Editor’s note: Claire Baxter is a three time Muay Thai World Champion. She is a practicing psychologist with a degree in sport and exercise psychology. In the latest of her “Fighter to Fighter” series, she talks to fellow camp mate, Quan Trinh about “the zone” and the benefits of meditation for Muay Thai.
“During a game, the world seems to be cut off from me, and all there is to think about is the game,” says someone behind me, reading out-loud, slowly and deliberately, a sentence from the book I am reading.
I swivel around.
Chiara Vittoria is leaning over my shoulder, grinning at me.
I laugh, “Hello!” I say, scrambling to my feet and attempting to slide my book into my bag.
“Did you sit facing the entrance so you could see us arrive, and quickly hide your book?” asks Chiara.
Standing in front of me, Quan Trinh giggles. With one hand he lifts his baseball cap a few centimeters off his head, and with the other hand, he smooths his hair. The gesture is over in a second.
“Busted,” I admit.
“Again,” says Chiara, raising one eyebrow at me.
“Unbelievable, you two. Inside the gym, outside the gym; do you ever stop joking?” I ask.
“Nope” says Chiara, “Do you ever stop reading?”
I roll my eyes.
Quan giggles some more, and we all sit down at the table.
We’re at the vegie bar in Fitzroy.
“How’s your leg?” asks Quan.
“Looks okay, in a moonboot. How’s the head?”
Quan removes his baseball cap. The injuries from his last fight are healing surprising well. There’s a fading bruise on the right side of his forehead, but the cut has just about healed.
“Good. It actually didn’t hurt much after it was stitched.”
“It was a fantastic fight to watch, Quan.”
Quan shrugs modestly.
“I hope so. I like putting on a good performance.”
He certainly did that. A few weeks ago, Quan fought Jay Dalli for the 63.5kg WBC Victorian Championship at Hardcore Promotions in Frankston. It truly was a fight worthy of the belt at stake. Blood streaming down his face for most of the fight, Quan was moving forward consistently, landing powerful, beautifully timed punches and kicks. Some of his evasion and counter work was spectacular, and he dominated the clinch. He was both aggressive and evasive, dominant and smart.
“You looked like you were in the zone: on a kind of high. When the bell went at the end of each round, you loved the ring so much that you threw your hands up and walked around in circles. Your corner had to grab you and push you back into the corner to tend to your cut. There was a lot of blood.”
“Yeah,” Quan says. He seems amused and perhaps a little bit shy to hear my reflections on his performance.
“I enjoyed that fight.” He pauses.
“I like the performance of fighting. It’s hard work and you put yourself on the line, but it’s also a performance, and I love that.”
“You truly looked like you enjoyed every moment of it. Were you in the flow state?”
“What’s flow state?”
“Flow state is the state of optimal function, where everything is happening just as it should. You are totally in the zone; you’re thinking about the task, not the outcome, and you’re not really aware of anything else around you. Sometimes you experience the passing of time differently too.”
“That’s a pretty detailed description,” says Chiara.
“It is,” I say with a triumphant look at Chiara, “exactly what I was reading about while I was waiting for you two to arrive.”
“Well, you were definitely in the flow state,” she replies, looking at me deadpan.
“You didn’t notice us at all. We didn’t even have to sneak up on you. Call yourself a fighter.”
Nobody is immune from Chiara’s humor, and no state too sacred, it seems.
I’m trying to think of a come-back, but Quan begins to answer my question.
“Um yeah, I was in the flow state… I was really in the zone. When I was fighting, time felt different, like it had slowed down. I was focused, completely on the fight.”
Quan’s ability to focus is superb. He switches on in a manner I’ve never seen before. Generally speaking, Quan is one of the friendliest, best humored people you can hope to meet – and not just because he visits invalids in moon boots during the easter break. If there is a joke being told or a prank happening, guaranteed, Quan is part of it somehow: he is, literally, always giggling. But in fight camp, Quan changes. I’ve seen Quan on a few fight camps now – perhaps 3 or 4 of his 24 fights – and with each fight camp, he seems to get more intense, and more focused. I ask him about it.
