Knocked Out Muay Thai – Kicking Around

23 Sep

by Dawn DelVecchio – Tom Yum Magazine, Thailand (2005-09-23)

I couldn’t get my hands gloved or my feet in the ring quick enough. On a recent weekend, a group of friends and I decided to spend a day immersed in a uniquely Thai experience: exercising at Fairtex Muay Thai and Fitness Camp. Fairtex is a gym devoted to training both foreigners and Thais in the combative art of Muay Thai. As we emerged from the car we could hear the sounds of people yelling, punching and kicking – high energy exercise in action. As a retired practitioner of this ancient fighting art, the sounds immediately triggered my glee, but my companions were less enthusiastic.

My friends, all Bangkok residents, knew of Muay Thai’s reputation as a fierce fighting art and brutal training regimen, but none of them were aware of the direction the sport has been taking toward fun and fitness in recent years. They were about to find out that, rather than being brutalized for a day, they were going to be inspired.

Considered by experts to be one of the most effective fighting arts on the planet, in its modern form, Muay Thai is a ring sport which has grown in popularity worldwide over the past decade. Known as Thai kickboxing by some, the roots of this art stretch back some 2000 years. Originating during the pre-fire-power centuries when the Thai and Burmese kingdoms fought murderous territorial wars, today Muay Thai has taken the action of the battlefield into the sportsmanship of the ring.

Throughout the centuries, there have been changes and modifications to this art now transformed to sport. Due to its sometimes ferocious nature, death and severe injury had occasionally occurred, leading the Thai government to ban competitions in the 1920’s. Following safety standards and regulations based on international boxing rules, Muay Thai in its contemporary form was reintroduced to Thailand and the world in the 1930’s.

Today there are as many as 60,000 nak Muay (Muay Thai fighters) in the Kingdom, with countless camps found in city and countryside. Almost every town has at least one stadium where boxers can test their mettle against a worthy opponent. While 74 nations now boast professional stables (camps of fighters) Thailand remains the locus of the art and the competitors as well as the training here are the standard by which others measure themselves.

Muay Thai is a demanding sport, requiring consistent aerobic activity interspersed with anaerobic blasts of action. Not only must a fighter be skilled in powerful offense, quick defense and impeccable range and timing, he or she must also be in brilliant aerobic condition. The regime of a Thai fighter reflects this need and even amateurs who are taking their sport seriously train between 16-25 hours or more each week.

For nearly three decades, westerners have been traveling to Thailand to learn the secrets of Muay Thai. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s, few outside the region knew of the particular Siamese combat style. Those who did knew of its effectiveness. The foreign trailblazers who first dared search out Muay Thai’s secrets faced formidable challenges to even learn the basic elements. Thai coaches and competitors greeted these men with curiosity and sometimes suspicion. “Back in the 70’s the Thai’s kept the secrets of Muay Thai to themselves�? says Patrick Cusick, a long time practitioner of the art. They taught him some of the fundamental techniques, he claims, “but they never really taught me the tricks.�?

Today, however, Muay Thai techniques are known the world over, and the art is no longer reserved for serious competitors alone. With recent trends in fitness, many westerners have found the training regime of a fighter, albeit in a less intensive form, both an enjoyable and effective means of losing weight, lowering stress levels, building cardiovascular strength and being challenged – all while having a great time. Today foreigners are beginning to flock to the Kingdom to learn Muay Thai – some for sport and others for fitness – and many Thai’s now welcome their friends from the west, recognizing the opportunity to share their art globally.

Fairtex Muay Thai and Fitness is at the forefront of the trend to use Muay Thai as a medium for both martial and fitness training. Currently, about 60% of the people (including local Thais) who visit Fairtex are there for non-competitive reasons, including weight loss. Mr. Somboon Leelhasuwan (Khun Sam) the General Manager of the operation, claims that this percentage is actually increasing as more people become aware of the benefits of Muay Thai training for health and fitness.

While Fairtex is also home to an impressive stable of fighters, including a number of world class champions, the management has created a training environment that can meet the needs of the growing number of non-competitive practitioners. According to Anthony Lin, President and CEO of Fairtex, they want people to enjoy getting in the ring and training at whatever level they are comfortable. He claims that the face of even the non-competitor is changing and they want to meet the needs of this growing segment of the Muay Thai community. “More and more westerners taking up Muay Thai are educated and see their training as part of an overall lifestyle choice.�? In response to this, Fairtex, along with many elite gyms in the USA and Europe are taking the martial arts to a new level. “The whole fundamental thing that Fairtex is trying to do is to promote the art safely and professionally. We want to make sure that when people come here they don’t feel intimidated�? says Lin.

