I’m taking a muay Thai class at Stanford. It’s not as tough as it sounds. When I did it in Malaysia, the master was like: “50 push-ups, 50 sit-ups, 50 squats, no stop. Hey you, why are you stopping? Do 20 more. Pain is just a state of mind.” Here the instructor is like: “Okay relax your muscles, don’t try too hard, and have a good evening.” It’s a chill environment. I had been enjoying the class until yesterday, when my partner made me realize the uncomfortable reality.
Yesterday, in the advanced group, there were about 5 guys and 3 girls. I’m really tiny so most guys don’t want to partner with me because they think that I’m weak, which I think is funny but let’s get into that later. Therefore, I often pair up with girls. Yesterday, when I was practicing some kicks with a girl (please forgive me, I forgot your name), she told me:
“Have you noticed the instructor spent a lot of time helping the boys?”
My first reaction was:
“Huh? You think he’s interested in boys?”
Which, of course, wasn’t what she meant. She laughed and told me that he spent more time helping the boys getting it right, but when he was checking on her, all he said was: “That’s good. Keep it up.”
“Because you’re already good,” I said. I was oblivious. Often, when I practice, I just focus on getting my techniques right without paying much attention to what’s happening around me. “He probably doesn’t think there is anything to correct about your kicks.”
“No, it’s not that. Watch!”
So I watched to see to how he was helping other people and wow, my partner was right. An instructor is supposed to check on how each person is doing during each round of practice. Out of 5 rounds of practice that day, he came to help my partner twice and help me once. When he came to us, all he said was: “That’s good,” and then left. I don’t think we’re that good at doing all the combos, but even if we were, he wouldn’t have known because he didn’t even stay to watch us doing the full combo. Whereas, whenever he helped a guy, he would watch him doing it over and over, then give him feedback on how to position his feet, his elbows, his hands. He spent less than 1 minute with us in total, out of 90 minutes. He spent at least 15 minutes on each of the guys.
“Should we tell him?” I asked her. I was pretty upset by that time. I mean, how can he be so biased?
“No,” she laughed. “He probably doesn’t even know that he’s doing it. It’s the same for all the muay Thai classes I’ve taken.”
In muay Thai as well as in most martial arts, people don’t take girls seriously. We have a theory that this specific instructor, believing that girls like us wouldn’t amount to much in the sport anyway, has really low bar for us. “Oh, you can lift your feet to hit a target, that’s good enough.” But for guys, he has higher standards, and therefore forces them to do improve their skills.
This realization made me pretty sad. I’m sure the instructor didn’t do it on purpose, but his negligence still made me think that I wasn’t worth his attention, that I wasn’t capable of being a good fight, that my wish to be better at muay Thai doesn’t mean as much as a guy’s wish to be better at muay thai–even if we pay the same amount of money and spend the same amount of time.