The following article was written for Fight Quality by Greg Wootton, a UK Muay Thai fighter, personal trainer and Coach.
It’s fighting – The greatest equaliser of class and culture. Where people come to prove themselves and earn respect. To challenge and to learn about themselves. To achieve more than they thought they were ever capable of when they walked in that very first time. Of course, they never knew any of this when they walked in. It’s just training.
It’s also a place where barriers are brought down. Or more likely, where they get forced and beaten down. A place where your armour gets cast away – leaving you naked and vulnerable. But it doesn’t happen out of choice. You can’t fake heart. Nor in the ring, can you pretend to have it. The time will come, the situation will occur where you will be exposed for everyone to see. Where else in everyday life will you see someone pushed so physically it opens them up emotionally? In fight camp that can be every day.
Your coaches and training partners will see you in the early hours of the morning as well as late into the evening. They’ll see you tired and irritable while cutting weight. They’ll witness you lose it, frustrated, with only your high self-expectations to blame. There will be good days full of energy, laughter and banter. There will also be harder days of unspoken stress, injuries and anxiety. Sometimes it will seem like your training partners know you better than your relatives do. Your coaches will see you in every mood and in every state from strength to exhaustion. And still they remain. Still turning up to help you prepare. Still there offering advice, feedback and support.
Most fighting gyms are typically male dominated places. This hyper-masculine banter, alpha-maling, homophobic jokes, and lad culture are all assumed to be a part of the stereotypical environment of fight gyms. ‘Fat boy’ jokes, ego sparring, teasing anyone who shows a flicker of emotion and the obligatory post-training picture of the crew, with their shirts off , looking hard for the camera. What isn’t spoken about or broadcast is the love. There is a lot of love in the gym. Even these tough lion’s den type fight gyms. In sports where there isn’t much financial reward, why else would a coach invest so much time and energy into a student? Why would training partners help their friends through the entire training camp, picking them up when they are down and treating their wins and losses equally as their own? All the barriers that are broken down during gruelling training allow people to see each other truly. It’s hard to be arrogant after taking a beating in sparring. When the armour falls to the ground and the bravado steps to the side you can see people clearly for who they are. When you’ve shared such intense experiences it’s inevitable that strong bonds will form. I’ve met some of my closet and realest friends in the gym.
Many men drawn to fight sports often have a common reasoning. Whether it be lacking a father figure, a response to bullying, growing up in tough environments or even just an internal compulsion to fight. It’s a way of proving their masculinity to themselves and displaying it for others. You’d be surprised by how many people fight in order for others to see and to then be viewed in a certain way. Training and fighting validates men as men, no further questions needed. The beauty of this, is that they are then free to show love without their masculinity being questioned or threatened. They can show love to their training partners by being there for them through thick and thin. They show it to their coaches through gratitude, respect and by representing the gym into battle to do it proud. Without the validation of being a fighter I wonder would these men feel as comfortable enacting and expressing their love?
It took me a long time to recognise this. On reflection, I can recall countless acts of selfless love. My friend/brother waking up early in the morning to train me the day after his wedding whilst his new wife was at home. My coach in ill health travelling up and down the country and across the globe to be there as and when I needed him. Another friend holding pads for me for hours, unpaid and forgoing his own training for my own. My friends on the morning runs who’d ask how I was, listen, and offer advice and support during hard days, bringing the energy to sessions when I had none left to give. I could easily go on and list many more memories like these. These are acts of pure love with nothing wanted or expected in return. They are as rare as they are invaluable. They’re not spoken about openly because that’s not manly. But as the old adage states: actions speak louder than words.
I’m forever humbled by my friends and coaches for all they have sacrificed and done to help me prepare for fights and accomplish all that I have. Yet, I can honestly say that my most prized title or achievement from fighting would be the friends that I have gained and the lessons I have learnt. These enrich life much more than money or fame ever can.
For all it’s supposed savagery, for all the necessary blood, sweat and toil, when you look a little deeper fighting is really a sport of beauty and love.
Greg “The Prodigy” Wootton is an athlete, personal trainer and coach from London, England.
Take a look at the other articles written by Greg here.