A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Opinion: Getting punched in the face is my therapy, and it beats taking meds

Photo courtesy of Sam Romero
Oscar DeJung catches his breath after a long night of sparring.

Sweat flies across the room like rain on a windy day. The sounds of grunts, punches and kicks echo throughout the building, which is filled with bodies exerting more energy than one would think is humanly possible without passing out. Some people around me want to give up, while others want to keep going, but until the sound of the bell goes off, everyone is there to do one thing: conquer their inner demons.

If this sounds like a pretty sweaty therapy session, that’s because it is a pretty sweaty therapy session. 

Muay Thai, also known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” is the best bang for your buck when seeking therapeutic assistance. This art form, created in Thailand in the 14th century, offers benefits a seasoned psychologist can’t. Don’t get me wrong: Talking to a licensed professional for $350 an hour in a dimly lit room that acts as a visual representation of elevator music may work, but I think there are better ways to find inner peace.

My few experiences with therapists have usually consisted of them asking me, “And how does that make you feel?” followed up shortly after with, “Will you be paying by cash or card today?” Not to mention, they are ready to write me a prescription for antidepressants faster than I can say, “No thanks.” I mean, what the hell? Although I’ve always refused the offer, I hear of plenty of people today taking a “magic” pill to make their problems disappear.

For me, there’s a better way to combat the negativity that comes my way. Muay Thai is it.

Developed into a sport in the 1700s, the Art of Eight Limbs does indeed revolve around using one’s hands, elbows, knees and feet to strike and defend oneself. Some practitioners look at it as an art, while others look at it as a brutal situation for all involved parties. Either way, the benefits are amazing.

I’ve been training at Phas3 Muay Thai Gym in Santa Rosa almost every day for the past six months, and I can confidently say it is the best decision I have ever made. At 27, I’ve been through many ups and downs, my share of heartbreaks, “party” phases and a number of stressful situations that I genuinely thought were going to take me down for good. But hitting the punching bags and sparring with fellow students takes all that stress away. 

It can sound pretty cringeworthy when self-proclaimed alpha males say things like: “Pain is just an illusion, Bro.” Or, “No pain no gain.” Or “Tattoos don’t hurt; they feel good.” Trust me, they hurt really bad.

But the truth of the matter is that even though Muay Thai can be painful, it really is the best antidepressant I’ve yet encountered. Weighing in at 245 pounds at the beginning of the year, I’m now down to 200. But it wasn’t the physical weight loss that truly benefited me. It was losing my negative internal dialogue, reducing stress and eliminating the fear of getting out of my comfort zone that really changed my perspective on life.

Just like with anything, I have good and bad days. I might get my butt handed to me in a spar. I might feel like passing out when I’m hitting the pads. Sometimes when I’m holding pads for someone else and I can’t remember the striking combination my coach gave me, I feel like I’m wasting my partner’s time. But the good always outweighs the bad. A good sparring session feels better than a full eight-hours of sleep. Hitting the pads releases all the stress I’ve been holding in for the week. Holding the pads for my partner and putting them to work is always a “job well done” moment. And when I surround myself with like-minded individuals also working on bettering themselves, I feel our collective positive energy exude into the atmosphere.

Being in an environment that entails extreme physical exertion, especially revolving around hand-to-hand combat, is a nerve-wracking experience. So much so, in fact, that the sounds of people punching bags and kicking each other almost prompted me to stay in my car and skip my first Muay Thai session. Luckily I decided to take that chance. Nowadays, my anxiety comes from not attending class.

Muay Thai doesn’t just take away my stress on a surface level. I feel good for hours after each class. I used to be an angry young man with a giant chip on my shoulder. This journey has taught me to walk with humility, to show respect to others, and to be calm and less reactive in any situation that comes my way.

This sport teaches respect, discipline and humility. Road rage? Never heard of it. A lot of homework this weekend? I’ll take care of it. Not a lot of money in the bank? Eh, money comes and goes.

I write this not to try to persuade you that I’m a badass: This is more of a “If I can do it, you can do it” message. It hurts me to see younger and younger people suffer declining mental health, while pharmaceutical companies rake in the dough, handing out pills as if patients are trick-or-treaters. There are better alternatives than following a prescription’s instructions.

Muay Thai is the one for me.

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About the Contributor
Oscar DeJung
Oscar DeJung, Reporter
Oscar is in his first semester at the Oak Leaf, and will be transferring to Sonoma State in the Spring of 2024, majoring in Communications.

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  • B

    BobOct 3, 2023 at 6:04 pm

    Great, well written article.

  • A

    Ace HuhOct 3, 2023 at 3:51 pm

    I’ve been needing an outlet for awhile and you’ve inspired me to take action over my anxiety, thank you