‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy’. Martin Luther King Jr.
I remember how I felt the next clay after my first Judo lesson back in July 1973. I could hardly walk! Muscles were aching in places I did not know existed! 25 years later I left my first Muay Thai lesson with a fat bloody lip and the skin on the bottom of my feet resembling flip- flops! Yet I never once thought about packing up and leaving, I went back for more! Even today, after 32 years of training and competing, I like to test myself, to just push that little harder. To enter and then get past that pain barrier. ‘No Pain, No gain’ you hear this phrase in nearly everything that requires effort. Bodybuilders live by this maxim; the military sometimes die by it. So how does this benefit us as martial artists? In my chosen art of Muay Thai one of the key factors is durability, the ability to be able to perform or compete over a long period by avoiding or overcoming injuries. The Nak Muay (boxer) endures a considerable amount of punishment in every round he fights. Full contact Elbows, knees and shins with no padded protection, leather gloves crashing into their body and face provide the only respite from bone on bone.
Muay Thai is considered to be one of the toughest ring sports and martial arts in the world, there are many others too. During my earlier martial arts (raining I trained in the battlefield art of ‘Tong Long’ or more commonly known as Preying Mantis. This was is a tough form of
Shaolin Gung fu and some of the training methods still bring me out in bruises just thinking about them! To toughen our arms and legs we used to crash them against each other full force without padding. Finger push-ups, taking away a finger on each repetition until you were either doing push-ups on one finger or balancing on your nose! I am sure every one of you can tell me stories of endurance and pain, where you have reached the brink of failure only to rise up, to dig in or to push past. By pushing ourselves past these boundaries we prepare our minds and bodies not only for our arts but also for what life may hand out to us. The added bonus of course is the natural ‘high’ that we get from the rush of endorphins that are released after a gruelling fight or training session.
There are different types oi pain of course but we can categorise them into two distinctive types: Physical Emotional
During training, exercise and competing, we will experience both of these at various degrees. Take competing for instance, the physical pain of your muscles tiring, your lungs bursting and the strikes you take. Then there’s the emotional pain of pushing past your physical pain, driving forward, digging in. Emotional pain can also be at its worst when we experience loss.
The key to all of this is sacrifice, to achieve anything to a high standard you will need to sacrifice and this is where some of our pain lies.
Giving up the things you enjoy, certain foods, late nights out and even your favourite TV shows. You have to prioritise your time; I guess you could say it’s like going through permanent Lent or Ram/an (Ramadan). So sacrifice is just a part of the emotional pain we have to endure to be successful. The physical pain speaks for itself, the type of pain you go through when your muscles have reached their limits, the burning pain caused by lactic acid. However, as a fighter it goes further than this, when, not only do your limbs and body feel that they’re filled with sand and your lungs are about to burst, but your opponent is raining down on you with fervour and fury.
To be able to rise back from this can only come from preparation. A comment was once made to me in the gym by a fellow trainer I can do 100 push-ups easily, every clay I do 100 push ups without fail. Impressive you may think, however consider this, what if his comment was more like Every night I try to reach 100 push ups and I am almost there and when I reach it I am going to aim for 200 push ups and then 300! You work out which statement is the most impressive. It’s about going that proverbial extra mile.
The same applies when you lose a fight, like not quite making that 100 push ups you have to continue to push further. Emotional pain can be devastating and it digs deep into your very core. This kind of pain can be a destroyer and you have to find your strength from the very depths, from your very core. Only through hard training can you prepare and toughen yourself, only through sacrifice and commitment can you begin to take those first steps towards achievement. There is no easy path, no matter how much natural ability you have, you need to prepare or you will fail.
You cannot take short cuts; there are no magic formulas that will ease your pain and burden. Actually there is one reprieve, simply – enjoy what you are doing.
Of course there is a flip side to all of this. If you become over obsessed and train at a hitdi level every day, pushing yourself to your limits day in, day out, then you will burn out. The body needs good rest and good nutrition just as importantly as it needs training. Your body and your mind need to heal, to ease down once in a while, to revitalise, re-energise. If you don’t, then injuries will be more common, you will get ill more often and you will feel tired and irritable. Your techniques and skills will be blunted, reaction time slow. You require adequate rest and a good diet. Smoking, eating junk food and boozing up most nights are not the attributes of a good fighter, they are not the attributes of someone who wants to achieve in life.
If you really want to succeed then you have to go through the pain of sacrifice. However, if you over do it ‘NO PAIN NO GAIN? Or TOO MUCH PAIN,
Kru Shaun Holand is the Chief Instructor and Founder of Chao Phraya Muay Thai Academy in Cambridgeshire. If you wish to discuss any related topics from his articles please E-mail: