Tag Archive: Team Upchurch


Jessica Upchurch is the first person I saw and spoke with when I walked into KnuckleUp Fitness’ Midtown gym. Well, spoke with and then saw, since she gave me directions on how to get there. So, I suppose she’s partially to blame…to thank for my finding Muay Thai. She’s an inspiration, truthfully—supportive of and an integral part of our team.

Beyond her duties as a KUF employee, she showed a genuine interest in my getting into Muay Thai, sharing her experiences with the art, providing advice that helped me—all of us, I’d wager—develop. She wasn’t able to compete in our recent competition, but she was there, as vocal as anybody and louder than most! And if every woman fought like Jessica fights, “fight like a girl” would be a universal compliment.

Her thoughts:

“I’ve always participated in male-dominated sports.  When I was four years old, my dad signed me up for t-ball, and he was my coach for almost twelve years.  Football and soccer were always fun for me because of the contact involved, so I played on school and intramural teams as much as I could.  My first exposure to martial arts was around 11 years old, when I took Judo classes with some fellow baseball teammates.  I fell in love with it.  I had always played team sports, but here was my first chance to learn a skill that I would be using in a one-on-one situation. Unfortunately, my parents got a divorce; and my free time was filled with only what my parents had time for, which did not include martial arts.

Rizzo, giver of leg welts. Check the video below. Ouch!

I began watching UFC back in college, and could not get enough of it.  I don’t know if it was my previous exposure to Judo when I was younger, or if I just enjoyed watching people get destroyed on the Ultimate Knockouts DVD.  I had never been interested in watching boxing, but this was different.  Each fighter had a whole arsenal of moves at his disposal.  Some were good on the ground, such as Hoyce Gracie.  Some were powerhouses, such as Tank Abbott.

But I think my favorite fighter from the 90’s-era UFC was Pedro Rizzo.  One look at his legs, and you knew that you were in trouble.  Rizzo has trained in Muay Thai all over the world.  At the time, I didn’t know what art was Pedro’s specialty, but I knew that I was jealous.  He would literally chop down his opponent with each kick.  Every time, chop!  His opponent would collect huge red welts on their legs, and eventually begin to wobble and compensate for the pain that Rizzo was inflicting on them.  It was beautiful, watching him strike.  I still aspire to be as devastating as Pedro Rizzo when I fight.

Until last year, I had always admired Martial Arts from afar.  I had followed UFC as it began to grow in popularity, and I attended local MMA fights and asked fighters about their experiences whenever I got a chance.  When I lived with my soon-to-be brother-in-law Stephen, I got a glimpse into the daily life of someone who was training to be a Muay Thai fighter.  Every night, Stephen would drag himself to the couch after getting home from a grueling practice. Bruised, but not beaten, he’d tell us about what fresh pain he had endured that day.  I wondered what type of person would put himself through this over and over, but I came to respect the hard work and dedication that I saw.

Once I started getting more involved in the local MMA community, I knew that I wanted to learn Muay Thai.  I read more about the “Art of Eight Limbs”, and yearned to be in the ring every time I saw someone compete.  Fortunately, I had the perfect opportunity when we moved back to Atlanta and I started working at Knuckleup Fitness.  I’ve never been naturally talented at any sport, and Muay Thai is no different.  I was always the hardest worker on a team, and it showed.  I knew that it would take time, but the rewards so far have been encouraging.  When training in Muay Thai, I feel strong and sure.  My deepest desire to be the best at whatever I do will never fade, and Thai Boxing gives me the avenue in which to test myself.  It’s one of those experiences that allow you to see what you’re truly made of, and so far I appreciate where it has taken me.  My recent motivation has been to prepare for competition.  Muay Thai has helped me develop as a fighter, but also develop as a person.  I look forward to what I can achieve by continuing to practice this art.”

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I hope you enjoyed my teammate’s response last Friday. Today’s post is my response—a bit personal and (almost!) without humor—it’s a departure from the norm, but please enjoy it all the same. Maybe I should title it “I need my hands to type; what am I thinking?!?” But I answer that question below. My thoughts:

Why am I in the emergency room...and smiling?

Why am I in the emergency room...and smiling?

