Muay Thai, Neuroplasticity & The Death of a King
In October, I traveled to Thailand for one month of training at Tiger Muay Thai. My goals were simple...quit tobacco (check!), get fit (work in progress) and meditate (nope). I trained twice a day in Muay Thai, contemplated the Neuroplasticity of Martial Arts and witnessed a nation mourn The Death of A King. I was too focused to film much, but here is a peak at my trip.
Over the last three years, I have co-directed a documentary, finished my degree in psychology and become the father of a precious little girl. Amazing and worthy ventures to be sure, but extremely time and energy consuming just the same. As I found myself in an increasingly sedentary lifestyle while going on 5 years of smoking cigarettes habitually, I realized that I needed to take drastic action in order to reclaim my personal well-being. The drastic action I chose was one month at a fight camp in Thailand.
Tiger Muay Thai is the largest training camp on Soi Ta-Ied, a street dedicated to martial arts, fitness and health. Despite the many attractions on the island of Phuket, I left the street only two times…once to search a night market for gifts and once to visit a Buddhist monastery at the top of a nearby mountain. On my little underpowered moped, I would ride this street multiple times each day for grueling training sessions, delicious meals and necessary errands.
Although I did not meet my goal of finally establishing a solid meditation practice in Thailand, learning the Art of Eight Limbs was meditative in the amount of focus and attention required. In addition to the left and right gloves of Western Boxing, Muay Thai also utilizes elbows, knees, kicks and clenches to increase range and control space. While sparring, fighters use and respond to eight different striking points, while employing and defending the clinch. Pad sessions also increase in complexity of combinations, mixing multiple styles of kicks and knees with punches and elbows.
Each two hour session would start with a 15 minute warm-up before learning and practicing the techniques of the day with a partner. The next, multiple rounds on the pads with a trainer, moving into rounds on the heavy bag before rounds in the ring with a sparring partner. Power knees, pushups and sit-ups rounded out the session, with trainers gleefully smashing pads onto our abs in between sit-ups. Eat, sleep and repeat. Twice a day for a month.
From our food choices to our emotional cycles, much of our day is directed subconsciously based on a summary of our previous days. We are creatures of habit who naturally accept these pre-disposed paths of least resistance unless we consciously make a decision to change or try something new. Thanks to neuroplasticity, we can literally re-wire our brains, replacing bad habits and unwanted ruts with healthy habits and preferred routines.
Having experienced both Army Bootcamp and Police Academy, I know firsthand our ability to experience massive psychological and physical changes in a short period of time. In a high-stakes environment where everything is new and different, one cannot rely on pre-programmed choices and are forced to learn and make new decisions. Muay Thai fight camp was a step away from established patterns into a high-stakes environment where I would be constantly learning information and practicing technique with mindful repetition.
My last pack of cigarettes was bought in China en route to Thailand and now sits unfinished on a shelf in my house. Like riding a bike, my brain will always be wired to smoke these cigarettes. However, thanks to dominant new patterns of fitness and health that I chose to download and install, these old pathways are no longer used and get weaker each time they are bypassed. As a result, being a smoker is no longer second nature and my decision not to smoke has changed from conscious thought to subconscious agreement.
The Death of A King
The world’s longest-serving monarch, Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, passed away near the beginning of my trip and I was humbled to watch a country in deep mourning. Televisions and websites were turned black and white, festivities were cancelled, alcohol taken indoors and, although their smiles remained unquenchable, the Thai people noticeably changed in dress and demeanor for weeks following the news.
In a country where power has shifted back and forth between a democratically elected administrations and military juntas, King Bhumibol Adulyadej was a stabilizing figure for 70 years who promoted peaceful resolution. However uncertain they were about the future, the Thai people set aside time and space to reflect upon a man who had spent his life in service of their country.