The sun is still in deep somber in Chiang Mai, Thailand. A chill fills the air without the warmth of the sun and the noisy crickets are still engaged in constant chatter. I pull up on my popcorn machine sounding, 110 cc moped and cut the engine so to not to wake the kids from their net covered beds in the ring. As I glide in silently, I hear the nuclear-like alarm sound at five am, which could wake the whole town. I sit and watch them wake from their cocoon of dreams and just observe.
One by one the children drag their exhausted bodies off the vinyl ring floor full of yawns and stretches to ease their stiffness from the hard plywood. Not one complaint is heard from any one of the dozen children as they begin washing up. Not one, “do we have to run?” no moans or groans are even attempted. They know that is not tolerated here and in the end does them no justice because the reality of the matter is, they must run. If they want to become Champions, feed their families or in some cases, even eat a meal today, they must complete this fourteen-kilometer run, and that is just the beginning. The whining and groaning you would expect is replaced with light-hearted banter as they playfully tease and kick each other.
We return from the run with fresh sweat dripping off our brow, yet, we still have more to endure. Everyone puts on damp, foul smelling, hand wraps still sweaty from the day before. Not long after, the countless dull thuds begin from the shins assaulting the bag one after another. Thump! Womp, as they endure a full hour consisting of five-minute rounds. The Thai’s endless energy astonishes me. After a mere half an hour I am barely assaulting anything anymore. I am more or less ‘petting’ the bag with my leg. Children pet kittens harder than I am hitting.
It’s a chore for me not to begin cursing. My technique is horrendous; my balance is even worse and my energy draining as fast as Sagat getting mauled by Ryu in Street Fighter. Yet I look around and again, no complaints. All I hear is screams of “Aumm!!” and “Ishh!!” as they continue smashing the leather-coated bag filled with sand. My mind is becoming weak. I want to quit, give up, take the easy road and go eat some pizza. They keep me there, if an eight year old can do this then I can too, I convince myself. I begin encouraging self-talk. I need to do that to keep going or else I will fail.
After the insane number of rounds we move towards pads with a trainer. These trainers are relentless. Technique, power, speed, balance, footwork all rolled into one exhausting session. As if that weren’t enough we still must clinch for forty minutes. I am the only female and roughly the same size as the teenage boys. We have strangely similar body types. Not a word escaped them, like robots moving from one grueling exercise to the next.
“Reo! Reo!!” Screamed the trainers. Never wanting more than a ten second gap in the clinching. They wrestle and wrench on each other continuously. I spend most of my time on the mat. I attempt to clinch with them and in what seems like seconds I am whipped across the floor rolling for a few feet like when I used to roll down grassy hills as a youngster in bliss. This was not blissful.
I began to daydream about what I was like as a youth. Chasing ice cream trucks daily, riding my bike with warm wind blowing through my tangled hair. Free, simple and so much easier. My parents could not have paid me, bribed me, or forced me to train at this intensity back then. Heck, I considered soccer training hard at nine years old.
Feeling worse than before I returned for the last portion of this three-hour workout. As the stench of sweat filled the open-air gym, we started the three hundred sit-ups and push-ups ringside. By the time I was done, I felt like I had a full body cramp. There was not one muscle that was not screaming in pain. And this, my friends, was only the morning portion of the workout. Yet another four hours was to resume once the kids returned home from school, mentally exhausted.
In one day these child warriors taught me the meaning of mental strength and discipline. They showed me the difference from their lifestyle and the society back in Canada. They seemed to be raised without choice. There was NO complaining. That is all they knew. Imagine what North America would function like if we were never taught, showed or believed in giving up? If we had never even learned what a complaint was? The essence of that was living in these children and I found it absolutely amazing. I feel like I learned more in that one day then I had in the previous twenty-three years on earth.
The division between the Western mentality and that of the Traditional cultures who bore these arts was astounding. That is not to say we don’t possess discipline, strength or even that we are all the same in North America, however, that morning I witnessed something I had NEVER seen back home.
So next time you are going for your morning five kilometer run at seven am and you are feeling like giving up, picture for a moment, somewhere in Thailand there is a ten year old running his thirteenth kilometer. Smile and keep going.
Until next time,
Live, love, and fight your hearts out.