Mindfulness and Muay Thai
For the cage fighter or the nak muay, a Buddhist state of mind will make you box clever.
Photos courtesy of the author
For a Buddhist monk and a fighter, the essence of life is suffering, pain and misery. In the cage, ring or on the mats, the fight game is exacting, exhausting, leveling. How does a man or woman learn to use their wits, as well as their limbs, and box clever? The answer lies in something parallel to the history and development of Muay Thai boxing: meditation, the concept of mindfulness and its roots in Buddhism.
Acupuncture. Homeopathy. Hypnotherapy. Osteopathy. Weight lifting. Yoga. Pilates. Plyometrics. Fighters are always looking for new ways and means to up their gas. If something improves your performance by 5%, why not give it a shot?
But how does meditation apply to the everyday practice of combat sports? And, more importantly, what is this state of "mindfulness" that everyone (i.e. rich celebrities) keeps going on about?
Simply put, mindfulness is being switched on to the present moment that you occupy with an active state of mind. By focusing on the very moment that you are in, training, sparring, fighting, without letting your mind wander off, you become totally aware of what's going down. "Mindfulness," in our context, means using your head to make you box cleverer.
What's the trick to being mindful and boxing clever? Meditation. It's more than just sitting around and doing nothing. Meditation is all about breath control and using it to completely relax your body. By meditating twice a day, you can learn how to focus on the fighting moment. If you're too rushed to sit down and meditate in the morning or the evening, you can meditate throughout the day and use time that would otherwise be wasted. Gridlocked on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok; on a long Tube journey in London, or on New York City's Subway; en route to training, or returning to base, even in the most mundane and innocuous setting, you can make time to meditate.
Chuck Norris is a big exponent of Zen meditation, but I came to it after a grueling spell in a Buddhist monastery in northern Thailand. Taught by learned holy men to meditate sitting, standing and walking, the experience was a bit of a revelation. Upon return to training and fighting in Bangkok, win, lose or draw, I was now refocused on Muay Thai boxing. My mind wasn't wandering off; thinking how hot it was, how hard it was, how tired I was, or even how good or bad that I was. Meditation, and a mindful state of consciousness, had given me the ability to concentrate through the most trying and testing of scenarios.
In the cage, ring or on the mats, to bring yourself back to the moment when fatigued is a handy state of mind. It's not very easy to begin with. There's a lot of trial and error. Married to a calm and controlled breath, a state of mindfulness can often stifle your inner doubts. And your suffering. You no longer exist in a tense state of emotional magnification. A state of mindfulness acknowledges the pain, but gives you a coping mechanism without any of the drama queen stuff. And it's not just for meatheads in spandex or Muay Thai shorts: more and more people in the medical establishment are rejecting prescription drugs and using holistic practices such as meditation, and a breath controlled state of mindfulness, to help patients cope with chronic pain.
"Mind how you go," is an olde English phrase for taking care of yourself. Yet few of us actually mind how we go in our everyday life. If suffering is our lot, it's best to mind, but, if you want to box clever, it's best to get mindful.