Serious fighters have dreams of becoming the best, being at the top of their weight divisions, fighting in high-level promotions abroad, and winning championship belts. And for any serious fighter, those dreams all begin in the gym.
The day you decide to step into a Muay Thai gym for the first time might be the very day your life changes. I know it did for me. The atmosphere, the training, the achievements made and the reaping of rewards from weeks of hard work helped fuel the ever growing passion I had for the sport.
But sometimes, things change and your life makes twists and turns that you don’t always plan for, or even expect. And sometimes, those changes leave you with no gym, no guidance, and a longing of knowing where you want to be but not knowing how to get there.
Those times can be tough, but I’m here to tell you that no matter what the circumstance, there’ll be something great waiting for you around the corner. You just need to know how to look for it.
In this post I want to share my experience of leaving my gym, how difficult a decision it was, and how, in the end, it made me stronger.
I liken finding the right gym to finding the right life partner. You have to gel. The gyms vibe and values should align with your vibe and values. It’s a place where you should feel like you can grow, develop and become better together. If you don’t gel then it doesn’t work out.
My very first gym, where I based myself out of for many years, was a great start for me. I learned so much. As someone who loves learning, the knowledge base in that gym was exceptional. I had a deep interest and thirst for this knowledge and that, more than anything, kept me coming back for more.
The teaching style was very much traditional Thai style. Through hard work, training and learning, I felt my skills developing quickly. In addition to the training, the people in the gym became my family. Coming from a broken home (not trying to make you feel sorry for me or anything), that sense of ‘family’ was something I had missed. It had filled the emptiness and longing I had felt for some time. In the gym, I felt complete.
At that point in my life, the gym was the highlight of my day and the right place for me to be.
Leaving the gym
About four or five years into my training at this gym, things took a rather nasty turn. I’m not going to go into the details of why. All I’m going to say is, things didn’t work out. And sometimes things just don’t. People change.
I was confronted with the realisation that I had to leave my gym. My place of comfort. The place that had given me so much. It was a very hard decision to make and I questioned whether it was the right one. But in the end, there was no other option and we had to part ways.
After leaving I was left with many questions. Where am I going to go? Who is going to train me? What’s going to happen. When you have such strong ambition towards a career or goal in life, you can understand how worrisome it can be when you’re not sure where your path will lead. The uncertainty can be crippling.
It was a small suggestion from someone very close to me that changed everything. Kodee, as you may now know as my partner and now trainer, said to me, “I can train you.” I feel like some part of him regrets that decision (I mean that in the most humorous way possible). But this small idea soon became the foundation for years of success to come.
A new beginning
It wasn’t all smooth sailing at the start, and that’s putting it mildly! We had nowhere to train other than a large sports field near the house we were renting back then. We did pad rounds in this field as well as circuits. If we weren’t training in the field we were training in the front yard. We turned the open elements and nature into our gym.
I firmly believe that it’s not the facility or equipment that makes the fighter. It’s the fighter that makes the fighter, their willingness to adapt and learn, and their ability to have the right mindset and approach to training.
A year later we moved house and found new places to train. We’d use the local gym, or our very small garage that could barely fit one vehicle! There weren’t many resources at our disposal, but we made it work. We didn’t need fancy equipment, or the best of everything. All we needed was a set of pads, maybe a bag, and the right attitude. I firmly believe that it’s not the facility or equipment that makes the fighter. It’s the fighter that makes the fighter, their willingness to adapt and learn, and their ability to have the right mindset and approach to training.
This format of training continued for many years. There were many ups and downs. We argued a lot, as partners do. If you’ve ever trained with your partner before, you might know what I’m talking about. We had to find a balance between our training relationship and our personal relationship, because you can’t mix the two. Bringing personal matters into the training arena negatively affects training, and those around you. It took some time to find the right balance, but we got there eventually.
The first fight as a duo gave me an odd feeling. We were on our own. We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t even know what name to fight under because we had no gym. Another of Kodee’s bright ideas came to fruition. “Why don’t you just fight under your name – Team Downs?” he said. I followed his suggestion. I guess the name stuck.
