I’ve been training muay thai now just shy of one year.

I’ll never forget my very first sparring experience at A4fitness under the supervision of coach Akkim Lee.  It was at the latter portion of the class and I was warm, loose, was sporting a nice sweat and brimming with confidence.  Then it began… an onslaught of punches, kicks, schoolyard-style pushing and ultimately punctuated by a shocking thud as my opponent’s glove made full contact with my face straight on!  Whoa!!! I was in unfamiliar territory.   I think I was punching back, at least I hoped I was. I finallyI turned my head away to avoid eating another 16oz. sandwich and then: “Breaaak, breaaak.” The coach put a hault to things as he shook his head at me: “No good, never turn away, that’s how you get beat up.” I thought, “Shit, I ain’t gettin’ beat up”; so I went back in.  I launched a punch at my opponent which was met by an even more aggressive cascade of punches and kicks which basically took my breath away right along with my confidence.  I waved my gloves in front of my face and quit.

I was bummed for the rest of the day, not about my performance but about the fact that I quit.

I questioned my every fiber of being.  “Who am I?” I thought.  “Man, that guy wasn’t even winded and I just stopped.  What else in life will make me just quit like that?  And more importantly, where else in my life have I been quitting already?”

So, I reached out to the one friend who I knew that I could talk to about this and who would give me proper feedback, honestly and without filter.  I’ve known Claude Lawson III since childhood. He’s a trained martial arts champion and when were were kids he’s usually the reason I didn’t end up fighting when a fight seemed bound to happen.  So I hit him up and told him about my experience.  “Charles, you’re not a fighter.” was his response.  “You’re closer to fifty than to anything else and you’re gonna get hurt with what you’re doing.  Just train and get in shape.”  Wow!  I’m not a fighter?  That comment just hung above my head!  Almost every minute of the day.  I mean, okay, I don’t have a lot of street fights under my belt; but I know I’m not a coward.  And I fight all the time in my life just not with my fists.  I know that I have a fighter spirit, just because I don’t use my fists does that make me any less a fighter?

The next morning it was time for my 7am Krav-Maga class so I geared up and went in.  I had a great class!  Krav Maga is a very practical self-defense system and the instructors, students and environment at Krav Maga Worldwide is supportive and nurturing, which is just what my wounded ego was in need of.  Soon I was back at A4fitness in muay thai shorts and donning my boxing gloves.  That sinister student who punched my face wasn’t there on this day so I looked around for find a training partner to spar with whom looked like a less menacing threat.  I banged the pads hard that day and had a much better time sparring with other students not as powerful and aggressive as my first opponent.  I spoke the coach after class about my dilemma.  “When was the last time you were hit in the face?” he asked me.  “Ah man, I can’t remember the last time I was hit in the face” I responded.  “So, you’re just not used to it.  Keep practicing, you’ll get better.”  He was very matter-of-fact about it.

Since then I've trained and sparred at gyms all around Los Angeles and Chicagoland and yes, I've been hit in the face a bunch and its gotten easier.

I even enjoy it a bit as it tends to bring me more into presence and excites me to be honest. Oh, what about that first opponent who slapped me around?  Well, I’m not going to say that I’m handling him nowadays because the truth is, whenever I spar with him he still owns me, but I enjoy it much more these days.  I can even get a few good shots in of my own which is always an accomplishment and enjoyable. 🙂

(L) Charles Little, (R) Igor Tischenko @A4fitness

I even enjoy it a bit as it tends to bring me more into presence and excites me to be honest. Oh, what about that first opponent who Igor Tishenko has become one of my most valued muay thai training partners at A4fitness.  He doesn’t waste time talking or goofing around but he also isn’t taking things too seriously.  Sparring with him is always a learning experience, always enjoyable and always challenging.  It’s been a mission of mine to become a source of learning and challenge for him as well.  I try to change up my attack, my defense and try to stay relaxed and aware. The challenge of sparring with a larger, stronger opponent is still intimidating and always makes me nervous.  The nervousness is really what I’m trying to change so that when I finally do step through the ropes I’m calm and ready to enjoy myself while I spank that ass!

Sparring is essential training IMHO whether you plan to fight or not. Its likely the only chance you might have to exchange strikes with another live human who is not actively trying to hurt you. So if sparring isnt yet a part of your training regiment I hope that you cross that line and get in on the fun.  If you’re already  that <i>down to scrap</i> sort, just rememeber that sparring is not a fight so, slow down killer; unless you’ve communicated with your partner and you’re both on the same page.  I always want to be as good a partner for others as I hope they are for me.  So commuicate with your partner whether you’re holding the pads or  you’re the one banging them.  Watch videos online that illustrate pad holding techniques and principles and always watch the masters train like Buakaw, Malaipet, or whomever you like to follow.

Train hard, live well, love much, laugh often. Sawasdee krap.

Photographs by@kengomega