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My First Book: “A Peaceful Warrior”

Click on the link below to download the eBook to read in iBooks. Or, if you don’t want to do that, you can read the entire book below. (hint: the eBook is better)

click here to download → A Peaceful Warrior

A Peaceful Warrior

My Story of Finding Inner Power and Inner Peace

by Chad Holmes

“Mo powa! Mo powa!” Janai yelled as I took another knee to the liver that vacuumed the wind right out of my lungs. I drew a deep breath and grunted, “Heeeeeaa” as I returned a knee to my opponent’s ribs. I quickly threw two more to his opposite side. Trying to overpower him with my strength, I clenched the back of his neck with both hands, flexed all the muscles in my back, and flung him across the mat. He went far, but not as far as I hoped. This exertion of strength—including that last knee I sustained—left me completely winded. My opponent quickly got up and we clinched again—this time, I knew he had me at his mercy. My breaths were short…in and out, in and out, in and out… in quick bursts—trying to get a full dose of oxygen to my crying muscles.  Janai came over, grabbed the back of my neck with his surprisingly strong hand, and pulled me off my opponent.

“Powa. Powa.” he said as he thumped his right hand on my chest. I nodded. I know, I know, I’m trying, I’m just weak, I thought.

Part 1 — Determination

   

I had been in Thailand for over a week, and my training was coming along….well… rough. I thought I was in shape and knew how to fight, but training for 7-10 hours a day was something I thoroughly underestimated. Not only that, I had never fully experienced “the clinch” before—which was the experience I just recounted. The clinch is when you and your opponent do, well, exactly that. You clinch. You grab the back of each other’s necks with one or both hands and you see who can deliver the most knees to the gut, thighs, ribs, and if you’re lucky…the face. It’s an integral part of Muay Thai due to the nature of the fight.

You start off attempting to weaken—or knock-out—your opponent with punches, kicks, and elbows. But once you both get tired, or you get close enough to one another, you end up in the clinch. If you’ve ever watched boxing, you’ll recognize it as when both fighters reach round 5, 6, 7 and on, from that point on, 90% of the fight consists of them just hanging on each other like a couple of monkeys to try and recover their breath. Well… in Muay Thai, that’s where the real fight begins.

An amateur will tell you a Muay Thai fight is won to the best striker—the one who can punch the fastest or kick the strongest. But any seasoned fighter knows that victory resides within the clinch. This is where you truly wear your opponent down to rubble. Nothing sucks the wind out of you like a swift knee to your innards when you’re already short of breath.

And I…well…I was a complete amateur when I showed up to Thailand, ready to kick everyone’s ass with my awesome punches and long-reaching, power-house kicks. The only thing I was really ready for was getting my own ass kicked…

***

That night I stumbled to my bungalow in a dark mood. I had been completely handled by a kid that weighed 30 pounds less than me. How was I going to be ready for a professional fight within five weeks with an opponent my same weight and even more skilled? I ducked under a branch of a banana tree as I approached the steps to the hill I had to climb every night to get to my bungalow. Painfully and slowly I made my way up the steps (try running 10 plus miles, kicking a 1k pound bag 1,000 plus times, and getting kicked in the legs hundreds of times…all in one day…then climbing some stairs. It’s hard).

As I rounded the corner to where my bungalow resided, I stopped and turned around to face the ocean. I took a deep breath and exhaled harshly as I observed the little village I had stumbled upon searching the internet almost a year ago. From my vantage point I could overlook about half the village that was nestled right on the ocean front. It was a small fishing community of only about 100 residents and 30-50 houses/bungalows. Everyone was Muslim and only one person spoke English, which was the owner of the gym, Solo. Yeah, his name was Solo. Like Han Solo without the Han.

I talked with him briefly last night about the gym and its origins. Solo was born in Jerusalem and moved to America when he was in his late 20s. While in America he picked up boxing and quickly rose through the ranks to become one of New York’s best professional fighters. Years later, he took off for an around-the-world expedition and was traveling through Thailand when he stumbled across Kuraburi—a small Muslim fishing village that was virtually untouched by western influence. He liked it so much he decided to stay. While living in Kuraburi, he discovered Muay Thai. He started training and making connections with the most influential trainers in the province. He then started inviting his friends from America to come train with him and his new Thai-fighting trainers. It became so popular he decided to open a gym in Kuraburi and create a little website for it, which I so happened to stumble upon a few years later.

I took one more deep breath, breathing in the thick, after-sunset air and scanned the deep and darkening horizon taking in the surreal reality of my situation, then ducked inside my bungalow for a long-awaited “flop” onto my bed.

***

I blinked my eyes awake as I looked at my five-dollar alarm clock I’d bought for this trip. By the way my body felt, I could have sworn it was three in the morning. Sadly, I squinted my eyes through my morning dissolution and confirmed it was 6:30 a.m. Time to get up. Time to go run three miles…again. Just like yesterday, and the day before, and the day before. I sat up as my body screamed with torturing pain. Everything hurt. I couldn’t figure out if it was my back, my stomach where I’d been kneed 50 times, or my legs that had been kicked 100 times. It was a jumbled cocktail of pain that was near unbearable. There is no way in hell I can run three miles right now, I cursed. My mind refocused on my reason for being there. I am here to fight. This is what I came for: to run, to sweat, to cry and to bleed my way through training so I can be ready to fight in a professional fight—get over it you wimp.

I came over the hill and the gym came into view. Don, the assistant trainer, was sitting on his bike smiling at me. Oh, great. I know that look. He’s gonna make us do something painful. The normal role-call goes as follows: wake up and then meet at the gym at 7 a.m., and upon arrival, Don would be there holding up five fingers saying, “Fie kilometo” to indicate we needed to run five kilometers for our warm up. But not today.

