing that I did not want to think about.
The bout came away, the 17th out of 26. The warm-up passed in a blur, jumping jacks and punching pads, and suddenly, I was walking out to the ring, and I heard my friends then I was on the ring itself, and DING! It was game time.
I remember the fight only vaguely. The rounds and seconds melted together in a hulk of adrenaline. I heard Iskandar's and Zim's voices at the fringe, and tried to do what they said. I had these grand ideas about other fancy combos and angling I would do, but the fight boiled down to the bare basics— moving in and out, jabs and crosses. head movement. That was all I could execute anyway; everything else was forgotten in the heat of the moment. It was so tiring too! But oh, it was exhilarating! My legs felt like sandbags in the third round, but I just wanted to keep going and going, not least because it took a whole lotta effort and time to get there.
DING! The final bell sounded. We took our places in the centre of the ring and awaited the results. The referee yanked my arm upwards, and immediately, RELIEF! A sense of relief came gushing over me. Such sweet relief, which turns into the warm afterglow of happiness. The expending of effort and being able to reap its rewards, it makes for a day which feels like the stars are aligned. It is a day for the years after to relive and remember. How, because of one off-the-cuff suggestion, I started learning a new sport, went through all the training, underwent another weigh-cut, and experienced a boxing fight. How, despite how different Muay Thai and boxing are, I needed and was lucky enough to once again receive the help of MOR, coaches, friends, members. It takes a whole village, a whole supportive fight family, no matter where or what one does.