Martial Arts from the View of a Female Practitioner
Updated: Jan 15
First Contact with Muay Thai
When I was 15 years old, I was first exposed to Muay Thai when one of my friends casually asked me to attend a Muay Thai trial class with her. With no experience in any form of martial arts, we headed to the Muay Thai gym. Upon arrival at the door step of the gym, I was stunned by the sounds given off when kicks were thrown onto the bags. It was definitely a scary encounter, seeing ripped men sweating from head to toe, kicking and punching while grunt noises were made. The trial class started off with the usual thick rope skipping warm-up. If you do not know, a Muay Thai skipping rope is a lot thicker than the usual skipping ropes. A hit in the toe is enough to bring about throbbing pain through your entire body. After which, the coach guided us through basic movements and guided us through bag work and pad work. Within the short 1.5 hours of trial, I had fallen in love with Muay Thai unknowingly. I was so excited to share the wonderful experience that I have had with my parents and was determined to convince them to let me sign the membership so I could embark on the Muay Thai learning experience.
Just like any other parents would say, “Why do you want to do something so dangerous?” “Fighting sports are for the men.” “You are already involved in school Co-curricular Activities.” “Studies are more important.” Due to the disapproval of my parents, I did not manage to go for anymore Muay Thai classes and simply stick to being a basketball player in my secondary school days. However, I told myself that once I have the capability of paying for my own membership, I will try Muay Thai again.
Making the Dream into Reality
When I hit 18 years old, I took up a part-time job after completing A-levels. With the money earned, I went on to sign up for a gym membership under a gym . The gym provides different types of classes such as Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ) and Boxing. Attending the Muay Thai lessons felt like a sense of achievement, after holding back for 3 years. I love the feeling of kicking on the bags, on the pads held by the trainers. To me, kicking and punching feels awesome, and I love it when I am able to generate the loud resonating sounds on the pads “bam”! Not only was it fun, Muay Thai provided an outlet for me to vent my sadness or anger when my days are bad.
The Start of BJJ
To be honest, I didn’t expect myself to venture into the other martial arts available. One fine day, I decided to try BJJ for the very first time. BJJ is so different from Muay Thai, after all it is a grappling sport and Muay Thai is a striking sport. I love how the dynamics of BJJ work, where it isn’t about how big you are. It is a never-ending learning experience where there are countless of submissions to learn. I bought my very first BJJ gi after the class and that was when I had a balance between Muay Thai and BJJ. Sometimes, I will go for 1.5 hours of Muay Thai class and then followed by 1.5 hours of BJJ class. As a young adult with limitless energy to spare, 3 hours of martial arts classes were simply rejuvenating. Not to lie, there were not much females doing Muay Thai and BJJ so I rarely had the chance to spar with females. Men don’t go as hard on me because they think that I would not be able to handle that strength of theirs. Even though I would want to disagree with that, it is still a cold hard truth that a man of my weight will unquestionably be stronger.
The First Step Out of Comfort Zone
One month into BJJ, I was lucky enough to be given the chance to try out BJJ competitions. The first competition that I went for, there was no game plan, no weight cut (because I participated in the open weight category). It was definitely a disadvantage for me as I was relatively short compared to the other females in the open weight category. I came in 3rd, but I wasn’t happy at all because I am someone extremely competitive and I hate losing. I mean who goes to a competition, not wanting to be the best right?
Wanting to Do Better
Prior to the second BJJ competition, I was really determined to improve and learn from the past mistakes that I have made from the first competition. I trained every day, working closely with my strength and conditioning coach, pushing myself to the limits every single session to the point where I would just break down in tears. “It’s okay to cry, but it is not okay to stop.” My coach played a huge part in building up my mental strength and confidence in myself. During the competition itself, I injured my elbow during one of the matches. Still, I did not want to give up there and then especially after training so hard for the competition. My coach approved and allowed me to continue to the last match. The opponent knew that my elbow was already injured, hence she was smart enough to go for my weakness. I did not want to risk breaking my elbow and hence chose to tap out. Even though I failed to emerge as the winner, I was glad that I gave it a try instead of forfeiting the last match. I was really thankful to have my coach around, giving me constant support and guiding me through pre-competition days. People argue that martial arts is an individual sport, however I strongly believe that it isn’t and the performance of the fighter is highly dependent on the team behind him or her.
