How Muay Thai made me quit smoking

It was a gloomy Saturday afternoon when I was eating my pre-workout meal. I loved the aroma of the spicy pancit (canton) with a touch of sweetness that is perfect with fried eggs coupled with a strong black coffee. Just right for a robust, tenacious boy that is me. Kidding aside, I was just an average work-out-twice-a-week corporate employee who also loved outdoor activities.

It was my rest day from a week-long excruciating graveyard shift that most of us “outsourced” heroic individuals go through every single day. I hated the norm so much that my life did not consist of sleeping and waking up just to go to work and back home. I was not born to be like that. It was time for a change. I had to change.

5:30 pm is up and we were 30 minutes early for our amateur wrestling (freestyle) training orientation at a renowned gym. It’s close to an exclusive school in Manila where athletes eat, sleep and dream training. To our dismay, my gym partner (who was my boss then) received a text from the wrestling coach that our training was going to be canceled.

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He had to attend to some other matters in the last minute, he apologized. OK. At first, we had no idea what we were going to do. But my former boss and I were not going to go home empty-handed. No way! We were too pumped up and we were more than ready to sweat our asses off that day! 

“So what now?”

I gently asked him without showing my frustration. “I know a boxing gym nearby”, with a grin of excitement he remarked. Just a couple of blocks away was this boxing gym filled with youngsters, students & grown men alike. We had to walk 4 sets of staircase to reach our alternative destination and our legs were already warmed up. All right let’s do this!

Buakaw training – credits to the owner

Inside was a totally different scenery compared to the outside. There were a couple of ladies jogging around the boxing ring, one kid was yelling his lungs out as he hits the pad holder’s mitts. You could hear the sound of a heavy bag getting smashed by what seems to be a baseball bat kick delivered by a 20-some-year-old boy. Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer was rocking the place, you can see different colors of medicine balls bouncing up and down. Music to my ears?

This boxing gym also has trainers for Muay Thai (not surprisingly). My grumpy face then turned into a smile, a smile that you can see in every kid’s eye when you give him his favorite candy. I’ve always wanted to train Muay Thai but had no idea if there were gyms available or how I would even start. Not to mention we did not have any gear with us; no boxing gloves nor wraps for our hands, what we brought with us were sheer will and determination. Luckily the gym had wraps and gloves for rent. 


Not so bad now, was it?


We then went on with our first training. My training as I would describe it was like training… in hell. 

Flashback to 2010, the fifth and last year of my smoking life (pun intended). It started with a puff of a greenish, menthol-scent cigarette. “Ahhhh” while you blow that dirty, full-of-chemicals thing out of your stinking mouth. 

Then it built up from one cigarette a day to one cigarette per meal. I have to admit, I looked cool or at least felt like it when I was holding the cigarette between my two skinny fingers. Before I knew it, I was doing one pack a day.

Undoubtedly, I became dependent on it. Back during college, my boys (the crew, you know the crew) and I would go to this alley where we would just smoke, and just smoke we would. There came I time when I could not fathom how people could get surprisingly addicted to such a disgusting vice. 

Enter nicotine. We all know what nicotine is, don’t we? Right. Well, that’s the chemical that you smoke in the cigarette that replaces a chemical in your brain so that when it’s not around hanging inside your brain, your brain will look for it until the craving is satisfied: Brainception.

On with the training, I fared… Well, you guessed it. Ding! Ding!

I could not, for the life of me, finish a 3-minute round of pad work!

Pad work is the part of training where the coach holds the pads for you to hit. When he tells you to jab, you jab. When he tells you to let go of the right straight, you go with the cross.

You are commanded by your instructor to do different combinations as you finish the immensely, most exhausting 3 minutes of your life (at least in my experience). 30 seconds into the round I was already turning into Hulk except I didn’t have his huge cahoneys.

It was like having an asthma attack with every kick I threw only to find no inhaler. I could already tell what my trainer wanted to say to me by the look on his face; “Dude, you hit like a girl”. This is simply because my lungs were so polluted that my beloved alveoli became so tiny to gasp for a decent amount air when my body was reacting to stress. To say that it was a disappointing performance was an understatement.


It was crappy.


At that point, my fate was decided. Right after the training session, I quit smoking. Yes, you are cold turkey right. That marked the beginning of a new chapter of my life; I started to become smoke-free, zero, nada. I didn’t go through what they call “doing it slow”, tapering process non-sense. Zero cigarettes were smoked after that day by me. 


I went home that night thinking, had I not smoked a cigarette in my entire life, I would have had at least the lung capacity to finish one round and could have displayed a tad better performance to my coach. But all is said and done and there’s nothing more I could have done but adjust and adapt. Adjust and adapt.

Pretty simple, right? You bet it is. To break the addiction, you do not need to taper off until it’s fully gone. I couldn’t disagree more. No, some things are just not meant to be tapered. I believe that rehab works for most but not for everyone. Addiction is a very strong intangible element that when accepted by one’s soul, can change his life. For better or worse is up to the type of addiction one has. But what is it that you need to truly stop that addiction?  


You need awhy”.


the Muay Thai knee –

A why that is more powerful than any addiction. A why that is strong enough to change you for the better. It’s something that can help you to tremendously overcome any obstacles. A why that will make you stay true to fulfilling your commitment. A why that can put you in the direction towards making a massive change. 

My why was so that I can practice what I love that is Muay Thai. It was a simple yet capable enough why which led me to become an amateur fighter. That was the strength that my why had. Who would’ve thought that an ex-smoking addict like me would ever step into the ring and eventually win a trophy several years after? 

I know of someone who used to abuse cannabis every day until he became a father. There’s this bad-ass guitarist who cannot perform on stage without a “hit”, yet became clean the day after meeting his girlfriend-to-be.

I can tell you hundreds of stories of people who quit all types of addiction you could ever think of, that have done them in a snap. You see, most people think that change has to happen gradually, that changing something significantly takes time. 


“It is not change itself that takes time, it is getting ready to change that takes time. Changes happen instantly!” 

   – that’s a Tony Robbins classic for you. 

Most secrets to having an unparalleled why stems from love; What is it that you deeply care about? It could be something or someone. As cheesy as it may sound, love conquers all. I am a living proof of this. I have lived it and I am living it. 

My why comes from wanting to do best what I love. When you find what it is that you truly love and care about, I can guarantee you that you will break free from any kind of fixation and head towards the fulfillment of your dreams.

Good luck on your journey and let me know when you find your why!

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