What we’ve achieved since then
Since going alone, I’ve had 18 fights, seven of those against international opponents, have secured four national titles, one intercontinental title, and secured a medal in my first attempt at the IFMA Word Championships.
I’m not throwing around my accolades to boost my own ego. Rather, I want to show people that, when you hit a bad place in your journey, and you think there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, understand there’s always a solution. It might not be the path that you had planned for, but when there’s a will there’s a way. And if your will is strong, you will get from point A to point B. It might not be linear, but you can make it happen and you’ll get there one way or another.
After leaving my gym, I had serious doubts. I thought I wouldn’t reach my goals. I didn’t know what I was going to do. But it worked out in the end because we made it work, and the results show that.
Creating a pathway for others
I never knew what it meant to be a trainer. I knew what it was like teaching people skills and technique, like how to hit the pads and how to hold them. But I never really knew what it meant to have a profound affect on someone’s life.
As we started venturing out on our own, we started to grow in numbers. Soon, it wasn’t just me training with Kodee. Others wanted to train and fight as well. Most of them were, and are, only young. The more we trained together, the more I started to pitch in and help with teaching. The more I started doing that, the more invested I became in developing our young fighters, especially the young females. I wanted to guide them and provide them with the right information for their female bodies that I never got when I started.
Very quickly, one fighter became two. Two became four. Four turned into 13 and counting. Kodee and I looked at these numbers and he said to me, “Did you ever think you would have people fighting under you, carrying your name with you into the ring?”. I never thought about that. All I know is I do what I do everyday. It may seem like just a regular set of tasks or jobs, but to someone else maybe it’s more than that.
Maybe one of our young kids feels that sense of home at our gym like I did when I started, or feels empowered because someone believes in them.
What we’ve learned
Having ventured into the world of Muay Thai on our own, you can’t help but learn a lot. We learned a lot about fighting and cornering. We learned a lot about the fight game itself. More importantly, we learned a lot about ourselves in the process, including what worked and what didn’t.
We learned about training smarter. We decided at the start of the journey that we would do a complete overhaul of our training approach. This included better nutrition, building strength, learning new techniques, and developing our mental game.
When you have nowhere to train, you learn to make do with what you’ve got and the surroundings at your disposal. This, in turn, helps you become adaptable. We trained a lot outdoors, but if it would rain, we’d have to change the plan quickly or find another solution.
Sometimes it’s quite easy to get caught up in the little things, or needing to have perfect conditions in order to train. But fighting isn’t like that, and learning to be adaptable actually helped with my ring craft. Fighting, after all, is unpredictable.
Harnessing extreme focus
Because we trained in different locations, sometimes you’d get people staring at you with strange expressions on their faces. But we had to learn to block that out. We blocked out the by-standers. We blocked out the lovely old lady walking past with her fluffy poodle, staring with an expression of concern as I grunted with each pad strike on the open field. We blocked out the heavy rain that came in the middle of a training session. We blocked out any distractions during training.
This was a valuable lesson that helped us with focusing solely on what was in front of us. Again, this helped with fighting because harnessing the power of extreme focus meant we were ‘zoned in’ on the goal.
Neither myself nor my partner do well with others telling us what to do or how to live our lives. We make our own rules, and I think venturing out on our own was a good thing for that very reason. The whole process has really made us stronger, not just as fighters and trainers, but as a couple (cringe, but true).
It’s not just about you
Since we have grown, I’ve taken on the task of helping the development and growth of our other fighters and students. When I’m not fighting, I’m invested in them. I’ve come to understand that it’s not always about my own fight career.
When you’re part of a unit, it’s your job to help strengthen that unit and, as we say in our gym, work for the person next to you. Because when you work for them, at some point, you’re gonna need them to work for you. It is a team sport at the end of the day because you’re all there to help better each other. Using what experience I have will only work towards the betterment of our fighters.
It can be a harrowing experience leaving your gym. Even more so not knowing where to go. But there is always a way. Success isn’t dependent on things falling together a certain way. Success is dependent on you, how you deal with a situations and what you make of it.
In the end, you may find that your path serves a greater purpose. Whether that’s to help inspire others, or help develop a new generation of talent.
If you’ve had a similar experience, feel free to share below.