“What fun thing do you have planned today Don?” I said sarcastically.

“Run. Run lots,” he said with a wry smile.

Great. The only thing worse than running was running without knowing how far you have to run. That’s plain torture.

“So what, I just start running?” I asked.

He nodded, maintaining his mischievous look that I wanted to smack off his face.

It was hard to hate Don, however. He was such a humble guy and I knew he was getting paid close to nothing to train us. It had only been a week and a half and I was already developing a deep love-hate relationship with him.

“Ok, Don. But just know I can hardly walk,” I said.

He just laughed, “Run!”

And off I went, Don following right on my tail with his scooter. Immediately my body cried out for me to stop, to sit down and give up. But I pushed on. I started learning a lot about my body since I was pushing it to near-death day in and day out. And one thing I began realizing was that with running in the morning, the first half-mile was always the hardest. That’s when my mind and body would put up the biggest fight. But once they accepted I wasn’t giving in, they would ease off and I could get in the zone. Thus, I pushed forward, ignoring my body once again. But this little trick only works for so long. After mile 2 or 3 my mind comes back with a vengeance, nearly forcing me to stop. That’s how I recognized we had been going for about three miles already. My breathing was heavy and the sun was now up and beating down on me causing me to nearly drown in my own sweat. My legs started turning into jello and I questioned my ability to go on. I looked back at Don, hoping he could see the desperation in my eyes but he just looked onward through his three-dollar aviator glasses and kept his speed steady. I think he did notice me though, I heard his engine rev a little louder and he started getting closer to me. How far are we going?! We’ve gotta be getting close to four miles now and we haven’t even turned back to the gym! Which means… I’m not even half way! This thought consumed me. I stopped running and turned to Don.

“I can’t go any further.”

“Come on!” he encouraged, “Need mo powa”

Freak, I know!!!

“I’m gonna throw up,” I said. “I seriously can’t go anymore.”

“Ok. We go back… fast,” he said.

Whatever. As long as we get to go back.

Well…“fast” ended up being two times faster than our previous pace. I was nearly sprinting. But I didn’t care. I wanted to get this morning-in-hell over with. My body disagreed. After a few minutes of this ludicrous pace my stomach started twisting and turning. Dizziness started to overtake me and I couldn’t take it any longer. I stopped, turned to the side of the road, and threw up whatever water I had managed to stomach before the run.

“Good!” yelled Don.

I turned and gave him a menacing glare, ready to tear him one. “Good?!” I gasped.

But surprisingly, I did feel good. I felt much better. I took deep breaths to regain my balance and after about 30 seconds Don said, “Ok, go!”

I shook my head, cursed, and started running again.

Needless to say, I did make it back to the gym, alive—after what had to be at least eight miles of grueling pain. You might think I then returned to my bungalow to take a nap or even take the remainder of my day to rest…nope, my day was just beginning. I took a quick five-minute break to drink some water and restore my breathing, then it was on to the drills. Five hundred jumps with a weighted jump rope, five hundred kicks to the heavy bag with each leg, five hundred knees, and five hundred sit-ups. If you couldn’t tell, five hundred was Don’s favorite number.

“Don, how many?” was a commonly asked question throughout training. And like clockwork…“Fie undred!”

I returned to my bungalow that night feeling very zombie-like. That day felt like I used every ounce of energy I had, and then some. I flopped on my bed and grabbed the book I brought with me called “The Journey of Socrates.” I grabbed it thinking it would be about the actual Socrates philosopher but it ended up being a fictional story about a kid named Socrates who grew up in the Soviet army camp. I was already ten chapters in and it was intriguing enough, so I decided to keep reading.

In the book, Socrates loses his parents at birth to the Soviet army and is abducted into the army himself to train to become a soldier. Once he figures out the truth of his parents, he decides to escape and spend the next eight years living with a family who was kind enough to take him in. But one day, the Soviet army finds him and kills the family hosting him and he barely escapes. Lost, sad and angry, he moves to the woods and decides to train to become the greatest warrior that ever lived so he can get his revenge.

While reading this book, I really began to sympathize with Socrates. I felt his anger and wanted him to get revenge badly. Little did I know, however, this book would be my savior…

***

The long, grueling days of training continued as I pushed my body and mind to their limits, day in and day out. Each day I would run a little further, punch a little harder, and kick a little stronger. My focus was laser-like. All I could think about was my fight that was planned for the last week of my six-week training. My focus was so strong it consumed me. All I could think about was my fight. I would go to bed planning out my moves and coming up with maneuvers I could use to out-do my opponent. Every morning I would run harder and further, knowing my opponent was running too. And every evening during the 2-3 hour clinch training, I would go after my sparring partner with a vengeance, thinking my opponent would be twice as strong and twice as fast. But despite all my efforts to obtain “mo powa” as Janai kept telling me, I always felt one step behind.

It was the fourth week of my training and I was frustrated, to say the least. I felt as if I’d been giving it 110% every day, yet when Janai would bring local fighters to come spar with me during the clinch training, I would get overly frustrated when I couldn’t dominate every single one of them. I felt weak, only being able to clinch for 30 minutes to an hour max while everyone else would go two to three hours. What got to me, even more, was how lax they all seemed. It was as if they weren’t even trying. I thought they would all be these crazy screaming kung-fu ninjas but no, they were all chilled out! It almost seemed like they were half drunk all the time. To me, their fighting style seemed slow and almost sloppy. When I first saw this it surprised me and I got excited thinking I could easily dominate them with my strength and speed. Come to find out, I couldn’t. It seemed no matter how hard I tried, how much strength I put behind my clinches, knees, and kicks, I couldn’t get an edge on these guys. This frustration controlled me and it came out in my sparring…

“Stop!” Janai yelled during a clinch battle between me and a 17-year-old Thai kid who was much stronger than he looked. We were battling hard and he was getting the best of me. I had overestimated his stamina and technical skills and thought I could easily overpower him with my sheer strength. Looking at the both of us, you would agree with me. But we’d been going for about 30 minutes and my anger was causing me to jeopardize my form and my breathing was out of control. I released my sparring partner’s neck and rolled my eyes as I turned to face Janai.

