Training with a brutal but character-forming Muay Thai club in Abu Dhabi.
Training at an Abu Dhabi gym makes one boxer a glutton for punishment
During a 90-day holiday in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, I discovered the Cobra Muay Thai club, which trains weekdays at Zayed Sports City. I've been doing all sorts of martial arts since I was kid, so I came into my first session confident - certain, even, that I'd kill it.
I left limping.
I've never taken part in a training like it - an hour of intense rounds of sprints and squats, push-ups and punches and kicks.
Yet I returned again and again, limping out of the stadium each time. Never mind that I was far inferior to the rest of the guys. Every time we'd spar, I'd somehow be partnered with the most physically abusive guy in the room. Midway into sessions - bruises on both my arms and legs growing more colossal with each hit - I'd small-talk to my partner (executioner) about his personal life, about compassion and charity, all in an attempt to domesticate him. Easy, boy!
I was having fun. There were no airs. Mat Dryden, the club's Aussie coach, was merciless but good-natured.
When I moved to Abu Dhabi last week, the first item on my to-do list was to get back to the club. Having had the chance to train with a judo team back home in the Philippines during the past three months, I knew I was prepared. I was in perfect shape. I was ready for some savagery. I was even wearing, in a kind of athletic frivolity, a new pair of shorts.
The first minutes entailed some powerful circuit training. I felt good. It was great to be back.
Then Mat asked us to run the stadium's entire perimeter - something I've done before.
Maybe some cosmic force wanted to teach me a lesson in humility? Because mere seconds after we commenced sprinting, my knees weakened, my eyesight blurred. Also, my shorts started falling down (they were too big).
After the run, we continued training inside the gym. While most people dash away from humiliation, I charge towards it. How could I give up on my supposed big return?
I soldiered on - forced by the ego that holds vanity firmly in place.
When the session ended, I sneaked out of the gym and dragged my body to the bathroom, feeling sick and crushed.
The measure of a civilisation is how it treats its weakest members. Limping out of the bathroom, I was assisted by one of the guys, who helped me out to the car park.
And yet, as I did my walk of shame, the only thought in my head was when I could come back to train again.
That night, Tony - a guy who attends training - posted on the club's Facebook page: "Punishment is not the word. I feel like my shins have been run over by a big heavy thing with hard things on it ... thrice!!!"
And how, Tony. And how.