“The answer to why I want to be a Thai Boxer stems from the rationale I had for walking into KnuckleUp Fitness in the first place: to develop myself physically and mentally.

It had been long years since I had put myself in a situation that forced me to develop those two aspects specifically. From that first 6:30 a.m. Monday class, I knew that this would provide the challenge I needed. Dry-heaving in the bathroom around 7 a.m., I wasn’t daunted; if anything, it motivated me to push harder. Rinse mouth. Wipe face. Return to class. Repeat.

The instructor, a Thai fighter who trained in Thailand, worked elbows and knees into our bag work combinations. I liked that a lot, and it made me want to learn more and develop those strikes. Learning that such moves were distinguishing marks the Art of Eight Limbs, I began to take an interest in Muay Thai.

This was a key point. Kickboxing was no longer a cool, productive workout that helped me lose the weight I’d been carrying around for years, sapping me physically and mentally. I began to think more and more about kickboxing as art, which was reinforced by talking to my instructor about his experiences. It became apparent that he took Muay Thai seriously; I really respect that. And it further bolstered my desire to learn. For me—as with many martial arts students—finding the right teacher is vital. And I felt (and feel) I had.

Attending the Muay Thai competition at Bangkok Fight Night and witnessing the fights, including my instructor’s, was another motivating experience. On many levels, I was further drawn in. While it was fun to watch fights live with a Guinness in hand and my friend, who initially clued me into KUF, sitting beside me, I gained a deeper respect for Muay Thai. Specifically, the traditions I saw: sealing the ring, Wai Kru, the traditional music, the respect—they resonated in me. Tradition and respect are important to me. Accordingly, witnessing that these are integral to the art of Muay Thai made me feel that committing myself to the practice thereof was, for lack of a better word, right.

That evening, my friend noticed how into it I was and joked about my getting into Muay Thai competition. I thought that would be great, but didn’t think I could do that. Now, being a Thai Fighter— having studied, trained, competed, suffered injury, and still wanting to learn more—I’m amazed that I’ve become such.

G's pushkick, as seen as I was knocked toward the opposite wall.

G's pushkick, as seen as I was knocked toward the opposite wall.

I find joy and satisfaction in passing on my

knowledge, however sophomoric it is, to my son, who takes to the instruction quite well. If he keeps this up, I might have to ship him off to Thailand to train at 12. My teammates are a tremendous source of motivation as I turn to their examples when I feel I’ve run dry. Without them, I wouldn’t be half the fighter I am.

Last week, I took my phra jeads “arm bands” off the wall, where they’d hung, still

Phra jaeds by Tony Jaa

Phra jaeds by Tony Jaa

tied together, since receiving them from my coach after our competition. I put them on my one unbroken arm and threw a few slow elbows and hooks at the mirror. I can’t describe how good it felt. And it reminded me of how much I’ve missed training, missed our team, missed the art.

So, why do I want to be a Thai Fighter? It’s not because I feel the need to knock some poor sap’s ribs in (cool though that is!). For me, the act…the art of striking my opponent’s solar plexus with my knee is not as important as the ability…the art of striking my opponent’s solar plexus with my knee. Perhaps that betrays a lack in my understanding of Muay Thai. But it also demarcates my motivation to be a Thai Fighter: to develop myself physically and mentally. Now, Muay Thai—”an art to practice” as opposed to “a workout to go through”—is, I feel, the context in which I can develop myself as never before.

I just regret it took 34 years to find it.”

Readers,

Like I promised in an earlier post, here’s some writing from someone other than me. This first response is verbatim from my teammate Ramon Cortes. It’s “mOn” through and through. Funny. Insightful. And full of heart. Enjoy.