We were battling hard and he was getting the best of me. I had overestimated his stamina and technical skills and thought I could easily overpower him with my sheer strength. Looking at the both of us, you would agree with me. But we’d been going for about 30 minutes and my anger was causing me to jeopardize my form and my breathing was out of control. I released my sparring partner’s neck and rolled my eyes as I turned to face Janai.

“What now?” I grumbled.

He looked me dead in the eye and pointed to my chest. “You ha’ no powa,” he said.

“What do you mean?!” I protested. “I’m seriously giving it everything I’ve got and I don’t know what else to do to have more power! I’m running my ass off every day and doing everything you say, so if I have no power, it’s your fault.”

He squinted his eyes at me. I knew he didn’t understand everything I just said, but he understood what I wanted to say. We had developed a sixth-sense like communication over the past four weeks. With his 10-word English vocabulary and my 6-word Thai vocabulary, we used a lot of hand movements and gestures to communicate. Eventually, we began understanding each other on a level that didn’t require speaking at all. If I was doing something wrong, he would walk over to me, tap the part of my body that needed correcting, then give me a quick nod and somehow I understood what he wanted me to do without fault. It was as if with a few little movements and gestures he could tell me more than with a thousand words.

He grabbed my wrist and pulled me over to the edge of the ring and faced me outwards. And since our little gym was a stone’s throw away from the ocean and it was late in the evening, I faced the setting sun as it blazed a deep purple haze across the sky and an amber orange across the ocean. He raised my arms up and motioned for me to breath deep by closing his eyes and moving his hand in front of his mouth then down to his chest and making a clenched fist—as if he was grabbing the air and moving it down deeper into his lungs. I understood and I did as he commanded and breathed deep. He held his fist clenched in front of his chest for four counts then released it, swooping his fist up while extending his fingers up to his mouth again while breathing out. He held up four fingers and I knew it meant I needed to repeat it four times. So I did. On the fourth time, as I exhaled he thumped my chest with his fist and looked me dead in the eye.

“Mo. Powa.” he said firmly while accentuating every syllable.

I held his gaze for a brief second then broke away. Ok, whatever…

That night I decided to keep reading my book despite my irritated mood. I still couldn’t figure out what I needed to do to have “mo powa.” The obvious answer was that I just needed to train more and train harder so I could have more stamina and strength. But It seemed as if Janai didn’t understand that. Like he expected me to just focus really hard and all of a sudden whip up some extra strength out of thin air. Not knowing the answer to things really gets to me. And knowing that by missing this piece to the puzzle could mean I would lose my fight was driving me mad.

I tried to shove these emotions to the side by reading my book. I read about how Socrates continued his training in the woods and how he quickly became a feared warrior by many. But even though none could defeat him, he pressed on and trained harder every day, wanting all to fear him and thirsting after his ultimate goal: revenge.

Part 2 —Turning Point

 

“Mengmum kad!” I screamed. “Mangmum kad!” I was trying to say “spider bite,” or at least I thought I was. Clearly I wasn’t getting through to her as she stood there staring at me with a confused look on her face that said: “all I hear is blah, blah, blah…” Apparently, google translate was off on this one, or my pronunciation of the Thai language was still very “farang”—as they would say for a white man who couldn’t speak their tongue. I hopped on my one good leg around the desk so I could stand next to the nurse and show her what was going on. I propped up my leg (which now looked more like it belonged to an elephant than a human) so that she could see my deformity. I clenched my teeth as she grabbed it and examined what I thought to be a spider bite. I never really did find out exactly what it was. But it started as a large bump on the back of my calf of which I popped and extracted probably over an ounce of puss. The real damage happened when I went swimming the next day and let my open wound come in contact with the water—I guess the warm ocean water is perfect breeding grounds for bacteria. I didn’t realize how bad it was until later that night around 3 a.m. when I awoke feeling like a tiger had bitten off my leg and little fire ants were feasting on my leftover flesh. The pain was so great that I knew if I didn’t take action quickly, I could very well lose my leg. So I hopped on my little scooter and pushed it to its limit of 30 mph in search for medical aid.

She said something and whether it was English or Thai I had no idea—my comprehension was little to non-existent as the only room for thought in my head was filled with pain. She led me to a table behind a curtain — what privacy, I thought — and motioned for me to lay on it. At this point, a small rational thought was able to squeeze its way into my brain. Does she even know what’s wrong with me? What is she going to do to me leg? Is she even qualified to be doing any type of surgical procedures?—Yeah, probably not. As these thoughts came flooding into my mind, I looked around at where I was. Three other beds were sporadically placed throughout the room with little curtains hanging over them. In the middle of the room was one of those metal tables with wheels and surgical equipment — knives, latex gloves, those long tweezer things, and cotton swabs laid askew on top of it. Clearly it had not been organized since the last time of use. If it weren’t for the huge medical sign on the front of the building, I would have mistaken it for an elementary school and driven right past it on my scooter, and who knows what would have happened then.

