Things are not always as they seem.
I have studied Muay Thai for 12 years. My knuckles are calloused and rough from gloves that wear out too quickly. My joints ache in the morning, lower back stiff, hips feeling like an 80-year-old. The muscles that pull my arms to punch don’t remember what it’s like not to be sore. My feet and ankles hate me. They want me to stop abusing them.
Each day, I put on different outfits – personas, if you will. At 6a.m. I dress for fieldwork, go tearing through the wilderness. Sometimes I fly in a helicopter. I talk science and nerdy blah blah blah.
4:30 rolls around, and I change into gym clothes to purposely put my body through 2+ hours of training. I try to motivate others despite being overheated and exhausted from the field. After that, I become Domestic Noony. I clean the house, I cook supper. I drag myself into the shower. By now I have approximately 20 layers of nasty on my skin.
One day a week, I put on what I think are 30-something-appropriate Professor Noony clothes and teach undergraduates about public health. My students have no idea what I do in my free time.
Most people do not understand how training, much like my visits to the Shire, keep me centered. They only see the violence, the aggression.
But training is a mindful thing, like meditation.
It is control. It is precision. It is repetition.
It represents the last vestiges of honor, integrity –
a way of life I feel is worth preserving.
In combat your focus is singular,
engaged in an intimate dance that pushes you almost too far.
Stay calm, control the breath;
finely tune the ability to anticipate…
slow time down…
see the things that only appear when you really look.
I don’t struggle against the stark contrasts – I embrace them. One day, you are observing the solo flight of a bumblebee for half an hour; and by the next you’re immersed in an electric atmosphere of martial combat.
And after that, we met my mother and Pa Boun at Wat Buddha Bucha, where they had sold nearly all of their harvested vegetables. We bought a variety of foods from the vendors – grilled chicken, sien hang (beef jerky), kao niew (sticky rice), naw mai (bamboo), grilled fish, and tham mak hoong (spicy papaya salad).
Further down the road, we stopped at High Falls State Park to picnic by the waterfalls and hike the trails.
The fights were still echoing in our memories, even as we paused to sit on the rocks and let the water wash calmly over our feet.
Life is filled with juxtapositions that allow us to appreciate all the dualities of existence.
No mud. No lotus.