“Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”
-the tattoo on Jarkko Stenius’ back
This is the second book on my list that focuses on the art of thai boxing (for the other book, check here). The book, Fist Hero (Nyrkkisankari for it’s original Finnish title, published in 2015), is an honest and vulnerable autobiography of a world class Finnish thai boxer Jarkko Stenius (born in 1972).
Jarkko Stenius is a person with an interesting life story. He first took up the sport of muay thai for its reputation of being tough and violent and useful in street fights. Stenius grew up in a family where showing fear or vulnerability was not allowed and where violence was a constant and real threat and thus Stenius became obsessed with being tough in an unhealthy way.
Besides practicing thai boxing, Stenius escaped confronting his emotions into drinking a lot of alcohol and picking up many street and bar fights. Stenius tried joining the French foreign legion (being enhanced for its tough reputation), only to realize the toughness of the place isn’t what it used to be in the past.
Jarkko continued his adrenaline and violence filled life for a long time and only later in life, around in his forties when his physique naturally started deteriorating and psychologist and medication couldn’t help him, Stenius started learning the benefits of compassion and softer values.
Around these times Stenius joined a 10 day meditative silence retreat where compassion was taught. During these days Stenius was thus able to let some vent up emotions come out and he started to realizing the amount of psychological damage he had gone through in his life. Stenius began thus to learn more about compassion and meditation.
Nowadays Stenius is an author and coach – he teaches both muay tai and meditation/mindfulness. Stenius organizes retreats in various countries for fighters, where meditation as well as fighting techniques are taught. Besides this autobiographical book, Stenius has also written many fictional action books where the characters have adventures in countries such as Thailand. I’ve liked reading Stenius’ fictional work also.
Stenius has also co-authored a book The Emotion School of a Boxer (Nyrkkisankarin tunnekoulu is the original Finnish title, published in 2014) with another Finnish author Paula Salomaa, where he talks about the importance of recognizing and dealing with emotions. Stenius frequently gives out speeches to schools, youngsters, media and parental organizations using his life as cautionary (but also inspiring) example for the youth.
As someone who also have difficulties in opening up myself, I respect Stenius work and his courage to open up about his past immensely. In the future, as a teacher, I’d like to be able to teach on the values the values of emotional intelligence and empathy to my students.
Take-aways from the book:
- The Foreign French army isn’t as tough as it used to be in the past. People looking for extreme toughness and conditioning are not going there for the ultimate challenge anymore.
- Muay thai (aka thai boxing) continues to be a very tough and extremely demanding sport.
- As a cautionary tale Stenius tells that there are consequences for professional fighting: after being hit and kicked in the head hard for 20 years he has troubles holding his focus for prolonged times, his working memory isn’t what it used to be, his joints and ligaments have suffered tremendously…
- In Finland, many people practice muay thai as a hobby and sport. In Thailand, professional fighting may be the only way out of poverty for many and one of the few ways for young boys (with no/poor access to education) to being able to feed their family.
- Muay thai is the national sport and pride of Thailand. Although the sport is violent, respect (for the opponent, for your coach, for fellow practitioners, for other human beings) is a huge thing in the sport.
- Stenius was feared by many bouncers in his youth for his habit of getting into bloody fights and being able to do damage to the bouncers as well. He got a permanent entry ban to many bars/night clubs. Stenius has also worked as a bouncer himself in his life.
- Having lived an adrenaline-filled life Stenius thought it would be hard for him to get emotional highs after retiring of fighting, but he was surprised how emotionally fulfilling writing would could be and would become for him, something he didn’t ever consider possible.
- For me, after reading Stenius’ book, it has become important to continue with my meditation/compassion practice as well as to create and seek out places where I can share and talk about emotions such as anger, resentment and sadness with others.