The nurse motioned for me to lay on the table on my stomach and I came to the rash conclusion that this was undoubtedly my only option (besides amputating my own leg with the machete back at the village). The pain searing through my brain took over as she began “preparing” my leg by rubbing it down with alcohol. Even the slightest touch felt like a perfectly delivered leg kick at full force. My eyes began to water. I couldn’t tell if it was because of the pain or because of the reality of my situation. Not again…all that training for nothing…waking up at 6 a.m. for my 5-mile run, sparring, drills, and endless knees to my gut day after day… Had it all been in vain?

Out of the corner of my eye I watched the nurse wheel over the little table. She began organizing the knives and tweezers—no, no, no, no. . . there’s no way in hell she is going to touch me with any of those! She picked up the knife and began moving towards me. That’s it, I’m getting up and hopping right on out of here! Apparently, she sensed my apprehension, “Lital pain, lital pain” she comforted. Yeah right! You didn’t even numb my leg, all you did was wipe it down with… “AHHHHHHH!” I screamed with tears forcing their way out of my eyes as a sharp pain was delivered to my leg that I guessed was her knife cutting into my flesh. I dared not look back. I knew if I did I would end up moving my leg and causing more problems than there already were. The pain returned with full force to my brain which felt like the right hook I took to my head from my trainer last week—except 10 times fiercer. What is going on back there?! I had only heard of people blacking out because of pain before, and as I started zoning out, I realized it was happening to me. Just as I was almost gone, another jolt of pain snapped me back to life and I screamed “Pain! Big pain!!” The nurse just giggled and said something else I didn’t understand.

On my way back to camp, with my leg wrapped up like a mummy, reality began to set in. I began to realize my plan to fight in a professional Thai fight was crumbling right in front of me. Why does this keep happening to me? I kept my head low and my thumb pressed on the throttle all the way as I zipped past cars. Everything I worked for, everything I planned…ruined. By a stupid infection. Stupid, just like that gym for not following regulation and getting my last fight canceled a year ago. Stupid, just like my last opponent for getting “sick” the day before that fight I was going to have six months ago. Can I just fight already?!?! It’s like the universe is conspiring against me. Apparently my emotions were building up because a car honked at me as I cut in front of it too aggressively. My mind was taken back to the first time I had heard about being able to train in Thailand…

“Yeah man, it was seriously the coolest experience of my life. I was there for two months training under a master and he even got me a professional fight at the end of my training,” my friend said. “No way a professional fight?” I said getting overly excited.

“Yeah, and if you win you can keep fighting until you lose. You also get paid for every fight you win. I won three fights in a row,” he boasted. “Plus there are awesome waterfalls, jungles, and islands you can explore on your off days.” It all sounded too good to be true. I had to do it. I didn’t know when, but I absolutely had to.

That was over three years ago. And ever since then, I decided I would fight in a professional Thai fight. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew I would do it at least once. Since then, I dedicated a large amount of my time to training in the art of Muay Thai. It fascinated me more than any sport I had ever encountered. Not only did it fascinate me, but I was good. I was exceptionally good. I don’t often boast about skills I have, because honestly, I’m pretty average at most of them. Basketball, soccer, surfing, wake boarding… I had enough experience to be okay at most of these, but I never felt like I had any real talent. Then after I TKO’d a guy in my first fight with five knees to the gut, a right uppercut to the jaw, a solid left hook to his ear, and left him unable to recuperate for over 30 minutes, it dawned on me that I might actually have some raw talent at something. So I pursued it. But it seemed like no matter how hard I trained there was one opponent I could not defeat: The universe. Year after year I had specific fights set up for which I would spend countless hours training. But each time, the fight would get canceled just weeks or days before due to some ludicrous reason. It was as if some external greater force was hedging up my way each time I attempted to fight. My trip to Thailand was my statement to the universe that I would fight no matter what it threw at me.

Now here I was, so close to my dream, so close to becoming a professional Thai fighter, but the universe got me with a “one-one-two” and I was face down on the mat. My leg was useless. And when it comes to a sport that relies on striking your opponent with your legs at full strength, that can be an issue. I tried everything to heal quickly, but the fight was just eight days away and I could hardly walk. What was once motivation and passion now turned to grief and resentment.

Note to self: Don’t pick fights with the universe.

***

I did a lot of laying around those last days. Luckily, the television only had a handful of channels that were in Thai, so I decided not to waste my time. Watching television in a foreign language can only entertain you for so long until it drives you completely mad. So I read.

One day, while feeling overly sorry for myself, I decided to go to the beach and read. I found a nice little hammock about ten yards from the ocean strung between two palm trees and nestled into it to finish my book. Socrates, the main character in the story, ends up finding a wife and settling down only to have everything stripped from him again. His same enemy shows up with a band of soldiers and kills his wife and kids right in front of him. His rage and desire for revenge surge out of control. He goes on a killing rampage and kills everyone who opposes him. Very quickly, he becomes the most feared warrior in the land. Yet, his enemy still lives, his ultimate goal left unanswered.

One day, he hears of a wise old monk who is known as the greatest warrior to ever live. Thinking the monk will train him to become the greatest so he can finally defeat his enemy, he seeks him out. When he finds him, the monk tells him he cannot train him. He tells him, “A glass of water that is already full has no room for more water.” So Socrates spends months trying to convince this monk to train him. Out of pure annoyance, the monk eventually gives in, but it is nothing like Socrates expected. Instead of training him to fight, he trains him to think. He trains him in meditation and philosophy. He trains him to realize that the only way one can become a true warrior is by finding peace. And peace is found only through controlling what he can control, then accepting everything else as a lesson he must learn.

