Note: This is a work of fiction based on the author’s experiences training muay thai in Thailand.
“You don’t care enough,” Gong continues. “All you want to do during training is play cartwheel kicks with Glai. You train Muay Thai but you’re the worst one at the gym!”
“Okay Gong, maybe I’m the worst at our gym, but do you really think I couldn’t win against someone in Phuket?”
“Cut! Cut! Cut! Face!” he says in English, and slashes at the air with his elbows. He points to his brow and continues in Thai, “You want scars here, like what I have? I’m worried you’ll get your face messed up. I don’t want an ugly girlfriend.”
I’m taken aback. He’s stopping me from fighting because he doesn’t want me to be ugly? Has he no respect for female fighters? He can see how angry I’m getting.
“I’m kidding! I’m kidding!” he laughs. “You’re already ugly.”
“Haaaa!” I involuntarily burst out laughing. Damn you, Gong! Stop lightening the mood. This is serious. Okay chill, take a breath, start again.
“But you told me you like female fighters,” I remind him. “You told me you’d corner for me.”
“No! Never,” this time he looks serious. “I will never corner for you.”
I wish I knew how to say “support” in Thai, because I’d lace into him about not giving me any. All the other trainers and Thai boys at my gym support me, even the head trainer Leen.
“Mr. Leen says I can fight,” I continue defiantly.
“I say you can’t.” He isn’t even look at me at this point. His eyes are fixed on the TV, conversation over in his mind.
“Leen is the head trainer,” I remind him. “He’s your boss.”
“I’m your trainer,” he emphasizes, facing me again, “and I say you can’t.”
“Gong, you’re paid to help me fight! This is your job!”
“No! You’re my girlfriend. It’s different now. If you want to fight, Linsee…” he pauses, then spits, “find a different gym.”
…Damn. Is he breaking up with me as a trainer?
I want to scream at him, You were the one who inspired me to fight! I didn’t care about fighting until I started training with you! How can you abandon me like this, Gong? But I sit there silently, unable to think calmly enough to interpret my thoughts into coherent Thai.
Training has become tied up with our entire relationship. The gym is where we met, how we first connected. It’s where we go to collaborate and work, to build something together. Training has helped us break the ice after arguments; it’s been a reliable setting for neutrality. Our gym-based, trainer-fighter relationship is just as vital to me as our romantic relationship after hours. After six months of dating, the two have become virtually inseparable.
And now he’s telling me to find a different gym if I want to start fighting.
“Fine,” I balk childishly, “I’ll go to Chuwatthana. Or Meenayothin.”
“Ai! Okay, finish! No talking! You no talking! I no listen!”
He turns away from me and places his attention back on the Thai soaps on TV. I busy myself tidying up my room, half sulking and half trying to cool off.
This isn’t just about fighting, this is about being supported by your partner. How many couples have I seen in my past year at the gym, training together daily, cheering in each other’s corner during fights? I’ve been in Gong’s corner for his fights, but he refuses to be in mine.
Ten minutes goes by and I start calming down. This whole thing reminds me of my parents telling me I couldn’t go to parties with my friends when I was a kid. They weren’t being control freaks, they were just being caring, protective parents. Now Gong is acting the same way. Being protective.
But not supportive.
Ugh… Defy Gong and fight. Have the physical rush of adrenaline in the ring and the emotional thrill of getting away with it. Or honor Gong’s wishes to stay out of fighting, spend god knows how many hours training solely for the love of training.
“Okay, massage!” Gong calls, and flings himself onto his back on my bed. He’s always bitching about the chronic pain in his shoulder and lower back. Normally I help him out happily, but tonight I shoot him an annoyed look.
“You angry?” he asks with a frustratingly adorable smile. Unfortunately, he’s figured out how to dissipate my anger with his cutesy facial expressions.
“Yes. You’re making me crazy.”
“No,” he croons, enveloping me in a hug. “You no fight, okay? I worried too much.”
“Okay!?” he presses.
I give him the same answer he hears from me all the time, the same thing I tell him when he asks me wide questions about the future, like how long I’ll stay in Thailand, or if I would ever marry him. “I don’t know,” I tell him, and I feel tired when I say it. Tired and conflicted.
Taking this answer as a resignation on my part, he smiles and hugs me, says, “Okay, you okay. No fight, no fight.”
My trip to Phuket is three weeks long. Theoretically, I could take a fight after two weeks, leaving one week for my bruises to heal. Gong would never know.
Or I could tell him I’m going to fight and he’ll just have to deal with it.
The third option would be to forget about the whole thing. Fighting has never been too important to me. If I were to fight, it would be mostly out of curiosity, and out of the pressure sustained from living in a fighting culture. Now it would also be because someone forbids it. I can’t tell if that last reason is a sign of independence or immaturity.
Pick your battles, they say. So what’s my priority here? Fighting Muay Thai? Or my romantic relationship? Why exactly do the two have to be mutually exclusive?
I can’t think about this right now. I’m going to Phuket soon. Maybe distance will give me some clarity. It always does.
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.