“As with any sport one chooses to pursue, there is always one initial question one must ask themselves; WHY? Why would I decide to put in the hours required to learn, understand, practice, respect and showcase my chosen sport. Furthermore why would I consciously decide to put my mind, body and soul through the rigors the sport demands? Well before I answer these questions for myself and more importantly for you, let me share a bit of personal stats:

Ethnicity: Puerto Rican

mOn (left) and Stephen (right) in pre-fight rules meeting

mOn (left) and Coach Upchurch (right) in pre-fight rules meeting

Age: 33.5

Status: Married

Dependents: 8-month-old son

Out of everything I could have possibly shared why these four? Because they are part of what drives me. If we analyze all four points I outlined, it actually provides more of a reason why I shouldn’t be a Thai Boxer. It’s true I am not from Thailand where Muay Thai is the national sport, I am almost 34 which implies I am definitely not young, and more importantly I have a wife and child that I have to make sure I provide for, which demands my health. So there, I said it, I shouldn’t be a Thai Boxer, but guess what; I AM and in my 34 years of life which have been filled with my numerous organized sports both intramural and semi-professional, I have never been prouder of any other title like I am to consider myself a Muay Thai Fighter, no matter how novice my skills currently are.

So let’s get down to business, why Muay Thai:

Top Notch Instructor
Having an experienced and relevant instructor is key in any Endeavour and I consider Stephen Upchurch one of the best. Neither because he trained in Thailand nor because he practices what he preaches with his personal endeavors BUT simply because of his teaching ability and love for the sport. Additionally he has a natural skill of recognizing individual strengths and weakness both physically and mentally and making sure that all of them are addressed in a manner that sets us up for success in and out of the ring. He also understands that his teaching ability grows with us opening his mind up to suggestions while staying stern on the fundamentals. The more we learn, the better he gets.

Team Dynamics
If you have never experience a training session with team Upchurch in Midtown, one of the star qualities is our group dynamics. We have been able to bond and build together as a unit faster than anything I have experienced before. We truly are vested in each other’s success and push each other to make sure that we are at the top of our game. Whether it’s conditioning outside of practice or discussing outlooks on life, we have truly become a family.

Conditioning
With hard work come great reward and the conditioning that we go through in and out of class has positioned me in the best shape of my life. I have loss an excess of 30 lbs and have turned a lot of unnecessary weight into functional body mass. Not only have I dropped from 232 lbs to 195 in a matter of 10 weeks but I have also developed my stamina and my fighting strategy through numerous conditioning work outs, conversations and fighting scenarios that occur during training.

So there you have it, a small glimpse of about 500 words on not only why I shouldn’t but more importantly why I AM.

Ush!

mOn

P.S. Besides the Ballerina class at the Y (YMCA) was full!”

Again, for my lack of blogging presence, I offer my humble apologies. Busy? Yes, but that’s not so much my excuse as is my broken wrist.

How?  Two words: Muay Thai.  Thai Boxing, in another two words.

Team Upchurch, less one injured party

In past posts, I’ve shared some of my experiences in training as part of Team Upchurch, representing Midtown in the KnuckleUp Fitness Muay Thai Sparring League.  The two-month-long session culminated in a competition back on July 11.  We, as a team, did well.  I, as an individual, didn’t do so well as I snapped my forearm in the first round.

Check the video here, if interested.  But don’t worry, it’s not too gross, unless you press pause at the right moment.  As you’ll see, I basically fell and tried to stop the fall with my arm.  Reactionary move.  Couldn’t help it; Pavlov would be proud.

I landed some strikes and so did my opponent.  All in all, I’m OK with my bout.  But I was amazed how…different it is being in the ring, engaged with a person who can, given the chance, hurt me.  Given, I don’t recall anything that he landed really hurting at all (nor do I think my strikes did much damage either).  Regardless, he and his coach have my respect.  Perhaps it was the adrenaline, perhaps he wasn’t that strong a striker.

Snapped Radius?  I'm good.

Snapped Radius? I'm good.

Snapped Radius?  Not so good.

Snapped Radius? Not so good.

I’m inclined to give more credence to the former, since my snapped radial didn’t start to smart until after I removed my glove and I was looking at a left wrist that distinctly did not look like that before the match.  Yowza.  (No detailed wrist picture here, with good reason.  But I’ll include some from the ER.)

Reflecting on the competition, well…there’s a lot to share.  Starting with the next post (aiming for Wed. or Thu. this week), I’ll do so over the course of a few days, perhaps weeks.

We’ll start with our team’s answers to a question our coach put to us on Monday: Why do you want to be a Thai Boxer?

It’s always good to ask ourselves why we do what we do.

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