Why I Spar (Even Though I'm Not Very Good)

I've practiced martial arts for the better part of my life. My mother enrolled me in Taekwondo when I was around 6 years old (since I’d shown little interest in cheerleading and dance). I loved it. I was on my school’s “demo team”, and we’d break wooden boards and perform “musical forms” at events around town. I still remember practicing front kicks and high-blocks, (im)perfectly timed to Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman”.

Even as a kid, sparring was always my favorite... Though I was never great at it. I had a slew of 2nd & 3rd place trophies from competitions around the state, but very few 1st place wins.

I didn't find boxing and Muay Thai until after college. Now I train daily, work with a trainer 1-on-1 every week, and spar regularly. All in all, I’ve practiced “real” combat sports (sorry, Taekwondo) pretty consistently for around 6 years. And training is the highlight of most of my days…

But the truth is I’m still not a very good figher. My defense sucks. My kicks are prettier than most, but they don’t even approach the speed, power, and technical perfection of Jenny’s or Tai’s. Though I enjoy clinching, I fall into traps more often than I set them…

During my last thai massage, I told my masseuse that I practice Muay Thai. Her response surprised me: "Why?!? I’m Thai”, she said while digging her elbows into my back with the strength of a man ten times her size, “but I don’t do Thai boxing… It’s too strong”.

My family also doesn’t get why I train… and especially why I spar. After my first back eye, my mother begged me to stop. And every time I come home with a new bruise, my husband sighs in disapproval: “You’re not going to be a fighter. You’re just going to get hurt. So why bother?”.

And maybe they're right. Even though I train almost every day, being great would take much more time than I have… or am willing to give.

So recently I’ve been wondering why I “bother”. What is it about Muay Thai—and sparring—that draws me in, week after week?

Here’s what I’ve come up with…

It forces me to overcome my fears.

On Sundays, I spar. I spar with men. I spar with female amateur fighters. Sometimes I even get my ass kicked by professionals…

And on Saturday nights… I’m nervous. I’m know I’m going to get bruised. My neck will be sore from clinching. And I’m always worried I might not perform at my best.

But I suck it up and go.

I’m not completely sure what this means. But in more optimistic moments, I view it as overcoming my fears… every week. And I always feel great, afterwards.

It’s not (stereotypically) feminine… and it makes me feel like a badass.

What a bad feminist I must be, to require “masculine” activities to feel strong…

Why can’t I appreciate the incredible strength in yoga, or pilates, or barre? I don’t know. I just know that they are not for me…

Fighting makes me feel like a badass. Even if I lose.

But it’s still beautiful.

Muay Thai sparring is the opposite of a bar brawl. A well-executed kick or combo or counter is a thing of beauty. You can't help but appreciate your partner's skill... even if it happens to sting.

It’s self defense.

Look: I understand that weight and strength matter. If a 250lb dude wants to mess me me, my Muay Thai skills aren’t necessarily going to save me… But I do think they’ll help.

Muay Thai is unique in that it's both a martial art and a combat sport. It's more practical than other martial arts, both in that it emphasizes the actual act of fighting, and in that it brings more "weapons" to the table. (I'd rather take a punch over an elbow, any day.)

So I do feel like I’ll be a bit more prepared to defend myself than I would be if I didn’t train.

At least I know I’ll go down fighting…