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Trust your guard

Trust your guard

This winter I spent almost two months in Thailand. While there, I was doing Muay Thai. Even though I previously practiced Muay Thai in Europe, this immersion got me thinking about some aspects of that discipline in a more profound manner.

In Muay Thai, and majority of the martial arts, one of the most important concepts is the guard.

According to Commando Boxing, in the simplest of terms, the boxing guard provides the boxer with protection while simultaneously allowing him or her to use all of the offensive and defensive tools at their disposal. The guard offers adequate visibility without sacrificing exposure that cannot be compensated for by skill and reflexes.

In sparring practice, it’s easy to realize how complicated and challenging Thai boxing is, especially when paired with a more experienced fighter.

It’s common to become overwhelmed and lose control. Afterall, the opponent is trying to punch us, most often on our head or some other vital place. The inclination of the untrained individual, when brought to that that situation, is to run from it. It’s the flight part of the fight or flight. However, we can’t run and keep our guard at the same time. In sparring, that will most often make matters worse. It makes us even more vulnerable.

Instead of fleeing, panicking or losing hope, in those moments, it’s critical to keep and trust our guard.

Firstly, our guard should be firm. And then, we should actually lean into the challenge.

When we do that, we have the opportunity to defuse some of the attacking power and interrupt the momentum of the opponent. Additionally, as Amy Cuddy explained in her insightful TED talk, our body language influences our neurochemistry. So, that change in posture is signaling to our body-mind that we can grapple with the challenge in front of us.

Therefore, for fighters, it’s essential to work on their guard and cultivate the skills which can help them keep the right guard for the right moment.

Of course, we are all fighters, when looked more broadly.

Life is tough. If not currently, it will inevitably get hard, at least from time to time. It will throw punches at us. Friendly punches, practice punches, but also lethal punches.

And that’s where the guard comes into play. Our guard is the presence, the posture, the way we approach the challenges, be it in a ring or in life.

Therefore, we want to cultivate our guard. The type of guard which serves our grittiness, confidence, growth mindset, and antifragility. We should be working on it consistently, and especially when life offers a break between the rounds. And then, same as in boxing, our guard will provide us with the much-needed protection and assurance while simultaneously enabling us to use all of the offensive and defensive tools at our disposal. 

With trusting our guard and leaning in, even in the hardest situation, we have the chance of defusing the power of the challenge in front of us, and enforcing a bit of control, at least over ourselves.


Image used for the illustration: Ketchel, in boxing pose; Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-B2-1234]

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Epictetus: Conduct yourself in life as if at a banquet