Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


Hello dear readers,

Hard to believe it’s already Thursday. Where has the week gone?

I have a confession to make. My kru wants me to return to Level 2 classes, and I’m nervous as hell. My plan was to stay in Level 1 until I regained a high level of fitness, and then take the Level 2 test in December. However, since I have twelve years of kickboxing under my belt, Kelly thinks I should be an active part of Level 2 now. And this scares me.

Why so spooked? Well, part of it is about being able to survive a Level 2 class. Level 2 at KWest used to involve a lot of muay thai technique, so you needed to take Level 1 as well if you wanted to get a workout. However, things have changed, and I’ve been told the new Level 2 class is tough. I’m concerned about not being able to keep up or–even worse–holding my partner back. But this is a small part of my nerves, because the club where I learned muay thai had no “easing in” period. Whenever you started or returned, you were thrown into the fray. Some days were harder than others, but I always survived. So, even though I’m nervous, intellectually I know I’ll be fine.

It’s the sparring that concerns me.

For those who don’t know, sparring is fighting against another teammate. It’s crucial training for an actual fight, and even though sparring is supposed to be contained and controlled, things can get out of hand. Most professional kickboxers I know have sustained significant injuries from sparring–often much worse than they’ve ever received in a fight. During a fight, you’re paired against someone of your own weight class, but in sparring, you’re fighting against a variety of different partners.

At my first club, Sik Tai, sparring was a way of life. There were few classes where we didn’t spar. Everyone would face off in two lines across the gym, and once a round was over, one line would move down so you were always paired with someone different. I fought men and women of all sizes and levels. Kicking and punching another person felt normal there.

KWest is a much friendlier club. You get closer with people, come to think of them as your friends. It’s very difficult for me to get back in the frame of mind where it’s okay to punch and kick my friends. I met my best friend at kickboxing, and we’ve always dealt with this by connecting but not really connecting–we’ll give each other a light tap to show that we scored a hit, but we never drive it home enough to cause pain. The times I’ve slipped up and made her wince, I felt terrible. It’s been so long since I’ve sparred that I’ve lost the ability to throw myself into it without worrying that I will hurt someone I really like. And there’s always the concern that the person you hit will take it personally. Men are able to take what happens in the ring and leave it in the ring, for the most part, but many women will take a direct hit as a deep offense and not let it go. Since I’ll be sparring most often with women, this adds to my case of nerves.

The last time I sparred at KWest, I got hurt. I was paired with partner after partner who treated sparring like my friend and I do. Light contact, lots of speed, and apologies if something got out of line. I got used to this. It was fun. Then I was matched up with a woman I’d never sparred with before. I started to dance around, and WHAM! She got me with a brutal roundhouse, right to the waist. The kick was so hard that it went right through to my solar plexus. I’d forgotten what it feels like to get hit there–you literally can’t catch your breath for a bit–so I thought I was seriously hurt. The moment was terrifying. I dropped to my knees, grabbed my headgear and yanked it off, and tried to breathe. It seemed like forever before I could get air.

I don’t hold this against my sparring partner. She saw an opening and she went for it, and if I was still at Sik Tai, I would have seen it coming and been better prepared. But after several rounds of friendly, light contact sparring with a lot of laughs and smiles, I was not expecting such aggression. I was afraid to spar with her after that, because I knew I would go in with everything I had and it might get ugly. I needed some time to calm down. I think it’s been…oh, about a year or more. I should be calm by now.

I’m not sure why it’s so difficult for me to return to sparring after a hiatus. I know my friend loves it, even if she’s had a long break from kickboxing. I’d rather fight in the ring, where there’s no question that each person is going to give it everything they have. When you spar, you either hold back until you gauge each person’s style, and risk getting hurt like I did, or you go hardcore from the beginning and risk being “that bitch” that no one wants to be paired with.

Ugh. I’m dreading it. But if I do want to fight, and I do, it has to happen sooner or later. My kru would prefer it to be sooner.

I’d love to hear from you, dear readers. When was the last time you were nervous, and how did you handle it? Did you face your fear, or avoid it? How did the situation play out?

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  1. cjf

    Don’t forget, the whole point of sparring is emulating what you’re going to do in the ring – and in the ring, the person across from you is not your friend (even if it is only a 3 minute round of sparring).

    “eat or be eaten” or should I say “beat or be beaten”…

    Jump in. The water is fine!!!

  2. Story Teller

    Thanks so much for your comment and advice! I really needed it. I do think men are a lot better at leaving what happens in the ring behind and getting back to being friends. I have to trust that if women are in Level 2, they’re of the same mindset. If they’re not, I can’t worry about it.

    I really appreciate the encouragement. 🙂

  3. Vanessa

    Holli I have been in level 2 since April and have found the women in level 2 very receptive to each other’s feeling about sparring. I was very apprehensive about the whole sparring thing. I knew I wanted to learn technique but wasn’t sure about the sparring thing.

    I find that when I communicate my expectations and fears they have respected it. If the power is too much then it is my responsibility to tell them, everyone has different tolerances. I also find that I always ask my partner tell me if my power is too much for them or conversely, if they want me to increase my power.

    I do think that if your desire is to fight, then maybe you do have to go with more intense partners ( I guess that’s also what fight camp is for). For now I’m content with learning Muay Thai techniques and staying out of the ring ( I guess in this respect, I am more similar to the “SHAPES” type girl you wrote about in one of your previous blog entries).

    I think if Kelly didn’t think you ready to join level 2 he wouldn’t have asked you to join. He cares too much about his students to ever put someone in danger. Have you watched a recent level 2 class? It might help you decide whether or not you feel you are ready for the challenge.

    Good luck!

  4. Story Teller

    Hi Vanessa,

    I really appreciate your comments, especially since they’re coming from your own experience with Level 2.

    Much like anything in muay thai, the tougher it is, the better. If a sparring partner goes easy on you, it’s not going to prepare you for the ring (although it might be preferrable the first couple of times out, while you get used to sparring). If a class is “easy”, it’s not going to get you in better shape the way a tough class is. I know it’s good for me, in other words, but that doesn’t mean I like it! 🙂

    I don’t think you’re like the Shapes type at all. I was referring to girls who wanted the prestige of “kickboxing” without really wanting to learn muay thai or get sweaty. If you’re in Level 2, that automatically knocks you out of that particular category. Not everyone has to fight.

    I’m glad to hear that you’ve had a positive experience, and your comments have made me feel better about it. I may watch a class, as you’ve suggested, or just take the plunge after my writing retreat. Whatever I decide to do, I’m very glad we connected!

  5. Wayne

    I have actually wondered myself why you weren’t in level 2. I knew that you have had many years experience, and I have seen you in level 1 and thought that definitly you should be in level 2.
    When you partner up with someone just communicate with them, find out how hard you’re going to spar, but no matter how hard you’re sparring always, always keep your guard up and protect yourself. Even if you are sparring light and technical, if the right shot sneaks in, it can feel like a ton of bricks hit you.
    Hopefully I’ll see you in a level 2 class soon.

  6. Story Teller

    Hi Wayne,

    Thanks so much for the encouragement. It means a lot to me. There are too basic reasons I’m not in Level 2: I’ve been away from it for so long that I’ve turned into a big chicken, and two–I’ve gotten used to being able to go to kickboxing and still be home by seven pm. It’s a luxury!

    I really appreciate your presence on this blog. Thanks so much for commenting. Hugs!


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