On being Long

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By: Claire Morton

I started training Muay Thai because the gym opened up right around the corner, not because of a specific draw to train martial arts, not because I knew anything about the sport, but because I wanted something convenient and easy. I started fighting because it made sense, because I wanted to test myself, see if I could hack it, and because everything I had learned on the mats made me feel more like myself than anything I’d done before. I was smitten. 

When I started training Muay Thai, I had to start learning to take up space, something that I’d been trying to avoid my whole adult life. It was painfully obvious how this mind set affected my technique. My punches were short. My teeps and knees weren’t in range. My kicks were awkward and cramped. I couldn’t figure out how to create power from where I stood because I had always practiced being smaller, shorter, littler, than I actually was.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t tall. I was taller than pretty much everyone in my class at school, my feet were too big to fit into shoes at the store, I had longer legs than most jeans could cover. I also don’t remember a time where I didn’t feel like I was taking up too much space. Like I was encroaching upon others. I would stand with my legs wide at concerts so that people could see over me and I made sure that I shrunk into the smallest space possible when seated in a car or at a restaurant. I wanted to be petite, to be average, to fit into an acceptable amount of space. This meant I tried different tactics; dieting, wearing flats, exercise, hunching over, talking quietly, anything. I just wanted to go unnoticed.  

I didn’t understand how this mindset impacted my training at first. It took me years to really pinpoint why I felt like nothing landed right, why I was always too close. It was because I was still trying to take up as little space as possible. I couldn’t find my range because I couldn’t see how much space I actually needed. Muay Thai helped me come to terms with my size, my height, my space, the way my body is built and how I can use it to get stronger and navigate not only the mats, but the world at large. It’s still something I have to constantly negotiate, mostly with myself, but at least I can throw a decent jab now.