Quan says that while some of the focus he achieves just seems to happen naturally – perhaps as a result of his high drive to fight – it’s also something he has worked on and cultivated. He attributes his ability to focus to his practice of meditation.
Quan’s been fighting Muay Thai for 6 years, and he has developed himself and his understanding of Muay Thai consistently – some would say remarkably quickly – over that period.
I ask him what he likes about Muay Thai.
“I enjoy fighting. I enjoying evading my opponents’ hits, and I enjoy hitting them. I also like getting hit. It sounds a bit weird, but getting hit stirs me up, makes me perform better. I also like the beauty of Muay Thai. It’s physical, but it’s also strategic, like a game of chess.”
“What else do you like about Muay Thai?”
Quan is silent for a moment, thinking.
“The respect. There’s a lot of respect in Muay Thai. It’s one of the hardest things you can do: all that hard training, then putting yourself in front of someone who wants to knock you out, so we all respect each other.”
“Have you ever stopped Muay Thai?”
Quan nods. He’s been forced away training and fighting for reasons of injury a couple of times, sometimes for months at a time. I glance down at my moonboot. I ask him what it was like not being able to train and fight.
“It was alright at first: I just went to work, went out, partied. It was fun, for a bit, living a normal life, but there was no real challenge in my life without Muay Thai.”
“Is challenging yourself important?”
“Yes,” he tells me, and there is no laughter playing about his eyes now, “it’s really important.”
Quan doesn’t realize it, but he’s just revived my own flagging spirits.
“What’s your greatest challenge?” I ask him.
Quan’s eyes light up. “My next fight. I’m fighting Yodchai from Thailand on Yokkao in Sydney. Yodchai is a really experienced fighter.”
“How experienced?” I ask.
“Well, he’s had 160 fights,” says Quan, “I’ve had 24.”
24 fights is an impressive number of fights for an Australian, but, compared to a fighter who hails from the mother country, it’s not many.
“I’m excited, nervous, scared, all in one. I’m fighting someone way above my experience level.” Quan pauses and adjusts his baseball cap.
“The thing is, if I say no, I’ll never have done it.”
That’s the thing about Quan: he seeks out challenges, and he’s really, really hungry to fight; almost mad for it.
Quan has made Muay Thai the central part of his life. In fact, Muay Thai is a big part of both Quan’s and Chiara’s lives. They even met in a Muay Thai gym.
“We train together, we motivate each other,” says Quan.
“Chiara even sits in the Sauna with me while I’m cutting weight.”
“One time he told me to tell him a long story to take his mind off the weight cut, so I told him my whole life story,” said Chiara with a grin.
I raise my eyebrows.
“And what was that like?” I ask Quan
“Good, it’s a good story,” answers Chiara smuggly.
“You know, the only time we’ve ever fought about Muay Thai is when we were cornering for you in Sydney last month.”
Chiara groans and buries her head in her hands.
“Chiara was too slow getting the stool into the ring,” says Quan giggling, “I had some harsh words to say to her about that.”
Quan pauses, and his smile grows.
“And once, in training, she miscounted my skip knees. I was pretty angry at that.”
He bursts into laughter.
“There must be a book about that somewhere,” I say, pretending to search in my bag.
“A book about what?” asks Chiara.
“A book about being too slow to get a stool into a corner but fast enough to sneak up on a moonbooter…. Nope, nothing… but wait! Here’s a book on numeracy,” I say, passing an imaginary book to Chiara.
“Great, I can count my way into the flow state,” says Chiara, rolling her eyes.
The laughter travels around the table.
The cafe is closing, and it’s time for us to go.
“Best wishes for your coming fight, Quan, I hope to be there if I can.”
We stand up and make our way to the door.
“Thanks, Claire, good luck with your recovery. We’re not really missing you at the gym or anything, so take your time getting back to training,” says Quan with a wink.
The joking continues, right up to the moment that I get on my bicycle and pedal away. It’s really no different to being at the gym.
Latest update: Quan Trinh will not be fighting on Yokkao 39-40 in Sydney as his opponent, Yodchai had to pull out due to conflicting fighting schedules.