Part 3 — Power 

After a few days of moping around, I decided to take a trip to the Surin Islands and do some exploring, seeing how I was pretty much useless back at camp. I drove my little scooter 30 miles into town with my leg hanging off the side like a dead fish flopped over being held by its tail, it was quite the site to see. But I’d seen families of five fit on one of these scooters before so it was nothing out of the ordinary for this place. I bought my boat ticket and waited a long hour and a half to board. I was still in my joyless mood, and it seemed no matter what I tried to tell my mind, it wanted to stay in its pessimistic state. I tried telling myself how grateful I was to be in such an amazing place and experience such amazing things, but I was stuck on the fact that I was going to miss my fight. My ONE reason for being there.

The boat was a fairly large speed boat with big advertisements on the side saying, “Book Your Trip To The Islands Now!”

“Book Your Trip To The Islands Now!”

Great, I thought, now I’m just one of the mindless tourists who goes to Thailand to spend all their money following other white people around all doing the same stupid thing while the locals laugh at them as they run away with their money.

On the way out of the harbor, we passed a wide array of small fishing boats that looked like they were around back when the Barbossa Brothers were pirating the seas. They were these two to three story wooden structures that looked more like an old wooden hay feeder for cows that you find in the middle of some field a hundred miles from town, not a deep sea fishing boat. They were painted various vibrant colors from pink to blue to green to yellow—like it was their way of distracting you from seeing the decrepit state of the vessel. But to be honest, it looked like a freakin’ party on those things. Each boat had five to ten guys all drinking, dancing, and singing to some crazy Thai music playing from a 1990s stereo on the deck while they hauled fish from their nets. I decided that if I were Thai, I’d be a fisherman for sure. It was quite comical though: us — a bunch of westerners with visors and khaki shorts, passing by on this commercial tour boat taking pictures of every little thing — and them — a bunch of drunk fishermen, just living another day at work while a horde of white people who smell like sunscreen passed by taking pictures of them. Could you imagine being at your job and having a bunch of Thai people walk through with a tour guide and take pictures of you sitting at your desk drinking coffee? Yeah, a little weird.

We finally got to the open ocean and I decided to move to the bow so I could get some fresh ocean breeze on my face. There’s something so cleansing and freeing about the open ocean. With nothing but the endless horizon to unshackle your sight, the rhythmic ocean swells to pacify your mind, and the rich salty air to clean your lungs; it’s as if all worries, doubts, and fears live on land. Without fail, every time I’m blessed to behold the open ocean, I have such an experience—and this time was no different. My “synthetic optimism” turned to true contentment and a sense of overwhelming peace. As if my mind was freed from a confinement of self-pity and I could see the world objectively and clearly again. My worries about my fight and my leg seemed so trivial that I almost wanted to laugh at myself for worrying so much about it.

Our boat reached its first destination of the Surin Islands—a small island inhabited by sea gypsies. As we drifted into the bay, I could see little brown kids running from their houses to the dock to meet us. But their houses weren’t so much…well…houses. They were more like wooden treehouses built on stilts sitting right at the water’s edge. Half of the structure was overhanging the water as if you could open the back window and toss your fishing pole out to catch dinner. It was, however, one of the most unique and arresting places I’ve ever seen. The ocean was a teal-blue color that almost looked cartoonish. The stilted huts were nestled into this cove of massive black rock cliffs rising hundreds of feet up and overgrown with thick green foliage. The beach was only about 50 yards long, and it looked like the only way out of there was either by boat or by hidden trails that disappeared into the thick jungle behind the village. My curiosity spiked. I’m always so fascinated by people who live a completely divergent life than most. As if they’re on another planet living by totally separate rules and norms and doing the most interesting things to survive.

We got off the boat and started wandering around the village. All the local kids were frantically trying to sell random trinkets to the wide-eyed tourists who looked like they’d landed on the moon. As I was walking between the houses I saw a little girl no older than four years sitting at a small table with an older woman no younger than 80 selling handmade bracelets made from what looked like candy wrappers. I walked over and picked one up and held out my hand to gesture the question of how much they cost. She held out five fingers indicating 50 baht, which is a little over a dollar; I pulled out a five American dollar bill and left it on the table and winked at her. She giggled and showed the lady who just sat there like she was made of stone—maybe she was blind, or maybe she just wasn’t amused by the hordes of white people who started showing up in big ugly boats and disrupting what was once a peaceful and sacred island over the past 50 years…I don’t blame her.

We got on the boat and cruised to the next island. This one was a little more touristy, you could say, with a visitors center and beach chairs lined up on the beach with people sprawled out reading books and tanning. I decided to go off on my own to explore. I started walking north on the beach towards what looked like some sort of path that went into the jungle. I didn’t get far until I realized it wasn’t much of a path. But I was persistent and hacked my way through shrubs and struggled over some big boulders—I was determined to get away from people, even if I could barely walk. As I continued my solo journey along the beach, in and out of the jungle, I began pondering about my situation. Some people come to Thailand to party, to ride elephants, or to get a picture with a tiger for their Instagram… but I came here for one thing: to fight. After six months of planning, two years of training, and an incessant desire to fight in a professional fight… a pathetic little infection on my leg stops me. Not only that, this was the fourth time in a row one of my fights got canceled for some petty reason. Something bigger is going on here…

I remember the monk in my book saying, “A peaceful warrior only worries over what he can control. Everything else is a lesson to learn.” What possibly could I learn from an infection on my leg? What possibly could I learn from going after a goal and having it stripped from me for no good reason at all? I looked down at my watch and realized I’d been gone for three hours and the boat was leaving soon. After muttering a few curses under my breath I began my jog/penguin waddle back.

