For those of you who only know me as a basketball trainer/coach then you may not know that I had a few Muay Thai fights for kicks (pun intended). Muay Thai is is a beautiful martial art that is also one of the most vicious and street applicable. Muay Thai fighters are some of the best conditioned athletes in the world. This is why I decided to start taking classes. I wanted to cross-train for basketball as well as learn how to defend myself better. Muay Thai comes from Thailand and is also known as “the art of eight limbs” because of the ability to use your fists, elbows, knees and shins. There is also clinching and the physical conditioning needed to withstand the pace of a fight and the ability to take the various shots that will come your way. Muay Thai is rich in tradition and learning about another culture through this fighting style has been a great bonus.
Two weeks into taking classes I was presented with my first sparring session. Needless to say I wasn’t ready. I still didn’t know how to properly defend any type of kick and I wasn’t in great fighting shape. I was told I would be sparring with one of the fighters in the gym who had a fight coming up in a few weeks. The guy he was fighting was was about my height and build. This fighter sparred at 100% because he felt it was the best way to prepare for competition. He was skilled and strong. At first I wasn’t scared for my safety as much as I didn’t want to do something by accident that could hurt him going into his fight. The bell rings and the Thai music is playing and I am light on my feet. I am moving like a boxer looking pretty for the first 5 seconds until I circle left into one of his full blast right leg, low kicks. That’s going to leave a mark! Remember, I don’t know how to protect myself from the kicks. A few seconds later he low kicks again and I bend down and drop both of my hands to protect my leg. That is the worst thing to do. A few seconds later he fakes the low leg kick and I drop my hands again and he hooks me in the temple. For a moment I black out from the punch he threw but I didn’t go down. My corner is yelling for me to keep my hands up and to punch. I last the round. There is one more round left and at this point I am punching and kicking as hard as I can. I don’t remember much about that round except I survived. I had a major dead leg and walking was going to be a chore. I got credit from the fighter after. He said he knocked out the last 2 guys in sparring and that our Kru (teacher) was not happy with him. At this point I either had to ask for my money back and quit or learn quickly how to defend myself properly. I was athletic and had the heart I just needed the technique so I decided to stick it out.
After years of learning and sparring I decided it was time to fight against an opponent. Once I declared this as my intention I knew the training would ramp up, the diet would have to change and my mentality would have to transition from gym member to fighter. It was time to face an opponent from another gym that I didn’t know and test my skills. No false success, no holding back on punches or kicks, no simulation and no unwarranted praise. You either can or you can’t.
The walk is really the walkout that all fighters do leading up to the fight. This is the moment of truth when doubt starts to creep in or when calm confidence takes over your soul because you know you put in real work. The truth lies in the way you work. Emotions don’t last but your preparation will during a fight. Most people will never experience this walk to the ring but in life there will be times for you to take the walk. That walk will be different for everyone. This is the time where you are fully engaged and no longer pondering, considering or rationalizing. The walk isn’t the fight but its the approach, the movement headed in the direction of taking care of what scares you or challenges you. The win is in the walk. It’s deciding to go ahead and not let fear of anything stand in your way of what you want to try or what you want to become. I know there is something you have wanted to try or need to address and today may be that day to take “the walk”.
I have told my ear story as I lectured at basketball camps over the years. I talked about having over 10 major inner ear surgeries and what I had to go through, what I did and what lessons I learned. I had a very rare and aggressive type of growth called a cholesteatoma. The cholesteatoma crushed all of the bones in my middle ear and was so big it almost got to the right side of my face.
What I had to go through……
Non surgery time I would deal with chronic ear infections, a lot of antibiotics and trips to the ear specialist. Nothing was worse than the visits to the specialist where they would stick metal utensils in my ear the length of a kitchen knife and vacuum out debris and fluid from the infection. The pain from these visits would get so bad that as an adult I had asked for a surgery so that whatever was being worked on each visit wouldn’t have to take place anymore. I would get major dizzy spells and had a hard time hearing what people had to say to me in public settings.
I can remember playing in the pre-season NIT with a major ear infection with fluid draining out of it during the whole game. We were playing for the first time that season on the road in a hostile environment and I was off-balance and dizzy. Not a great combination for a high level athlete involved in competition. I can remember Coach yelling to get my attention and teammates hitting me and pointing in his direction. A few times I was asked if I was alright and what was wrong with me? No one ever knew the extent of discomfort I was feeling or the secondary opponent I was facing while I was playing. I would yell at my teammates to call the screen out only to find out later that they were calling out the screen the whole time. The same thing happened during my second amateur muay thai fight. Another infection! I had prepared so hard, I lost over 30lbs and I had my team, family and friends all in attendance to watch me perform. Fortunately I won and can tell the story now with no harm caused. I would never suggest going into any competition let alone a fight with an ear infection and your equilibrium being off. Competing in this condition is something I had overcome before so I went ahead with it. Maybe it added to my unorthodox style haha.
Surgery time was normally waited on until after basketball season. The first stage was to remove the cholesteatoma. I couldn’t go to school for a month and I couldn’t play basketball for 3 months. The following year was the same recuperation time but the surgery was to try and restore the hearing. After surgery my head was bandaged very tightly and the right side of my head was throbbing. I would get really sick from the anesthesia and would have problems walking on my own for about a week. I had a drainage tube that would have to be taken out and cleaned up and stitches behind my ear where they opened me up to get to the middle ear. Packing would eventually come out from the ear canal and again those office visits were not pleasant.
What I did……
During the recovery I remember coming up with drills that I would do when I was ready. I remember watching videos of my favorite players and studying their moves and movements. Visualization and imagination were my best friends at this time and kept my my mind sharp. The major story I tell is of me going into my basement when I was ready before I got cleared to run and I would work on my stationary ball handling drills. I would normally put on a mix tape filled with my favorite songs. I would average 3 songs straight where I would freestyle with my handles and then take a break for a song and then do it again for 2 more sets. It was tiring and it was fun. I pushed myself because I knew it would keep my skills tight.
Appreciation-One time I was paired with another child while I was in the hospital. My parents got to talking to his parents and were informed he had been in the hospital for months, he was very sick and on an IV to get his nutrients. I remember thinking at that moment that I would have the chance to go back and compete again without restrictions. I vowed that whenever I could compete that I would be the hardest working player on the court. I knew that if that kid had the chance to run and play until exhaustion that he would. It motivated me to not take anything for granted. I wanted anyone who was not in the position I was in to enjoy watching me play with passion and heart the way I know they would have if they had the opportunity. To this day one of my favorite quotes was coined from this experience.
“Appreciation for what you have will make you fight harder to keep it.”
Compassion-My self esteem would be affected at times. I would get made fun of because one of my ears stuck out while the other was pinned close to my head after surgery. Head on pictures would show the big disparity. I learned how to roll with the punches and be quick with some of my responses. From this experience I learned how to treat people. I learned to accept others differences as gifts they had to offer the world from being boring and plain. Even with my insecurities and difficulties I was still considered a cool kid because of my ability to play basketball but I never thought I was better than anyone else.
To this day I still have issues with my ear but not as bad. I still don’t hear very well on my right side. The phone will always be on my left ear and I won’t hear you in a public place if you are to my right. As a father, husband, son, friend, coach and trainer I have found the value of appreciation and compassion. These two lessons I learned can be added to how you go about things in your daily life or professional life that will drastically change the way you approach people and situations. Ultimately, finding other ways to grow when you are held back will only help you expand your game even more. I hope this blog rings loud and clear to you the same way it did to me.