Evening all, as it’s Christmas I’ve decided to release another blog but this is a little different. What is below is the beginning of a project I have been working on for around 5 months now (probably a little longer to be honest) and was initially a concept I developed in around 2011. I did some work on it and then put it to one side due to life being life, and me feeling a little unsure if I should start such a project. Earlier this year I decided to carry on. There’s a couple of reasons that I won’t go into now why I decided to do so but in a nutshell I have now written 7 chapters or thereabouts of ‘Last of the good guys.’
As a brief overview the book is about myself and my journey into martial arts and of course Muay Thai. It’s about positive change. Who I was, a few things that happened to me, what it cost me (and it was a lot) and It’s about how I learnt to forgive myself for my mistakes and how martial arts helped me changed my out look on life and took me on a path I would never of thought I would walk down. Most importantly I want it to inspire others. Below is the intro and some of chapter one. First draft. All feedback good or bad is appreciated. Have a great Christmas and I’ll see you on the road.
Last Of The Good Guys
This book is for mum and dad. There’s a fighter in all of us.
“If there’s magic in boxing, it’s the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.” – Eddie Dupris ‘Million Dollar Baby’
‘The show starts at 6pm’ He’s had this thought repeating itself like a stuck record over and over for about the past hour now. Or is it two hours? He tells himself again for what seems like the hundredth time ‘you’ve done this before. As soon as your in the ring and your fighting you’ll be fine’ But still the small voice of reassurance is fighting a losing battle. He’d felt fine until he found out he was fighting first. Since that point it’s been a war of attrition between his nerves and himself. What is it they say? The hardest battles are always fought within. But there’s something else too. If he didn’t believe in himself he wouldn’t be here. And if his trainer and his friends didn’t believe in him then this wouldn’t even be happening.
After the weigh in at the local pub round the corner, the walk to the sports centre where the show is being held seems to take forever. Bristol is a big place, ‘A very cool city’ he thinks to himself in a last ditch attempt to relax. Around him his trainer and his friends from the gym one of whom is fighting are walking casually and laughing amongst themselves. ‘Please don’t ask me how I’m feeling’ he thinks to himself, turning with a tight lipped smile and joining in the conversation. ‘It’s John and George fighting today’ his trainer says proudly on his mobile phone to someone. ‘I won’t let them down.’ He thinks beginning to resonate with self belief again. ‘I’m going to give it everything’ The nerves have taken a back seat now as the group enters the venue.
Walking into the main area of the sports centre, and seeing the ring again after what feels like an age of training (actually it’s been six weeks of being put through hell and back.) brings a sense of readiness to John. But still, underlying it is the taste of adrenaline and that word repeating over and over. ‘First.’ The group drops their stuff off in the changing area, he watches some of the other gyms and fighters arrive and feels a growing sense of tension. How many hours or is it minutes left now? When does he need to start getting ready? George seems to sense his nerves and casually asks if he wants to take a look round. ‘I wish I was fighting first, your opening the show that’s a real honour mate.’ He says. Compared to him this kid is completely relaxed, but then again he is on a winning streak. He’s not lost his last few fights.
Time moves slowly but ever so quickly. The first groups of Joe public arrive at the venue and four soon becomes five, and then half past approaches ever so quickly. ‘Right John, get yourself ready.’ His trainer Sert says with a stern smile. ‘Fred, help him warm up.’ One of the other fighters from the gym who’s helping corner him gets out the set of Thai pads and gently rocks backwards and forwards ‘Ok, give me jab cross kick!’. ‘hook!, kick!, kick!’ knee!, jab, jab!, clinch and knee! That’s it! Knee! Kick! Faster! Kick! One two!’ the commands to throw different techniques come out in rapid machine gun like succession, mixed with kicks thrown in to keep John on his toes. ‘Warm?’ Fred says raising an eyebrow. ‘Yeah I’m fine. I’m warmed up’. He says. The look of concern from the other fighters in the changing area is the first thing he notices. His trainer says with a worried tone in his voice ‘You seem tired’ he shrugs it off. ‘I’m ok!’
But he’s not ok. The war with his nerves has taken it’s toll leaving him feeling drained mentally. But it’s too late now, oh it’s much too late to have second thoughts. The massage and pep talk from his trainer helps him relax, the smell of the Thai oil and the burn on his skin brings him back into focus. Slow deep breaths bring his beating heart down to a regular rhythm. Like a metronome never missing a beat. The weigh in, the medical, the rules meeting all of that has been and gone. What matters is the here and now. And then it’s time. The massage is done and his gloves are being put on and taped up. There’s a smile from his friends from his gym as his light switches on inside. The last pep talk from Sert always helps. He feels strong. The mongkon is placed on his head. His fighters robe is on. The MC calls his name and he can hear his entrance music starting. It’s time. Walking slowly towards the entrance to the main arena with his trainer and corner men behind him, he bows at the faces of the crowd and looks at the ring.
