Honestly, Quantity is the Best Quality
It is Day 21 without Muay Thai. I have long passed the stage of itchy angst. It is currently resignation with faint nostalgia. I miss the buzz of people. I miss seeing members struggle with the door, even though its handles were clearly labelled with “Pull”, miss going “hi, how have you been?” or “it’s you again!”, miss the trainers going around with canes and looking menacing. Today, I watched old Onyx videos on Youtube to get a whiff of the mats and the whirring of the fans.
The videos were a one-way ticket to Reminisce Ville. It brought me back to when I first started at Onyx in 2015. I had picked up Muay Thai in university, so I wasn’t exactly a newbie to the sport. In university, the seniors took us through weekly trainings. We were boisterous and enthusiastic, as teenagers on the cusp of adulthood tend to be. We whacked the pads with aplomb and learnt techniques together, sometimes unsuccessfully, but we tried anyway. It was fun. But starting at Onyx was different. The classes were structured and tightly run. There was a fixed stable of experienced coaches and time-keepers, so you couldn’t find some space or time to slack off. It was like there was an Eye of Sauron at the gym, omniscient and omnipresent.
In those early days, the constant amount of attention meant that classes were extra tiring and extra invigorating. Because you knew that somebody was paying attention to what you were doing, you went harder on the bags. It was also reassuring because it meant that mistakes could be easily spotted and explanations just a step away. When you’re a relative newcomer to the sport, the quantity of attention plays an important factor because you are always checking to see if your body is copying the motions correctly. You feel safer when there are more eyes on you, to indicate a yes or a no.
I also wanted to learn everything and anything then. Indiscriminately, to up the number of techniques in my arsenal. How to catch kicks, how to block them, how to sweep, how to kick and punch, in its dazzling and endless array of combinations. Fill up the tank as much as I can and pore over the intricacies of different techniques. My focus was diffused because there is a whole horizon and I wanted to let it all sink in.
There were so many benchmarks to hit. “Oh, I can skip for 10 minutes now!” was followed by “yay, I did a full 15!”. Doing 50 kicks at one go, doing 100 kicks at one go, without breaking down. Continuing the jump knees and push kicks for 30 seconds longer, and then, finally, you can do the whole set without stopping for a breather. Classes in that period were filled with personal bests, new records, and a plethora of knowledge. There was just so much to pick up and remember, and one basks in unlocking new things and the recognition of others.
Then, after some time, I realised hitting quantity for quantity’s sake was not as satisfying as before. Sure, there is the sweaty glow of achievement when you rack up an astronomical 500 kicks on each leg, but you also begin to see not all kicks are created equal or create the same, solid thunk. At this juncture, as I had gotten more used to techniques, I was left to my devices more. But although the quantity of attention from trainers had diminished, the quality of their instruction increased in its stead. There was a sharpening of what the trainers told me. It came in specific nuggets to pinpoint areas in which I was lacking. For example, a single tip on balancing could upend my whole understanding of the pushkick. I looked forward to technique sharing, when the trainers broke down techniques and its application in detail. After the fervent fever of chasing numbers, Muay Thai became more muted and elegant (and no less difficult), as I found myself caring more about the quality of technique execution.
For a long time, I remained at that stage. I wanted to get better at the individual techniques that I had already learnt, perfect the footwork, or master the clean strike. It was the marrow of Muay Thai, these technical aspects. I didn’t want to do more kicks or jump knees. It felt brutish in comparison, like the trainers didn’t care if I was progressing. It seemed like I was following blindly and I missed the earlier days when there was an exponential number of things to be learnt, where discoveries were rife and remarkable.
Then, after I started training with the fight team, I realised I had indeed been blinkered. The truth is quantity of attention matters, but this time, I had to be the one giving the attention, rather than waiting for the trainers to bequeath me with some. When we start off in Muay Thai, we also start building a toolbox. In the early days, we tried to amass as many tools as we could find and wield them as frequently as we could. But these tools are blunt, because they are generic, they come from a factory perhaps. As the owner of the toolbox, it is up to us to sharpen the tools. We receive some instructions on how to sharpen, but the only way to do that? Plain ole grinding. It is not exciting. It involves hours upon hours of standing before the bag/pads to sand down the clumsiness, the inefficiency in our movements. You have to put in the work before it works (specifically) for you.
It is easy to be blinded by the new and the flashy, but to fully possess it, one needs patience and discipline. You need to muck through the boring and the mundane, to get through to the other side. There’s no way around it: you exchange quantity for quality. Only through quantity (of time, of repetition, of thought), can you forge quality (of timing, of rhythm, of precision). Trainers will always care for their students, but it is up to us, the students, to care more than they do. It is our journey after all. And me? After these months under Covid-19 restrictions, all I have is enthusiasm. Give me the soothing numbness of doing more and more, because doing nothing feels so much worse.