The air is laced with the menthol smell of Thai liniment rubbed deeply into flesh.
On the mat, a few people shadow box off to the side. Short, whispered bursts of air accompany each strike they throw.
You pull the elastic fabric of your wraps over your hands, protect the knuckles, reinforce the wrist. Tight, but not too tight.
You feel the dull soreness in your hips and legs from yesterday’s session. A minor annoyance that will clear away like clouds in the sun’s wake to reveal a clear, blue day.
Wai onto the mat. Circle your shoulders. Twist your core. Lift your knees to your elbows to simulate a check, wake up those creaky joints.
“Line it up,” Coach calls out. You slide in next to the other students at your rank.
“After a quick warm up we’ll get some work in on the pads,” Coach says, “then we’ll get into sparring. Let’s Wai into class.”
You bring your hands, pressed together at the palms, to your forehead and bow.
“Sawadee Krap,” the class chants in unison.
Then, everyone jogs to the jump ropes to pick through them like pages in a book, looking for the right one. The right length and weight for your size.
The ropes start their whirling rotations, feet bouncing effortlessly.
One minute down, now two.
Beads of sweat roll down your forehead and streak your cheeks. Your soreness fades, your muscles wake up with the heat.
The rope spins like a turbine, your feet find new rhythms in the dance. One foot, just the left. Now the right. Now both feet alternating. The timer beeps, ten squats and ten push-ups.
Back to it.
Two rounds and then ropes up. The next time the timer beeps, the shadow boxing starts.
Staccato whispers, like a librarian shushing noisy students. Shhh. Shhh Shhh Shhh. Shhh. Shh–the same sound with every strike, multiplied across the room. An ocean.
Hands up. Chin down. Eyes forward. Pivot your foot on your cross, keep your opposite hand high.
Now check, defend, reattack. You visualize the fight playing out in front of you. You set traps for the invisible opponent to fall into, their demise dancing in your head.
Shhh. Shhh Shh. Shh. Teep. Punch, punch. Teep.
Again the timer beeps. More push-ups, more squats. Your body is warm. Your shirt is wet from sweat. You feel amazing, ready to push through the next hour of training.
Ready for everything.
One more round of shadow-boxing. One more round of squats and push-ups.
“TIME,” Coach yells. “Partner up and get the Thai pads out. Pick someone your size and around your rank.”
You scan faces, looking for your favorite training partner. You lock eyes with them. It’s on.