My Interview With Female Muay Thai Fighter Emma Thomas
Surfing the Chaos
I’ve known Emma for a few years now. We actually met through online communication and I forget that we didn’t actually meet each other in person until a little over a year ago. I really like Emma and recently I was scrolling through a feed of our private messages on Facebook in order to show something she’d sent me to my Thai friend and my friend remarked, “wow, you write so much! It’s like a book!” Yeah, we talk a lot. Which made me realize with surprise that I’ve not yet interviewed Emma. I’ve certainly thought to do so many times before, but never actually organized it. Indeed, when I told Emma that I wanted to interview her this time around there was an immediate response of “sure,” but there was also this unspoken feeling between us that we talk all the time and about everything, so what’s there to interview about? And that’s just it: I wanted to interview Emma about the things we talk about, candidly, as fighters dealing with the ups and downs of training and fighting in Thailand. Not, “how did you get into Muay Thai?” so much as the steeped in issues of, “how do you know the difference between normal chaos and need to walk away from this chaos?” Not “where are you training?” but “what do you need out of your training right now?”
Here is My Interview of Emma
Training with Emma at Petchrungruang
When Emma, almost off-handedly, mentioned that she’d be coming down with her boyfriend to Pattaya for his fight on Max Muay Thai and, would it be okay to come train at the gym with me, I got very excited. I love training with Emma. She’s everything you want in a training partner: skilled, offers challenges to my weaknesses and forces me to work for my strengths; she’s focused and we’re close enough in size that everything we throw at each other is real-world and fight-practical; we’ve got healthy competitiveness, coupled with mutual support, and we’re friends so it’s always fun to spend time together. The first time I trained with her it was at Master Toddy’s.
The last time we trained together was around July 2015 (so, 5-6 months ago) in preparation for both of us fighting on the Queen’s Birthday in August. A lot has changed for both of us since that time. All gyms go through cycles and there are lots of ups and downs in terms of training and relationships, but I’ve left the O. Meekhun Gym and Emma is having an incredibly frustrating time at her gym due to all of her long-term training partners having left and focus at the gym being inconsistent and insufficient by those in charge. As a result it’s been a long time since she’s had the kind of sparring and clinching training that she needs. I always struggle with sparring and clinching at my gym because it’s simply not a given, so it was glorious to not have to ask or harass anybody to get the work in that we both wanted. We just got to it.
I’ve been trying to focus on getting my punches to be more available in the ring, doing a lot of training and mental focus to actually throw my hands under pressure and additionally to make the strikes more accurate and heavy. I thought I was doing pretty well, actually, and I’ve seen some success with throwing combinations in some of my fights (albeit inconsistently). But when I was sparring with Emma, it felt like she was basically tagging me with any punch she threw and I couldn’t land anything other than a body hook. That’s okay, but it goes to show that sometimes something works in one context and not another. And I was frustrated to find that all my punches were coming out wide, which is why I couldn’t reach her before her straight punches were already on my mouth. But, again to my surprise, my kicks were coming out pretty well and landing more often than not – which was frustrating to Emma. We both laughed at ourselves and voiced our irritation at not making the adjustments, even though we were perfectly conscious of them. It was nice to joke about it instead of internalizing it and chastising with that “inner coach” as I sometimes do when it’s me against one of the boys or a trainer.
And really I think this was the biggest difference for me. Because Emma and I only see each other occasionally (but talk all the time online about what’s going on with our training), each meeting is a kind of temperature-gauge of where we’ve made progress and where we haven’t. This is why I like rematches – you fight the same opponent a few times and use it as a measuring stick. This is what I mean by Emma and me having a healthy competitiveness – we’re both testing ourselves against each other and certainly both want to see progress in ourselves and each other, but it’s difficult when the deficiencies are exposed. Like my punches. But, all that said, this was the biggest difference I saw in my sparring: I only had fun. I’ll admit that I’ve been a brat a few times when training with Emma, something that Kevin always nags at me for (reasonably enough), pointing out that either she or we have traveled a few hours for this opportunity and then there I am being a grump about the mistakes I’m making. Being grumpy about failures is understandable, but it doesn’t help anything. With this visit, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy in everything we were doing – not because I was “winning” all the time; I was, in fact, eating gloves quite often – but because it was fun. Getting tagged in the face due to a mistake (or due to this being a combat sport, so that happens either way), was fun. If meeting up with Emma after 5 months is taking a temperature reading on my progress, the most progress has been in my ability to play. And that’s probably greater advancement and advantage than I could have asked for; certainly beyond being able to land whatever-you-want-to-list-here in sparring.
And I see this in Emma as well. When talking to her about the frustrations in her training, in the candid back-and-forth of speaking as friends there’s a lot of mutual understanding of the same failings, because we have similar enough personalities that we both let shit go on without addressing it way longer than we should. But in the same way that I charted my own growth with a, “wow, I’m able to handle this way better and am having fun,” I could see that Emma is in a place now where she isn’t going to just internalize everything either. In our interview we talked about the initial confusion of things outside of your own control: opponents, fights, unfairness, shadiness… all of that. But learning to understand the difference between what’s just disorganization and what’s nefarious is a matter of comfort – in exactly the same way that learning the difference between getting punched in the mouth because you suck and getting punched in the mouth because that’s part of the game. Or the understanding that I can take this, but I don’t have to.
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