After 1000 punches, 1000 kicks, 500 knees and 500 elbows—every day— Thai Nguyen has an insight or two he’d like to share about fighting.
1000 x punches, 1000 x kicks, 500 x knees, 500 x elbows.
For 6 days a week, 7 hours each day, that was life.
It’s called Muay Thai—the art of 8-weapons. Thailand is the birthplace and mecca of Muay Thai, and for 18 months I lived and breathed it.
I don’t have anger issues, or a ton of bottled-up frustration—in fact, the most gentle, kind-hearted people I’ve ever met are professional fighters. The stereotype that fighters are more bloodthirsty than vampires is unfortunate.
So why on earth would anyone engage in something where pain and injury is guaranteed? It’s that paradoxical truth of profound growth in the midst of pain. You’d be surprised how much stepping into the ring can teach you about life. What happens on the canvas never stays on the canvas, the scars you suffer suddenly become your strengths.
Here are 7 life lessons I learned from professional fighting:
1. Respect can still be shown.
The exchange of blows are delivered with tremendous mutual respect. You may be trying to knock each other out, but you’ll be the first to buy each other a drink once it’s over. Before the final round, many fighters will even hug to acknowledge each others efforts.
I learned that if I could respect someone trying to knock me out, I could find a way to respect people in life I was at odds with. Even if we don’t agree with someone, we can still acknowledge them being passionate about their beliefs, and striving to live life according to their convictions.
2. Fears are best faced head-on.
Scared of heights? Jump out of a plane.
People often ask me when fighting, “Aren’t you afraid?” The answer is yes. Every time.
It’s impossible to completely blot out fear. The power is in mastering fear. To recognise it, yet overcome it.
Fear is a good thing—it’ll keep you alive. But fear can be a crippling thing if it holds you back from truly being alive. We need to shift from being controlled by it, to being in control of it. Death ultimately underlies all fear, but we falsely tie in death as an immediate result. And that’s rarely the case.
I’ve learned when looking on the other side of fear, the positive growth massively outweighs the temptation to flee. The reward is worth the risk.
3. Everyone needs a “Fight-Night.”
All those times you just wanted to stay in bed, never wanting to get up for training, putting in those extra hours after everyone else is gone. It all finds it’s culmination in the ring. You’ve done all your homework, now it’s time to take the exam.
Whatever you’re engaged in should culminate in a “Game-Day,” or a “Fight-Night”—a setting where you put all your training into practice. Whether you are a musician preparing for a gig, or a CEO giving a keynote presentation, massive reward comes from being truly tested.
4. Victory happens when nobody’s watching.
What happens in the ring is only the tip of the ice-berg. Fights that you may have trained months for can end in seconds. But hidden in those brief moments are endless hours of blood, sweat, and tears.
Muhammad Ali said it brilliantly, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
Don’t get swept up in the highlights and miss what’s required behind the scenes. People who are ‘blessed’ are usually those who work hardest when nobody’s watching.
5. In the red corner…
The Preacher…The Gunsliger…The Diamond…
The native Thai fighters would adopt a name that embodied a virtue, or reflected one of their strengths. Other fighters would dye their hair blue and have signature moves. They were exciting because they stood out, because they leveraged what was unique about them.
Everyone has a unique quality they can leverage. Dr. Seuss said, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Don’t hide what’s quirky about you, embrace it, and leverage it.
6. We’re all born to fight
Maybe not in the ring, but we’re all fighting for something. Ambition manifests in myriad ways. We all crave significance and recognition—it’s human, and it’s healthy. Fulfilment comes in battling for the things we love, and it starts with recognising our potential for greatness.
Figure out what you are passionate about—what do you think about when you lay down to sleep every night? Start fighting for it. Declare to the world your intentions, and manifest it with some real action.
7. The road less traveled
There was a lot of confusion from family and friends as I packed my stuff, and moved to Thailand to live my dream of professional fighting, but I was encouraged by Robert Frost’s moving poem, The Road Not Taken. It closes with:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Nobody celebrates walking across the street, they celebrate walking across hot coals. It’s easy to follow the mainstream, but that often leads to the mundane. We call things extraordinary because they are extra–ordinary. If you want to make a difference, try doing something different.
Photo courtesy of author