WHEN Will The Sun Set On You?
Age Is A Limit To Some, A Challenge To Others
I’m a 40-something guy who trains Muay Thai and I’ve noticed a trend happening in the amateur ranks of the sport. People from all over the globe are asking: “Am I too old to train? Am I too old to fight?”
These north-of-forty’ers are asking this of other trained fighters, often pros, who are 20+ years’ their junior. I’m not opposed to hearing that person’s response; in fact, I greatly respect all the pros/amateurs who respond with a resounding “Yes, you should!”
But I also think the community needs of honesty on that topic — a little perspective from other folks who are maybe “over-the-hill” and doing what they can to answer the question for themselves in real life.
I started trying to answer that question for myself about a year ago and here’s what I came up with: the only person who can answer that question is, well, me (with the informed help of my coach/sparring buddies/community.)
Here’s the why and the how:
Uncertainty & Fear
When you are deciding whether age wins this one or not, one thing you’re going to get is opinions — lots of them.
Listen to me: scrutinize these opinions. Vet each one carefully. Be suspicious of them.
When someone makes a claim about the viability of your decision to train or fight (whether in support or disagreement), there’s a chance they’re putting themselves in your shoes. It is an indirect reflection of their worth, their ability.
Here’s an all-too-real dialog from a conversation with a friend, for example:
Me: I’m think I’m training enough that I can get a few fights in before the end of the year.
Friend (zero Muay Thai experience, but equipped with strong opinions): Aren’t you worried about getting a concussion? Also, you’re not exactly leading a training lifestyle, so do you think it’s a safe thing to consider?
(Note: I’m NOT, as a matter of fact, a physically perfect specimen and I do make at least a handful of bad decisions each week.)
Me: I suppose it’s a risk, but I haven’t seen a lot of people “protect” their way to a long life. I really want to have had this full end-to-end experience when I reach the end.
Friend: Yes, but this could be the end!
Me: Maybe, but what a great way to go, huh? I’ve definitely thought that a few times during training, particularly twice-a-day hard training and sparring in Thailand. But I’m still here.
Anyways, how are you doing ?
Friend: Not great. I had a heart attack last year. I was hospitalized and they had to insert a catheter. I’ll be on meds for the rest of my life.
Me: Oh… You should think about doing something to challenge your physical fitness sometime. Just let me know and I’ll do it with you.
Friend: Thanks, but I’ve got other stuff going on right now.
A lot of my same-age friends have died. Do you know how many of them have died in the ring? Zero. Quite the opposite. One of the toughest bastards I sparred with in Thailand was 56 and he gave everyone trouble, including the 25-year-old street thugs.
I’m not saying Muay Thai “saved me” or anything like that, or that my friend’s heart condition isn’t simply due to my friend’s playing and losing the genetic lottery. I don’t know any of that for sure.
What I am saying, and I believe this down to my bones, is that a person who is constantly in a state of physical challenge is far less likely to succumb to the innumerable afflictions that could actually kill them stone dead today.
It is the creeping death of sinking stress, comfy couches and rich, velvety ice cream that we should worry about, not the five-point exploding palm technique.
Training & Discovery
I love everything about Muay Thai, stripped right down to the studs. Because of this passion, I train a high amount.
BUT—I don’t train recklessly.
I am old enough to know exactly where my breaking point is, and because I’m not 25 years old, I have to stop before I reach that point. A 25-year-old gets hurt, they bounce back in three days. I get hurt and I might miss training for a whole month. Nothing stops progress faster than sitting out training for a month due to an injury.
So I’ve learned not to overcook things, but I do push the boundary smartly every week and with enough room for recovery.
I also travel a fair amount for work and fun, and I train wherever I go.
Sometimes it’s Sean Fagan’s Muay Thai Retreat in Costa Rica (I went last year, loved it and will probably go back again this year).
Sometimes it’s a wild hair trip to Thailand to train high-volume when I can fit it in with family/work life.
Sometimes I just travel for work and train wherever I happen to be: New Orleans, Mississippi, NYC, Los Angeles, North Carolina, etc.
I train wherever I happen to be that week and I’m universally glad I did on every single occasion. Muay Thai is a lifestyle and not a location.
Risk & Reward
Last Friday, I had my first real fight.
I told the organizer I’d go on standby for a fight in five days because I didn’t want to give myself time to think about it. I didn’t find out who my match was until four hours beforehand.
Because of that, I had an opportunity that others at the same event had already declined: fighting a seriously tough and far more experienced opponent. I was to be matched with a ranked guy with a 3-1 MMA record in my first-ever fight in the ring.
We both left with bumps and bruises, probably an unequal amount. But damn, was it ever worth the pain.
I didn’t make this choice lightly. I’m taking a risk in what many, particularly those who’ve never done this training, consider to be a dangerous sport. But few rewards are ever realized without staking your well-being and comfort.
For would-be fighters out there, my recommendation is this: be ready to fight when an exhibition or smoker is offered (which could mean today). Go with the flow. Fight who they put in front of you. Learn a lesson from every strike you eat.
Trust the process; it’s a good one.
I’ve asked myself this question: Is the sport of Muay Thai (outside Thailand) at the right size to consider having a “Masters Class” for fights and exhibitions?
Jiu Jitsu has had this class of 30-year-old-and-above fighters for years at tournaments and has enjoyed fantastic growth because of it. Events that post an age-bracket called “Masters” would have huge participation which translates into cash in the promotion/training/equipment industries (since folks in that age category don’t typically have a shortage of cash.)
And if others don’t, maybe Nak Muay Nation or Muay Thai Guy will start a Masters Class push? I’d love to see it.