***

“Cha!” yelled Don.

It was the first time we’d seen each other in days, seeing how I was immobilized in my room for three of the past four days.

“You fi?”

“No…” I said exhaling disappointedly.

I turned and showed him my bandaged-up leg and he smiled, “Yes, you fi!”

“I don’t think so!” I said. I did a wimpy kicking motion with my bad leg to show him how pathetic I was.

“Ohhhhhh” he said. “No good.”

“No, no good at all,” I said shaking my head.  Don walked over to me and walked around me like he was inspecting a race horse.

“Good leg?” he asked hitting my good leg with the back of his hand.

“Yeah, I mean, I guess I can kick OK with it,” I replied.

“Good!” he exclaimed. “Come.”

He put me on the heavy bag and motioned for me to kick it with my good leg. I proceeded to do so and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I mean, it was about 50% less power than I usually have, but it was something.

“Good!” he said. “Practice.”

Well, I don’t have anything else to do, I thought. Might as well try, even if I look paraplegic. I wrapped my hands, put my gloves on, and got ready to go at the 500 lb. bag of cement (at least, that’s what it felt like). Even though I was pretty much incapable of kicking with my right leg, I was still able to move around fairly normal. I could side-step, back-step, and shuffle forward like I normally would, but still, slower. I could still box at almost my full strength, however. My hands were free and I could move fast enough to still be a threat. So I went at the bag with my fists in a furry. It felt so good to be hitting something again. As if with every punch I was popping a balloon filled with stress and anger. Left, left, “Heahhh!” I half yelled as I landing the right. Left, Left, Left “Heaaahhhh!” Man, that feels good. But it wasn’t like I was angry, just that I was punching my anger, resentment, and stress right in the gut! It was liberating.

I ended up spending four full hours of just hitting the heavy bag by myself, working on my footwork, and learning what I could and couldn’t do with my leg. By the end, I felt fairly comfortable and decided I would come tomorrow for a full day of training.

The next morning I awoke with a sense of novelty. As I was walking the quarter mile stretch from my bungalow to the gym at 6:30 a.m., the sun was just rising and the village was starting to move. Women were at the river jetty fishing for their family’s dinner and men were just coming home from their night duties of working in the orchards. A sense of awe swept over me. I really am in an astounding place. Every day these people would get up, do the same thing, see the same people, eat the same fish, and they loved it. The men would wake up at 3 a.m. to go harvest rubber from the Hevea Trees because it was too blistering hot during the day, the women stayed at home and fished and cooked ALL DAY, and the kids just ran around playing in and out of the jungle and, a lot of times, in our gym. Solo would sometimes get mad at them, but then other times he wouldn’t care, and they’d come watch us train and “heahhh” every time someone landed a good hit. It was like everyone was one big family that functioned as an ecosystem — everyone had their role, everything worked on some sort of natural schedule, and they thrived.

I got to the gym and started the morning routine: 500 jump ropes, 500 kicks (with one leg this time), 500 punches, 500 elbows, and 500 knees. It took me about twice as long, but I got it done. I felt quite a bit more confident in my leg that day. I was able to move faster and I was even able to kick the heavy bag with it—and even though a ten-year-old could have kicked harder, it was still progress. Janai showed up at his usual time around 3 p.m. sweaty from his 10 km run from his nearby village.

“Cha!” he exclaimed.

“Janai!” I yelled back from across the gym.

“ You good?”

“Well, sorta,” I replied, “ I’m trying.”

“Good, good,” he confirmed.

“I like your shirt!” I said as I started taking off my gloves and walked over to him.

He was wearing a black t-shirt that had gold Thai writing on the front that looked like some form of scripture—not just it’s layout but the writing itself was faded and looked like an ancient manuscript. The back had a Buddha with more Sanskrit writing and unique designs. It really was a cool shirt.

He pointed to the shirt and raised his eyebrows to confirm I was talking about his shirt. “You like?”

“Yeah, it’s awesome.”

He began talking to Solo (who had just walked up) in Thai and Solo translated. 

“He says in his village, long ago, they had a special group of warriors that would defend their village from tyrants and thieves. They were known as the fiercest warriors of all Thailand and they make these shirts in representation of them and give them to all the Thai fighters who come from their village.”

“THAT’S BAD ASS!” I said astounded. I looked at Janai and gave him two thumbs up (the only way I know how to say “bad ass” in Thai).

Then, he reached down, pulled the shirt off and held it up in front of me as if to give it to me did a quick nod.

“No way…” I said. “I cannot take it from you.”

“Yes. You have. Good warrior,” he said pointing to my chest.

“No, seriously, Janai, this is something special to you and your village!” I resisted.

He just held the shirt straight at my chest and looked at me dead in the eye.

“Wow. Thank you so much,” I said. “Khap kuhn kap” I thanked him as I did an extra low bow. I looked up at Solo and even he seemed astounded, almost angry. I raised my eyebrows in a way that said “I dunno” but inside I was jumping around like a little kid who just got an autograph from his favorite superhero.

