Tamuira Reid is a pretty badass human being. Currently an English professor at the acclaimed New York University, she is leaving to spending the next year teaching overseas in Italy. A calculated risk-taker, Tamuira aptly goes with the flow while achieving goals that many of us simply dream of. Whether it's packing all her things to teach on a different continent or training Muay Thai at Renzo Gracie Academy several hours a day, she manages to handle a large workload with a smile. When I first met Tamuira, I was surprised at how hard she could hit and how often she was able to make it to practice--despite having a hectic schedule and a young son. Her favorite way of saying goodbye to us after class was flipping the bird and saying, "See ya later, bitches!" as she descended the stairs with a laugh.
During class, her playful attitude merged with a focused insight made her a great training partner. Never one to allow her teammate to take an error seriously, she pushed us to continue working until practice was over. If you became visibly frustrated with yourself, you'd be met with a hard shove, wide grin, and a "Come on! You've got this!"
Tamuira would show up with a swollen ankle, a wrapped wrist, on 4 hours of sleep, and her son Ollie in tow--who would run and do calisthenics off the mat with us during our warm-ups. To me and many others, Tamuira illustrated what it means to be a strong woman, a hard-working athlete, and an amazing mother.
PA: Before you became a parent, did you do any sports, activities, or exercise?
TR: I’ve always been pretty involved in sports – soccer, softball, track – anything that required explosive bursts of speed was where I wanted to be. I loved sprinting, in any form. Going as fast as possible.
But the one activity that has remained a constant since the age of three is dancing. It’s been a huge part of my life. Sometimes it’s saved my life, in a way.
What sparked your interest about doing Muay Thai? What is the best part for you about training at Renzo's?
My sister trains in Brazilian JiuJitsu at Renzo Gracie Academy, and she’s been trying to pull me onto the mats since she started! So I visited her at the academy from time to time, peeking in on her classes. One day, I wandered upstairs and saw the MT class, and I was like, “What is that? That is what I want to do.” It was incredible because the movement of MT – the fluidity, the rhythm, the precise placement of a foot or a hand or your head – it is so completely related to dance. The two share a similar foundation and so the language the MT students were speaking was one that just sort of intrinsically made sense to me; they were dancing but with gloves on.
It takes grit, passion, and composure to be a dancer. Your body goes through absolute hell sometimes. It’s not uncommon to train and perform with broken bones, busted ribs, pulled and sore muscles….you learn to push through, to make it work, to get your body to do the unthinkable. I am not saying this is necessarily the healthiest way to go, but it comes with the terroritory. Dancing made me a tougher woman, for sure. And I am thankful for that because it’s prepared me for martial arts and other sports.
But what I don’t miss about dancing, and a big reason why I only take a class here and there for fun now, is that it actually stopped being enjoyable after while. It is ridiculously competitive. And that level of competition breeds this atmosphere of paranoia, of never feeling good enough, of knowing there’s always someone younger, someone with better feet, with more flexibilty, with more talent, just waiting for you to fail. It sucks.
At the time I began MT, I was looking for something new to get into. I’d been living in the gym, working with a trainer (who is one of my best buds today), and doing a combo of strength training and weightlifting. I love lifting heavy shit! Ha! I’d been hiding behind the excuse of having a young child at home as a reason to let myself fall off the fitness wagon. In actuality, I think I was just depressed….the transition into parenthood can be overwhelming.
And then I found MT at RGA. And the rest all just fell into place. The best thing about the academy is I don’t find the same cut-throat climate I did with dancing. Sure, it’s competitive but not in the ways one would think. You compete with yourself – to improve, to have breakthroughs with your form and technique, to get faster – but not with one another. In fact, everyone is so helpful, so accepting, so “I’ve been there and I know how you feel”. It’s awesome. There’s just absolutely no ego. The other students want you to improve. And the instructors find pride in your accomplishments, big or small. I love that about RGA…it’s a room full of some pretty lethal warriors who are sweet as can be.
Your son has also trained at the academy. What is his favorite part? What is it like for you to see him train?
My son, Ollie, is five and full of energy. He was born with this streak of electricity just running through him, and it continues to grow! He needs a lot of access to physical activity, to movement, to being free and out in the world. It just doesn’t work for him to be in a confined space for long.
I want him to know his body, to get the way it works. So much of the daily grind in NYC is spent getting from point A to point B and we get disconnected from all the things our bodies are capable of, the amazing ways they can move. We get stuck in the idea of body as transportation and it’s unfortunate. I want more for Ollie…I want him to be able to physically and creatively express himself.
At RGA, he gets to run around and play with “big boys” and check-out cool equipment. He gets to roll around and hit stuff, which he LOVES. It’s such a great community for him at RGA. He feels really welcomed and happy there. When I’m taking class, he runs along the side of the cage and does the entire warm-up! His burpees are the best! I think if he could live at RGA, he would. He’d be like, “Love you mama, but I gotta go hit the bag.”
Women in martial arts isn't anything new, but it is a different experience when you're a parent. How would you like them to view and treat women, especially having a mom who can kick someone's butt?
You know, I think there’s this common misconception out there that mom athletes aren’t really that serious, aren’t that strong, mostly in it for the cardio or fat loss or whatever. There’s this idea that we are somehow softer, maybe weaker? More timid. But that’s bullshit. Mom’s are some of the most physically capable people I know. Stuff we do in a normal day – lug a stroller up and down subway stairs, carry a screaming toddler in one arm with bags of groceries, backpacks, purses in the other, running around the city with someone demanding to be carried, held, hugged, changed, fed, -- would make most people pretty tired. But we keep going. We canthink quick on our feet, are not afraid of pain after the whole childbirth thing, and have strong bodies.
However, one drawback of being a single mom in training is learning how to juggle the time commitments. Between a full-time career and raising a child, I sometimes feel like I’m living two lives; my son’s and my own. Sometimes I feel guilty for taking him to my MT classes at night because I feel like I should be spending the time with him, doing something more one-on-one. But then I look over and see how proud he is of his mama, how excited he gets when I kick the pads, and it makes it feel more okay. I know in the end he’s getting a calmer, more focused parent who will be a lot less stressed because of the training. And he’s witnessing the women in the class doing the same things as the men….and that’s everything. He’s been carrying around a Wonder Woman book in his backpack. How cool is that?
How has doing martial arts helped you? Do you feel more confident, self-assured, relaxed, disciplined, etc? How do you see yourself as an athlete now?
I am a professor and writer, so basically I’m in my head all the time. I live a very cerebral existence. I have to have a physical outlet, a way to get out of my head, to not think, not compute, not analyze. When I do Muay Thai, I am not thinking about anything except where my hands should land, or getting more pivot on my foot. I’m not all stressed and manic. I’m relaxed.
Do you ever get to train with your son ?
We commute from Washington Heights down to the NYU area every day, so we kill a lot of time waiting for the train by practicing our combinations. He’s got a crazy strong body shot! And he always wants to watch videos of the RGA instructors in their fights….he get PUMPED. It’s the cutest.
You've got a tough job: you work very hard, dedicate your time to training, and try to be the best mom that you can be. How do you feel that you've developed as a person?
I’m not perfect at anything. I still make a mess of things and have my head stuck up in the clouds. I’m a dreamer and reality likes to sneak in every now and then and bite me on the ass. But I am at a good place with my life. I like my work, love my family, have true friends, And there’s this kick-ass little boy that I get to hangout with everyday. I’m as close to content as I’ve ever been.
Photos courtesy of Tamuira Reid