The Perils Of Dating Your Trainer is a fictional series by Lindsey Newhall, based on her experiences training muay thai in Thailand.
Another afternoon session training Muay Thai in Bangkok. I’ve been here four months now. The sun is shining brighter than usual and everything is glowing. During the water break in between pad rounds, I dip the metal cup in the communal cooler and revel in the relief of ice water. My trainer Gong calls me over for another round on pads. I hurry back to him and put my guard up. I’m falling in love with him.
But it’s not what you’re thinking, not a romantic love. He doesn’t speak English and I can barely speak more than 10 words in Thai. We don’t interact outside of training. This is a different kind of intimacy, born of Muay Thai, something I have never experienced before. When he looks me in the eye during training, I get a feeling from him that I don’t get from other trainers. It’s something like… investment.
We’ve been training together exclusively for the past month. He’s awakened a new love of Muay Thai within me. I can barely explain it to myself, this new devotion and passion, this drive I feel every day when we train together. It’s almost like I’m in love, not with him but with what I see in Muay Thai through him.
At night, I hole up in my room and write Gong a love letter in my journal that I will never show him. Everything I wish I could say to him I pour onto the pages. I thank him for showing me this joy and art that is Muay Thai. I tell him I didn’t come to Thailand to fight, but that under his guidance, I feel like I could reach the point of finding the confidence and inspiration to step into the ring.
I lament to him how hard it can be as a single woman at a Muay Thai gym. I thank him for never looking at me lecherously or making lewd comments, but instead for treating me like a real person. I can open up to him, let down during training the emotional guard I never even knew I had. I trust him completely in a Muay Thai context. I never knew what it felt like truly to connect with a trainer before I started training with him.
Which is why I never want to date him. I wouldn’t want to lose what I have with Gong by mixing romantic feelings into it.
Shouldn’t be a problem, though. Everyone at the gym knows Gong doesn’t like foreign women.
It’s early, only 8am, halfway through morning session. From the corner of my eye, I notice head trainer Leen watching me do pad work with Gong. After the rounds are over, Leen approaches me and asks if I want to start fighting. I hesitate, tell him I’m not sure. Fighting has never been a big interest, though slowly with Gong’s training I’m starting to open up to the idea a bit more.
“Mr. Leen,” I start, “I am so bad at Muay Thai. Who would I fight? Is it even possible to find someone that bad in this country?”
He reassures me that it is indeed possible to find an opponent of equal incapacity, but I’m not totally convinced.
I consider it over the next couple weeks. Maybe I should just do it. I am training full-time in Bangkok, after all.
Two weeks later, I casually tell Leen I’m willing to start fighting if he thinks I should. He must be able to pick up on my mediocre commitment to fighting, because he gives me no time frame, just a vague, “Okay maybe we find fight.” I wish I didn’t feel so apathetic.
Do any other foreigners training in Bangkok have such a flippant attitude towards fighting? I so admire the foreigners who come here with a true passion for fighting. It’s their focus and drive that I envy the most. Maybe taking a few fights would awaken it in me. Is it something you can learn later in life? Or is it something you’re born with, something you know about yourself from the beginning?
Lindsey Newhall first left her home state of California when she was 20, and has since called China, Thailand, and Alaska her home. You can check out more of Lindsey’s writing on Fightland.