I’m 36-years-old, I’ve been fighting for nine years. A nine year fighting career isn’t particularly long and I’m not the oldest fighter by any stretch, not even close to it.
An uncle of mine regularly asks me, “when are you going to retire?” He has been asking me for a long time; in fact, he has been asking ever since I started fighting.
I started fighting in my late twenties. That’s a later start date than many fighters, it is an age at which many Thai fighters are retiring or already retired.
Thai fighters often start out when they are in the single digits. I didn’t know the sport existed in my earlier years – I was born in the wrong country for that.
At first, the pressure to retire created a sort of foreboding in me; a sense that I was doing something I shouldn’t and that I was developmentally stalled.
It suggested that the contemporaries I started alongside who have since retired, have grown up and moved on, whereas I was stuck in a prolonged adolescence.
It suggested that that my life was empty, lacked maturity and evolution. Funny, because my life then actually seemed to be pretty full and pretty fulfilling. I’m still fighting now. I’ve since won three World Titles and lost a fourth – and my life still feels full and fulfilling.
Retirement is often linked with the concept of identity foreclosure. Identity foreclosure occurs when an individual settles into a single identity, closing off any further exploration of other identities.
The concept is meant to explain why some retired athletes have trouble moving on, developing a new career and finding meaning in their life. It’s also meant to explain why some athletes fear retirement and delay it for as long as possible.
When I picked this topic to present in a sport psychology seminar a few years ago, a colleague wanted to know if I picked the topic because maybe I suffered from the condition.
I thought about it, but I don’t. I suffer from something else entirely. I suffer from passion, the courage to organise my life around it and the discipline to make it happen.
Since my colleague questioned my foreclosed identity, I’ve had another 20 fights.
I’ve improved beyond what I ever imagined possible and I’ve gained a deeper insight into the art and movement of muay thai. I’ve also gained a better understanding of myself and a clearer perspective about what matters to me.
I recently bumped into my old athletics coach – old in the sense that he must be nearing his seventies. He asked me about my fighting.
Without any prompting from him, I said I know I should retire… I just haven’t set a date.
I’m still strong, I’m still improving; I feel like my business isn’t over yet.
He just looked at me and asked then why retire?
“If you’re still good and you still like it; keep doing it.”
He’s right. Why should a person retire before they are ready? Muay Thai is about good matches: witness the popularity of fights between former greats, now forty to fifty years of age, occurring regularly in Thailand: the gamblers love these fights.
As far as I can see, there is no mandatory retirement age for fighting.
If anyone suggests there is, then, let them retire, but you don’t have to. Retirement is an option, not a requirement.
For many fighters, the emergence of competing priorities and interests – career, family or study – may mean that retiring from fighting is an exciting prospect. For others, deciding whether to continue fighting or to retire and begin a family, is a difficult decision.
My heart goes out to those fighters who are forced into retirement due to injury; I can only imagine the re-evaluation of their life and priorities that they must undertake.
For those who aren’t contemplating retirement, as long as there is a promoter out there asking for you, and as long as your heart is still shouting “yes!” then there is really nothing stopping you.
If the decision to retire is difficult, then let it be difficult for reasons of genuine conflicting priorities in the life and values of the individual. Let it not be because of the opinions or expectations of third parties. Whose business is it really, other than your own?
Lord K2 (David Sharabani) is an award winning photographer. He has spent the past three years completely immersed in the sport of Muay Thai, documenting its culture and lifestyle with unrestricted access throughout Thailand.