Character & Soul, Health & Fitness, Self-Improvement, Workouts

4 Things I Learnt Training For My First Boxing Fight – Denise Li

Not too long ago, Denise wrote about trying not to burn out. Two days ago, she reached her breaking point. 

(Image credit: My friend, Bang Ong)

Me, at one of my sparring sessions (Image credit: My friend, Bang Ong)

I was sparring during training the other day when I got socked with a jab to the face. 10 seconds later, tears started streaming down my face. It wasn’t a hard punch, so it wasn’t the pain that brought tears to my eyes. They were tears of frustration – a result of the accumulation of stress, self-doubt, and exhaustion. I decided to continue sparring even though my sparring partner and coach could see that I wasn’t in the right state to continue.

10 minutes later, we decided to stop sparring. I went to the toilet and spent the next half an hour sobbing my eyes out. Every time I thought I was okay, I’d be hit with a fresh wave of tears. I felt like an abject failure … I wasn’t even that upset when I broke up with ex-boyfriends. And I’m ashamed to admit that that wasn’t the only time I turned on the waterworks in the past month or so. I’d cried after training quite a number of times before, but it never felt as devastating as it did two days ago.

The past two months of training for a competition has taught me quite a bit about myself, and about life, and I’d like to share them with you while it’s all still fresh in my mind.

1. Adrenaline can only sustain me for so long

When I started my gruelling schedule running Material World and training six days a week about one and a half months ago, I found the experience exhilarating. Knowing that I had to zip off to training – sometimes twice a day – made me even more focused than usual. All of a sudden, I ceased to be tempted by the usual distractions when I’m in the office – I stopped mucking around on social media and online shopping sites. Whenever I was the office, I made sure I was 100% productive so I could make it to training without worrying about work. There were many evenings I found myself making my way back to the office after training to work till about 10.30pm. I would only be in bed at around 1am after dinner, a shower and a Skype session with Alain. Then I’d be up at 7am to do it all again. For the first couple of weeks, I thought to myself, “This is easy. I can do this all the time.” But then I started to get tired. Really tired. Eventually, after a couple of weeks, I lost that focus. I could not put in 100% in training or in work. And with that …

2. Stress makes me a shitty person

Because I felt rushed all the time, I became very snappish and irritable. The slightest delay in my schedule would send me into silent fits of rage that would manifest as passive-aggressive remarks. I started to take it out on people around me. I could feel my personality changing. I was becoming a class A bitch. But I know being stressed does not give me the right to be mean and unnecessarily rude to those who cross my path. I’m not exactly sure what the takeaway lesson is here … except that seeing I have the propensity to be horrible scares me, and I constantly need to remind myself to take active steps not to be that person. And that means …

Keep calm and work those battle ropes (Image credit: Bang Ong)

Keep calm and work those battle ropes (Image credit: Bang Ong)

3. I need to recognise my limits

Everyone has a breaking point, and I think I’ve been the closest to mine than I have ever been in my life. My friends and family have been gently telling me to scale back a bit and cut myself some slack. At first, I just couldn’t see myself doing that. I equated “doing less” with “being a failure”. Now, I realise they had a point all along. Pushing myself is well and good if I can still see the gains from my efforts. Too much and it becomes counter-productive. Going for meetings not being fully present means I am not being fair to my clients. Going for training dead exhausted means I am slower and less strategic, and when that happens, I get hit more often, but that’s nothing compared to the mental flogging I subject myself to after a bad training session. By doing too much all the time, I trap myself in a cycle of negativity. Now, I’m better positioned to see the warning signs of exhaustion, and I have resolved not to guilt-trip myself if I need a day or two away from work and from training.

4. Help is there if you just ask for it

I must give credit to my Material World partners for putting up with my occasional bad mood, and for being so understanding about my training schedule. I feel bad asking them for help, because I know everyone else is swamped. I can only hope that I will have an opportunity to return the favour in the future. Also, my family has been more than supportive. Usually, I rarely see my mum on weekdays as she’s already gone to bed by the time I’m done with training. On the day that I broke down after the sparring session, she happened to come home late, only to see my crying into my salad. Though I am used to keeping my stress to myself, it all came out when she asked me what was wrong. It felt good to confide in her, something I haven’t done in a long time. Now, she’s helping me out by volunteering to give me a lift to training on certain days of the week to save me time and money on cab fares. While I value my independence, I’ve come to realise that there is no shame in asking for help too. I don’t need to bear this burden on my own.

Yes, it’s been trying times, but honestly? I would not have it any other way. A couple of well-meaning friends have told me that I should consider not fighting since it’s causing me so much stress, but giving up has never once crossed my mind. I still believe I can do it and, if anything, I know I will emerge from this stronger than I have ever been in my life.


Psst … if you happen to want to catch me in action, get your tickets here.

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.

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