In-house Fight Nights
In-house fight nights were events where members could sign up for and they will be paired up with other members, within the gym, of similar weight to fight. The purpose of having in-house fight nights is to provide members the opportunity to experience “fighting” under safety measures taken by the gym. I have participated in two of the Muay Thai fight nights. I lost the first one, the opponent was standing at 183cm while I am a mere 162cm shortie. My reach was so short as compared to my opponent’s. The second fight night which I participated in was much better, where I was more composed and able to execute what I wanted to. Both of the fight nights were really memorable experiences! I love the adrenaline rushes that I get before and during the matches. I love the thrill of going into hard sparring, being able to go full power unlike normal class sparrings. I enjoyed the cheers from the audience, the support from other gym mates.
Be it the BJJ competitions or the in-house Muay Thai fight nights, support from family and friends definitely played a crucial role in the performance which I was able to put up against my opponents. Even though my parents were against the idea of “fighting”, they never failed to come down for my fights. Their presence gave me that additional burst of strength because I want to make them proud. My university course mates are very supportive as well! A bunch of them always turns up for my fights and cheered me on while being seated in the audience. One of them even made video montages of my fight nights.
Boxing Came Thereafter
My love for boxing started when I witnessed one of the boxing match that my gym senior was part of. It was a really cool experience, watching from the side, seeing him through endless punches and hooks which landed so cleanly on the opponent which then brought him to an unanimous winning decision. Since I’ve tried Muay Thai and BJJ, why not try some Boxing too? Just like Muay Thai and BJJ, there are very few females who did boxing classes in the gym. Thankfully, I there was a female boxer who fought for Onyx in the past that willingly sparred with me as and when I wanted to. Once again, I fell in love with the 3rd martial art of my life. I started to shop for boxing shoes, and moved on to use the thinner ropes (instead of Muay Thai ropes).
Boxing Fight Night
One month into Boxing, another fight night came around. Of course, I signed up with no hesitation and got a super strong lady as an opponent. She had background and has already been doing boxing for more than a year. I was worried that I may not even withstand through the first round and everybody was saying how I will end up getting thrashed badly by my opponent. She’s a beast, her pad work, bag work, sparring are all fantastic and cool. I was just a small fly beside her. Interestingly, I managed to turn the tables around on the actual fight night. I won because my stamina was a lot better than hers and it gave me the leverage to outbox her when she was already tired and drained. I would say the boxing fight night has been the best memory out of all the fight nights! Being able to overcome all the negativities that were placed by others, being able to overcome my own mental barrier that she was a too good opponent to go against were not easy to do so. I was able to calm myself down and didn’t allow any pessimism to affect my performance on the actual day. I would say having self-confidence is really important.
After my membership with the gym ended, I went on to join my university’s Dragonboat team as I wanted to experience what is it like having a CCA in university. Nonetheless, I am still passionate about martial arts and I want to continue to explore martial arts further. I am currently on my final year as a NTU Sport Science and Management student. The previous semester, we had to do our Final Year Project and my topic was “Types of Aggression in Combat Sport Athletes”. This semester, it is our final semester and we are on our internship programme. I chose to intern at a MMA gym to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes of a MMA gym. I am planning to return to martial arts once I have graduated from university and if I am capable enough, I would like to represent a gym and go for external fight competitions in the future.
Be Fearless, Do What You Want
All in all, I am definitely not on the same level as those who are competing on national level or even inter-house gyms. But I enjoy doing Martial Arts leisurely and has never regretted venturing into martial arts. I hope that by sharing my exhilarating experience will encourage more females who are considering if they should start picking up martial arts. Martial arts is not all about brutal force, punching or kicking. It is the art behind it, learning about patience, building self-confidence, self-protection. Alternatively, it is another form of working out and keeping yourself fit! There are typical stereotypes such as martial arts being a male-dominated sport and females who do martial arts are “rough”. Breaking through these misconceptions, I would like to assure females that these are just speculations. As a practitioner, I have come into contact with many females and some of them have better skills than males. This is the era where males and females are seen to be on equal ground. Pick up a martial art and witness yourself growing to become a better being with greater values.