There are many things I learned from Janai that have changed my life. Kindness was one of the greatest. Not the kindness where you just say nice things to people and act like you’re interested in their life and what they have to say. I’m talking about true kindness; the kind that is shown through acts of service and selflessness. Janai could only speak 10-20 words in English, yet he was one of kindest people I’ve ever known. It perplexed me, however. Here he was, one of the best Thai fighters I’d ever seen, tough as freaking iron—no matter how hard I kneed or kicked him in the gut, he never lost his wind—and still, he maintained this level of permanence and composure that seemed beyond any human capabilities I’m aware of. I began to develop a deep sense of respect for this man. Every day he would run 10 km from his little village to our gym. Then he would train us for six straight hours only to run 10 km back home to his tiny house (hut) to put his daughter to bed. He had a little motorcycle that I had only seen once and it was when he picked me up at camp the day after my “surgery” and took me to his village so that his wife—who was a nurse—could take a look at my leg and give me some medicine for free. Then, after meeting his wife and adorable little daughter, he took me around his village introducing me to everyone we saw. Like I was some aspiring movie star who was going to make it big and he wanted to make sure everyone he knew met me first. It caught me so off guard because stuff like this just doesn’t happen in my day-to-day life back home. People are too busy with their own lives and too worried about their own problems. But going around Janai’s village and seeing his little house with no more than two beds, three chairs, and a small fridge, I asked myself, “What problems?”

Later that night, I decided to keep reading in my book. Socrates learns much from the monk and begins to control his rage, but his anger for his enemy is too deep, and his desire to fulfill his mission was too resolute. So he leaves the monastery and sets off to finish his mission. But something the monk told him really stood out to me and I wrote it in my journal:

“In life, stress happens when you resist. Never oppose force with force. Instead, absorb it and use it.”

***

My fight was only five days away, well… the fight I was going to have, and I was feeling surprisingly good. I was training every day and I felt strong but was still significantly “handicapped” to perform at my top levels in a professional fight. I would still, however, train every day and do light sparring with the people at the gym. At first it was extremely tough because every time I would get hit in the leg, it felt like someone took a metal hammer to my femur that sent a shock up my spine to my brain. Having my hurt leg, however, forced me to focus more on my breathing and making every move more conscious.

One day, Janai showed up with four local fighters to do the one thing I hated most: clinch sparring. The previous days I had decided to just watch them spar because of my leg, but today I felt good so I told him I wanted to spar. To my “great” surprise, he paired me up with the biggest and strongest kid there—thanks, Janai. I got in the ring and bowed to him, the bell rang, and we locked onto each other like two gorillas. Our heads slam into each other’s shoulders, my right arm locked onto the back of his neck as his did the same to mine. Our left hands battled for positioning trying to grab the back of each other’s elbows. Ok, I think, I just need to take it slow and focus on technique. I don’t want to hurt my leg.

We start battling for position and throwing knees to each other’s gut and ribs. But this time I felt different. Instead of trying to force myself on him and overpower him like I usually would, I moved forward consciously with every step and every knee that I threw—being cautious of my leg. This conscious approach allowed me to be aware of the small things I was previously blind to in my fury of anger and determination. When he would throw a knee, I could sense it coming and would tighten my stomach to absorb it and quickly return a knee to his exposed torso. When he would lose his footing, I would swiftly and almost effortlessly throw him to the ground. It felt so natural—like breathing, riding a bike, or driving a car. As the match progressed, we moved like water, flowing around the ring exchanging knees and throwing each other to the ground, but I didn’t get tired. In fact, my level of stamina seemed to be increasing. With every knee to the gut, every hit to the thigh, I seemed to grow stronger, more focused, and calmer—as if my mind was driven by the thrill of the fight. My leg was in pain but it didn’t affect me, like I found some type of untapped energy and power within me that flowed from the center of my core outward to my limbs and with every breath it pulsed this power throughout my body.

Ding ding ding!”

The bell rang and I looked up at the clock, almost forgetting we where I even was because I was so focused on each moment of the match—three hours?! I had been sparring straight for three hours and I felt fine. What happened?! Before, I could only clinch spar for thirty minutes maybe an hour before feeling like I had to puke. Janai walked over to me, grabbed me by the hand and walked me to the edge of the ring to overlook the ocean. He lifted my arms up to a T and motioned for me to breathe deep four times with my eyes closed. As I slowly exhaled at the end of the fourth beat of the fourth breath, I opened my eyes to see Janai smiling.

He took his finger and tapped it on the center of my chest, “Good…powa.”

Part 4 — The Peaceful Warrior

I was sitting on the beach, my last Sunday there, while the sky did its daily magic show at sunset when I finally finished my book. It ended in a way I didn’t expect, but at the same time, it didn’t surprise me. Socrates—broken, heart-torn, and with nothing left to live for— finally confronts his enemy face to face. His lifelong goal of destroying his enemy lies before him, and as he is about to deliver the final blow, he decides to let him live. Something within him would not let him do it; either something he learned from the monk or some inherent good still deep within him, but he simply could not do it. Something within him realized that accomplishing his goal would not bring him the peace and fulfillment he was seeking—it would only cause more rage. Now with his lifelong goal gone, he starts to realize all the good in his life he was blind to. He returns to the monastery and decides to live his life in peace and giving service.

As I finished the book, I looked up to the horizon that stretched thousands of miles into a purple sky that meshed with the deep blue water making a dark violet void that almost looked black. A grand sense of awareness overcame me as if a part of my brain that had been asleep suddenly became active. I realized how blind I had become over the past five weeks being completely focused on my one goal. I had become so single-minded, so ridiculously focused on my fight that it made me numb to everything else around me. Not only that, but this “tunnel vision” caused me to perform worse in my fighting. I was so determined to win my fight that during my sparring sessions I would turn that determination into pure fury and try to dominate my opponent feeling an immense pressure that if I didn’t mercilessly defeat my sparring partners, I would never beat my final opponent. This, in turn, caused me to compromise my breathing as well as my awareness of the fight. This was blocking my inner power. Or as Janai called it, “powa”.