The nerves are disappearing now, adrenaline kicking in and the focus is rising. His trainer is ahead of him and holds down the top rope for him to climb over. He walks to the centre of the ring and bows in each direction then walks back to his corner. One of his corner men puts his gum shield in, and he watches as his opponent enters the arena and then climbs into the ring. His trainer tells him to do his Ram Muay. He can hear the MC explaining to the crowd that the Wai Kru and Ram Muay are part of Muay Thai paying respect to your gym and trainer.
The Ram Muay helps him focus. This is it. The referee, a smiling giant of a man signals both him and his opponent to the centre of the ring. ‘I want a nice clean fight, you both know the rules? Good. Defend yourselves at all times.’ The referee tells him to go back to his corner and his opponent does the same. He bows to his trainer who slowly takes off his mongkon and gives him a blessing. Final words of advice are given and then the referee signals both him and his opponent towards the middle of the ring. He raises his hand and drops it. ‘Fight!.’
Chapter One – Beginnings
Life sometimes has a way of catching you off guard. It sometimes has a way of giving you something that it thinks you need and usually that something will come along at the right time. Usually it’s when you need it the most.
I think really that’s what happened to me when I first found martial arts and when that door opened I found Muay Thai. Or maybe it was a case of it finding me. Training becomes a way of life and fighting if that’s something you choose to do as well, becomes a part of who you are. At least it has for me anyway.
I’ve never been someone who has had a natural flair for aggression. To say before I started Muay Thai, even before I was introduced to martial arts that I was someone that others avoided and finished fights before they started wouldn’t be honest of me. If anything I was the nice guy that now and again trouble used to find, but time and time again I would get through whatever happened to me. After a while I learnt the toughest part of me was inside.
There was no tough upbringing, no 1970’s Kung Fu flick slowly bubbling away in the background of my life pushing me inevitably towards the path that I’ve been on for over 7 years. I have two of the most gentle, caring people I have ever met in my life as my parents. Both of my parents although now retired, were both teachers. My dad originally comes from South Africa and is black and my mum is English. Having lived through Apartheid he adopted the attitude of a pacifist, and of course they have both taught me not only to respect others, but to respect myself too. Most importantly for me, my dad has taught me to always stand strong.
At school I was never a kid who got in trouble or made teachers lives awkward. Bar occasionally. After all, my mum was one herself and not only that, at one point she taught me too. My mum was the head of Religious studies and also A Level sociology. My dad, on the other side of the coin at one point an A Level examiner and English literature teacher in Cambridge then when we moved to Gosport (it’s easier to say Portsmouth because if you say Gosport people usually say ‘where?’) he worked as a supply teacher at my secondary school.
He was also a stage actor and was and still is a writer, and has always had a real passion for sport having played Cricket for Cambridge way back when. ( I still remember going to see you play dad, I’m not sure if what I’m doing now is what you had in mind for me but hey it keeps me out of trouble right?.) I always did my best in school and walked away with some good results. There was no sudden failure at subjects, or failure to attend classes. No that came later, but at this point the nice shy, quiet kid was quite simply that. A nice shy quiet kid. At points I don’t think he’s ever really left.
It was my old drama teacher that called me it one day. He was a friendly bubbly guy that everyone called Mr E. His real name was Mr Essex, and he always had time for everyone. He got on well with both my parents and I guess in a way he helped me come out of my shell. Drama does that for kids. Especially the shy quiet ones. It was one of the last days of term and our final lesson. As we were leaving I said thank you to him for a great couple of years. I can remember very clearly as he grinned at me from ear to ear and shook my hand firmly, ‘All the best with whatever you do John.’ Then smiling kindly ‘John Pegram, the last of the good guys.’ I think I left school that day with a grin about as three times as wide as the playground. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped stop being that good guy, I’ve just got tougher inside.
I always had an interest in martial arts even from a young age, but it was something I never really talked to my parents about introducing me to. As clichéd as it may sound one of my favourite films when I was a boy was Enter The Dragon, and it was something I always enjoyed watching. It was never really a case of ‘this is something I really would like to be able to do’ but more of a ‘I wish that I could’. The interest however, stayed with me for a long time and although my dad encouraged me to play cricket (which being honest at one point I was pretty good at, playing for Gosport cricket club and getting invited to the Hampshire junior trials) I would enjoy watching boxing on the TV too sometimes at home, or round a friend’s house. I can still remember very clearly when Mike Tyson destroyed Frank Bruno. I was heartbroken that day as I was convinced Frank was going to win.