About the Author: Sam Tokita is a below knee amputee and a muaythai practitioner. She also occasionally shares her incredible portrait photography! She is very open and honest about being an athlete who is also an amputee, so to hear more about her and see some more amazing photos of her in action make sure to check out her instagram here!
On a sunny evening last May, after months navigating a rollercoaster of life events, I stepped into a mixed martial arts facility for the first time. I sought endorphins, a distraction from my thoughts, and a physical challenge. Muaythai intrigued me because it utilized knees and elbows as weapons. As a below-knee amputee, I knew these specific elements would test my mental and physical fortitude.
The gym entrance was located in an alleyway tucked behind a residential street near the University. Upon entering, cobalt flooded my field of view. A thick, blue mat blanketed the concrete and padded the walls.The humid air burned my nose with the scent of a high school passing period and rubbing alcohol. Nine students shadowboxed in arbitrary formations, unphased - or maybe just unaware - of my arrival. The tile ceiling hovered lower than I initially pictured, but the space was filled with enough passion to double the size of the room.
My introductory muaythai class experience seemed standard. I learned basic footwork and the name of six strikes. I am left-handed, so I train southpaw. I wear my prosthesis on my right leg, which is my forward-facing side, and my real leg is conveniently the source of my power kick. It was as if my anomalies aligned - this path was kismet.
Almost immediately, muaythai awakened something in me. After my first class, I vowed to step into the ring someday. I signed up for six months of training and never missed a class.
As I progressed into an intermediate level, I was introduced to blocking, switch-kicks and knees. It was here that I began receiving the following unprovoked questions, not only from my coach, but from my peers:
“Should we try an alternative combo?”
“Do you want to stick with your real leg for this drill?”
“Are you sure you can kick with that?”
Here’s the thing: when I set out to do something, I don’t question myself.
Every unnecessary attempt at accommodation from a stranger whittled away at the confidence I walked in with. These questions are written with care, but they read like doubt. Where I originally sought to prove something solely to myself, I found a new obligation to prove even more to others.
I thought, “I must surpass them in speed, skill, and timing, in order to be viewed as their equal.”