So over the next few days, I decided I would “look up” from my path. Instead of training seven hours a day, I would train for half the day then go explore the island the other half. Almost immediately I realized how “blind” I had become. My fighting began to improve drastically as I was fighting in a “conscious” style—composed and strategic instead of strength and fury. And whenever I would get hot-headed or frustrated, Janai would calmly walk me to the edge of the ring and face me to overlook the ocean, tell me to breathe deep four times, then lightly pound his fist on my sternum and say, “No propblem… mo power.”  But now I understood. And I would regain my power and get back in the ring as if starting completely anew. Focusing on each breath — in, out, in, out. Focusing on my opponent — he inches back, I inch forward; he delivers a knee, I clench my core to easily absorb it; he steps too far, I attack. I began winning every sparring match—even with my leg still severely handicapped. I felt strong, but not muscle strong. It was a strength and confidence that pulsed within me and allowed me to hold my composure during every match.

  I also began hanging out with the locals more, going out and swimming in the waterfalls, and I even went on a jungle expedition 40 miles into uncharted jungle with an old English guy who had been living there exploring uncharted areas of the jungle for over 11 years… but that’s a story for another day.

I completely forgot about my fight and I felt… amazing. I was finally enjoying myself and finally able to appreciate the beautiful surroundings I was in. The gym was nestled in a grove of banana trees and tropical orchids upon a small hill that overlooked the Andaman Sea. Each night the sun would set perfectly at eye level from our vantage point and the sky would turn a magnificently dark purple and pink pastel color. The water would turn to wine, swirled with a touch of blue and green, and the air would turn to a thick alluring warmth that felt like a nostalgic summer night. Some nights, we would go swimming in the 80-degree ocean and watch the water light up around us (literally) as the plankton there were luminescent. Magical is the only word that could describe this place.

But even more beautiful than this place were the people in it. I was so dumbfounded at how friendly they were. Immediately they embraced me like I was one of their own and treated me like family. I had already been to a handful of countries with diverse cultures but none compared to the level of amiability these people had for an “intruder” white guy like myself. When I arrived there, I expected the complete opposite. But within three hours of arriving, my neighbor stopped by my bungalow to introduce herself, give me some fresh fruit, and tell me I could ask for help if I needed anything (at least that’s what I think; she was speaking Thai and using a lot of hand movements). Every day on my 5 km run, I would run the small road that led from the village out to the main road. It was dotted with little huts and makeshift shops along the way and there were always a few people sitting out in front of their huts (just hanging out I guess) that would cheer me on and yell, “Chna frang! Chna frang!” which meant, “Win white boy, win!” It made me feel like Rocky running through the streets of Philly with all those kids cheering him on and running with him.

They were always laughing at something too. Many times someone, probably a little drunk, would approach me to try and tell me something (in Thai) and they would start laughing hysterically like we were best buds that just remembered an inside joke. I would laugh with him and say, “kap, kap, kap”— which I don’t know what it really means, they just say it a lot to agree with people, to say hi, and to say goodbye.

I always thought the Thai people would be “stiff” (for a lack of a better term) like a lot of Asian cultures. But to my surprise, it was the most laid back place I’ve been to—and it was the same with the Thai fighters. Like I mentioned before, I thought they would be these crazy kung fu masters yelling at me and only cracking a smile out of satisfaction when I dominated my opponent. But they were the most chilled of them all! Always laughing at something. No, I mean like every little thing was a joke. I seriously wondered if there was actually anything funny they were laughing at or if it was just a natural habit to laugh at stuff. Even so, it caught me way off guard. I started noticing, too, that their fighting was done in the same style. What I first thought was laziness and lack of strength I now understood to be pure composure. I realized that it was their way of having a consciousness about them as they fought. It was their strength, their power.

***

Leaving Ao-koei was one of the saddest days of my life. I felt like I was leaving home. I never did end up fighting in a professional fight, but I was at peace. I was leaving with a more prized possession. Instead of leaving as a fighting champion, I was leaving as a greater, wiser man. There’s always another fight.

On my plane home, I felt impressed to write what I had learned. I opened my leather bound journal with cream colored pages that made it look like an ancient scroll and began to write,

“In life, we sometimes have a goal, a destination or accomplishment we are working for. This can easily convert into a single-mindedness that can blind you to everything beautiful around you. Paradoxically, this single focus on one objective is ineffective. It can cause you to obsess over it and if it’s not working, you will try and force your way which will only cause more problems ‘…stress happens when you resist. Never oppose force with force. Instead, absorb it and use it.’

On the other hand, if you take a methodical approach, staying conscious of yourself and your surroundings, you will be able to expand your mind and your perspective which will allow you to make unbiased decisions. You will be able to see the picture as a whole and conquer one step at a time, controlling only that which you can control. Just like in a fight, if you are too focused on “destroying your opponent at all cost”, you will forget the small steps within a fight that give you ultimate control: controlling your breathing, watching your opponent, learning his style and striking when he’s venerable. And in life, this conscious approach allows you to release what is out of your control and focus on the present moment — ultimately giving you a greater power that leads to the greatest possible outcome.

Inner power is something achieved not by strength, not by sheer will, nor by trying harder. It is only accessible through controlling what you can and excepting everything you can’t as something you must learn. Moving forward in life with consciousness and composure in every step. This is the way of a peaceful warrior.”

The lessons I learned from Janai and all the people of Ao-koei are still with me today. It has changed my life and I hope to carry it with me forever. And whenever I get stressed or feel like I am losing control, I’ll turn and face the west closing my eyes to picture the Andaman sea, spread my arms to a T, take four deep breaths, and on the exhale of the fourth, lightly pound my chest with my fist and say, “More power… more power.”

a look at Ao-Koei camp…

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