My pulse is hammering in my ears. I’m breathing hard, soaked in sweat, pushing myself to my very limit. But it never ends, and eventually, I simply can’t lift my body off the ground one more time. I’m just gonna lie here and catch my breath for a minute.
Whack! Suddenly a leather pad hits me in the stomach. The instructor is standing over me, shouting at me. Whack! Here comes that pad again full force. It stings like hell. I can’t understand a word he is shouting at me. But I get his meaning, and it works, somehow I find the strength to push out a few more reps.
I’m in a Muay Thai gym in Bangkok. This morning this seemed like a really good idea. Now I am wondering if I will get out of here alive. For more than two hours, in blistering heat, the instructors have pushed us relentlessly through the hardest workout I have ever done. An old school workout, consisting of jumping rope, pushups, sit-ups, kicks, punches, and combos. Then into the ring for boxing and grappling. Only occasionally interrupted by short water breaks, where we drink while ice water is poured over us from gigantic barrels.
Looking around, I know I don’t belong here. I am out of my element. There are other foreigners here, but they are experienced fighters, and they are all really fit. I am not. My friend is a kickboxer, and even he is having a hard time. This is the world of tough men and a few even tougher women.
Here you can drop in for a single workout, or you can stay for a week, month or more. There are no fancy workout machines in this gym, only puddles of sweat, and the grunts and smells of bodies being worked hard.
Finally, the lesson is over, and somehow I made it through. The instructor smiles at me. Good job, he says. The same guy that hit me in the stomach an hour ago is now my best friend. He used to be a champion Thai boxer. He is a little older now, but he still looks formidable. Not an inch of fat on him, muscular, and tall for a Thai. He is missing a couple of teeth, and it gives him a slightly menacing look.
We all line up for a photo that will go on the wall alongside hundreds of other photos. Right there and then I feel a kinship with my fellow fighters and all the faces that stare back at me from that wall. We all went through the same grueling workout, and I’m a little proud of myself for not giving up.
Today I wish I had a copy of that photo. I like to think that perhaps it is still hanging on that wall staring back at someone else.
See you tomorrow, he says as we leave. Yes, see you tomorrow, my friend and me both say, and we mean it. The next day, I’m so sore I can’t even get out of bed. Maybe I’ll be back some day. Maybe…
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