Muay Thai for Mental Toughness: 3 Lessons I’ve Learned from Getting Punched and Kicked

by on September 21, 2017


I remember the first time I heard a really strong kick hit the heavy bag. It was a heavy sound that echoed the force behind it.

As a beginner in the world of martial arts, I couldn’t imagine one of those landing on my body or my legs.

But that was fear speaking. Fear makes any pain a hundred times worse. And through my training, I learnt to deal with my fear not only in fighting, but in all aspects of life.

Muay Thai is a martial art which originated in Thailand sometime in the 16th century.

It is also known as the Art of Eight Limbs, because its practitioners use fists, elbows, knees and shins to attack their opponents.

As such, it is known as one of the most effective martial arts and forms the basis of the style of stand-up fighting we see today in MMA.

However, if you’ve only ever watched the fights, it is hard to comprehend how grueling and painful the whole deal actually is.

I grew up watching Chinese martial arts movies, where the hero often beat tens of guys up without sustaining a single hit themselves.

That image was very appealing to me: hit others without getting hit yourself. As a physically below average guy, it gave me hope that there was a way that the weak could overcome the strong.

My ideal was further developed by reading stories of old Chinese masters of arts such as Wing Chun and Tai Chi that could reportedly completely embarrass their opponents with their skills, using little to no strength or conditioning.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite like that.

A fight is a grueling experience, usually won by the most tenacious, most conditioned and strongest individual. Skill is important, but like Mike Tyson so famously said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the head.”

“Good fighters never show their pain.”

There are three lessons I’ve personally learned from my martial arts training. They are as follows:

  1. Real world testing is king
  2. The best fighter shows the least pain
  3. The better conditioned fighter usually wins

Let’s take a look at how they work in fighting and how you can apply them to your life.

Real world testing is king

If you ever decide to train martial arts, your decision on which one you choose should be primarily dictated by one question: do they spar?

Sparring in martial arts is the application of learned skills in a safe environment, where the goal is mutual improvement.

A step further than that is fighting: the application of skills in a decidedly unsafe environment where your opponent is very much out to hurt you. It is the ultimate test of how good you actually are.

Imagine if a fighter who trained for years on his own, following whatever training he thought would work, came up against a fighter who has been testing what work and what doesn’t against other skilled fighters.

Well, you can actually watch one such example here.

(WARNING: graphic content)

In life, fighting can be found everywhere. The job market is a fight, the housing market is a fight, the dating “market” is a fight. People compete against each other, whether they know it or not, for the most coveted prizes every day. The rules are different, but the principles are the same.

The Kung Fu master above is like a young entrepreneur with a “brilliant” idea that has never been tested in the market before.

It is likely to be beaten up and sent off to wonder where it has gone wrong.

Martial arts teach us that in order to become proficient at something, we have to do it A) on a regular basis and B) against some sort of standard that decides how well we have done.

In business, the standard could be the number of buyers who purchase your products. In dating, it would be the number of people who want to be with you, or the level of satisfaction you and your partner have with each other.

Just knowing isn’t enough, we must apply, said Bruce Lee. Learning is the prerequisite for success, but success only comes through the implementation of knowledge in the real world.

The best fighter shows the least pain

Pain is the reality of fighting.

The only reason we can watch spectacular performances where two people go at it for 15, 20, or 30 minutes, is training.

Over years, fighters are trained to ignore pain and focus on the task at hand: defeating the opponent. Show weakness and your adversary will jump on you like a shark smelling blood.

The fighters who show the least pain aren’t biologically different from other people. They weren’t born with less nerve endings or a perverse enjoyment of pain (outside a few rare exceptions). Yes, the adrenaline rush can mask pain, but not all of it.

They have simply been trained to not show pain.

In our own lives, we often feel that something is too much for us; we feel overwhelmed.

There’s this piece of work you can’t do because you’re stressed. You can’t focus because your girlfriend broke up with you.

In those cases, the best thing you can do is sit down and work through the pain.

Trust me, the pain will go away. In fact, it will go away whether you do something in the meantime or if you wallow in sadness.

But you can choose if you will be in a better place after the pain subsides, or if you will have stagnated and regressed.

I am not saying that you should not express your emotions. I’m all for encouraging men to break out of the “tough guy” image and feel a little.

What I am saying and suggesting is that sometimes, the pain may appear to be very real to us. We feel it. But those who manage to get over themselves, those who manage to fight through the pain, those people become successful.

The better conditioned fighter usually wins

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” – Vince Lombardi

Everyone’s a hero in round 1.

It is easy to be mentally strong when you are fresh.

It is a whole different deal when you are gasping for air, your arms are too tired to stay up and your whole body aches from the beating it has sustained.

Likewise, everyone is excited to start a new business, a new fitness routine, or a new relationship.

But how many people keep going long enough to see results, and how many people stay in it long after the initial fun faded away?

As Floyd Mayweather put it before his latest fight: “You have to be able to give it and you have to be able to take it.”

Life doesn’t throw literal punches or roundhouses. But it sure does hit harder than the best fighter alive. Just like in the ring, your ability to remain calm and composed – and not give in – will be the deciding factor of your success.

If you are composed, you are able to better assess your situation and see it for what it is. Often enough, our fears get the better of us and make reality seem worse than it actually is.

Having a clear mind allows you to place your focus on the positive, the future, and not on your current difficulties.

That way you can stay positive and do what needs to be done without giving up!


Klemen Bobnar

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