Let’s time-hop back a few years to the days prior to my Level 2 Test. I was doing rounds to prep, and one of them was with Kru Eng. Eng has been my friend for a long time, since I began my Muay Thai journey and way before he was Kru. He has offered a wealth of solid advice to me through the years, including the rule I lived by in tests – pace yourself in your rounds, do sixty-two kicks because once you hit sixty the pad holder is going to start wailing on you. He’s taught me some really sweet combos and pointed out tiny form issues that created big holes in my guard. When he offers advice, I listen. Anyway, I had finished the round and was expressing my concern about being ready. But Eng told me, “At some point, you just have to trust the training.” A simple statement but profoundly true whether one is training for a Level 2 Test, fight, or Kru Test.
That said, sometimes this is easier said than done.
Kru training is hard, brutally hard. It is rough rounds after full classes and conditioning and mid-afternoon runs in 90 degree heat plus late summer, North Carolina humidity. It’s day in, day out. It’s physically exhausting, and at times, your body aches so much, you’re not really sure if you can even lift your leg to kick anymore.
A week and a half after my first panic attack in Muay Thai, I had another one. This one was in a round with Kru Schmitt. I felt the all too familiar (at this point) energy dump and chest tightening as “I can’t” screamed into the forefront of my mind. And I couldn’t breathe.
Spit the mouth guard out. Run outside. Again. Now, all too familiar.
Kru Amir joined me, and just as I had with Kru Jabari last time, I told him everything. But this time I had noticed a couple very important things that I couldn’t see last time. 1) This was happening when I was feeling most exhausted. 2) The trigger was this “I can’t” notion (most of the time actually spoken out loud).
Kru Amir talked about the reality of over training while Arjarn King joined us. Basically, if your body hasn’t had proper recovery everything is amplified, and you end up doing more harm than good. Arjarn King told me to take several days off.
It occurred to me during those down days that the trigger of all my panic attacks, both at Muay Thai and work, was a crushing sense of hopelessness, that I couldn’t make it through whatever daunting task I was facing. Then once I actually articulated “I can’t”, I had lost control. They didn’t happen every time things got tough or even exhausting. I was making it through WAY more rounds that I was bailing on, but extreme exhaustion made me more susceptible.
This was great information to have but also terrifying. My Kru test was going to occur at the end of a full weekend seminar – Muay Thai for eight hours each day in late-August, North Carolina heat and humidity in a facility without AC. There was no question that I was going to be extremely exhausted, and I was probably going to get frustrated because I would be tested by strange pad holders I didn’t know whose job was to make it as hard as possible for me. So, I needed a strategy for getting through this that called for more than just metaphorical roots. The conditions were primed for the trigger. I needed to interrupt my habitual response before I got to that critical point.
So far in this Kru Story, Arjarn King has featured a lot, but I haven’t talked a much about Arjarn Dr. King. This is because Ajarn King was the one dictating my Kru Training. He controlled the rounds, picked the holders, designed the drills. Arjarn Dr. King would watch some of my rounds or my Ram Muay practice and give feedback, but she was not the constant presence in my training that Arjarn King was. However, I may as well go ahead and tell you that if it weren’t for Arjarn Dr. King, I wouldn’t be writing this on the other side of becoming a Kru.
For many years, I have said that I want to be like Arjarn Dr. King when I grow up. A little HaHa for those of you who know how old I am, but the truth is that she is one of my role models. She is disciplined – not only is she a credentialed Instructor in two different martial arts but she is also a Math professor. That should tell you a lot. She is an amazing teacher. She’s caring. She’s feisty, and she’s literally the fastest human being I’ve ever met. Less than 100 pounds soaking wet, she is formidable. She is Muay Thai Mom. And when she asks you or tells you to do something, the only answer is, “Yes, Ma’am.”
When I returned to training after my break following that last panic attack, she pulled me aside for a chat. Arjarn King had told her what happened even though she was not there either night panic attacks occurred. The chat wasn’t long, but what she did say was that I was to stop listening to that voice in my head. When I was doing rounds, I was only to listen to her voice.
I said, “Yes, Ma’am.”
I’m not sure what switch this flipped in my head, but it did flip a critical one. Not only was that the prior panic attack the last one I had at Muay Thai, it is (to the date of writing this) the last panic attack I have had.
Arjarn Dr. King’s voice is loud and clear. It slices through noise, walls, and whatever else might get thrown up between you and her. When you are doing rounds, you will hear her above all others. So during my training rounds, in addition to focusing on the rhythm of the round, I started really listening for her voice. And what do you know? It was there, and it effectively drowned out the negative self-talk that was triggering panic.
While she didn’t say it outright, in her own way she was saying – trust me, don’t trust yourself right now, you’re exhausted and spent and can’t see clearly what is happening where you are, just do as I say and you’ll make it through.
Just like Kru Eng had emphasized years ago, I just had to trust. Trust Arjarn Dr. King to see things as they are, trust Arjarn King to prepare me well, trust the other Krus and pad holders to push me enough that the strength and endurance would keep building the closer we got to the test.
If I haven’t made it clear enough yet, becoming a Kru is not something you can accomplish alone. It may not seem like it from the outside, but the making of a Kru is a group project. Your Muay Thai family has to surround you, support you, work with you, and you have to trust them…follow the training plan…rest.
Yeah, turns out all of those were important.