But safety does not imply a watered down version of the art. While the intensity level of each person’s program may vary depending on their goals and objectives, “at the same time, you are getting elite training with a modern, state of the art facility�? says Lin. “We are setting the standard for future gyms, especially here in Thailand.�?

Because training is completely personalized, students can work out as much or as little as they would like. Fairtex provides a coach for each student, allowing those who stay long term to build a rapport with their trainer over time. These men are either current or retired professional fighters, some of them champions of their weight class.

So what is it really like to train at a Muay Thai camp? As beginners and a retired fighter respectively, my friends and I were not interested in a serious competitor’s training regime, we simply wanted some exercise and some fun for a day. We discussed our goals and objectives with Khun Sam who in turn explained our objectives in Thai to the coaches.

We began at about 7:30 am, when each of our trainers carefully wrapped and gloved our hands. Once complete, my friends Todd and Fong, who have had no experience with the art, stepped into the ring. Looking a bit sheepish at first, they were relieved when their coaches began slowly teaching them basic moves like stance, offensive strikes and simple defense.

I also stepped into one of the four adjoining rings and warmed my body with some shadow-boxing. Once I had broken a sufficient sweat my trainer padded up. Unlike my companions who enjoyed a slow start, it was straight to work for me! My morning coach, Tor, is a young man of 24 years. So far he has had 82 professional Muay Thai bouts, with 52 wins. For training me, he sported densely packed kick pads on his forearms, and padded guards covering his shins. Over the next 30 minutes he held those pads in differing positions that signaled me to strike. A skilled pad holder/trainer is capable of exhausting their partner, should they choose, with continual demands for kicks, punches or strikes from elbows and knees. In addition, if their partner is experienced enough, a pad holder can kick and punch back, requiring the trainee to incorporate defensive moves into their repertoire.

Generally, training (pad work, heavy bag hitting, sparring and even shadow boxing) is performed in three minute rounds with a one minute rest in between. This follows the cycle of competitive bouts and works well to prepare the body for the quick cardiovascular recovery necessary under such conditions. At Fairtex, however, they have upped the conditioning anti with six minute rounds and a one minute rest in between.

There was a time in my competitive years when my pad training was fast paced, complex and exhausting even to look at for too long. But being nearly 40 years old has its advantages, especially in a culture where age is respected. While Tor challenged me: offering attacks for me to defend and demanding countless kicks and knee strikes in each round, the attitude was fun and friendly. He demanded speed in my strikes but would attack slowly, giving me time to respond and counter.

From time to time I would look over at Todd and Fong, both of whom eventually started striking the pads with their trainers as well. They were both sweating, with soaked t-shirts, wet hair and the periodic mop of the brow. But they were also smiling every time I snuck a glance their way. Later conversations confirmed my suspicions – they loved it!

In all, there were 26 of us training that day, including a large group from California, four instructors from France, a professional competitor from Portugal and several other women and men from the UK, Australia and the States. People were either striking a bag, working with their trainer on pads, or practicing a unique element of Muay Thai, a stand up wrestling technique with knee and elbow strikes called plumm. Others were doing abdominal conditioning, improving their form, developing their calves by bouncing on tires, getting a rub down or stretching. The group was happy, friendly and yes, sweating and smiling.

Typical of many Muay Thai camps, Fairtex offers both a morning and an afternoon training session. Each begins with a warm-up run (one that my group happily avoided on grounds of old age and poor conditioning), shadow boxing, pad work and/or bag work, and sparring for those who are interested.

Following our morning session we were served a delicious Thai meal, and then had the majority of the day to ourselves. At about 3:30, folks began to gather around the rings for an afternoon session. After six hours of rest, we were energized and ready to go. While my friends continued to develop their form and increase their striking power (and caloric burn), I worked with 29 year old Kai, a man with 130 professional fights under his belt, 114 of them wins.

I joked with Kai about being an old woman and that he should forgive me if I was slow. His humorous response every time I looked a bit weary was to smile and say “mai nuay�? (not tired!). I would then take a deep, fortifying breath and proclaim: “mai nuay, sabaidee kah!�? (I am not tired, I am very good!)

But by the end of the day, I was both: I was good and tired. My friends and Irewarded ourselves with a fantastic dinner, made our way back to our respective homes and each had a very sound night’s sleep.

Fairtex Muaythai and Fitness offers elite training to both serious practitioners and those looking for a fun and challenging experience. With 17 personal trainers teaching techniques of the Kingdom’s national sport, Fairtex is expanding quickly. The camp sits on 1.5 rai on the eastern outskirts of Bangkok, and offers guests a full range of facilities including housing, meals, weight room, yoga/Pilates studio and a soon to open detoxification center. Visitors can choose to stay from a half day to months at a time.

Fairtex is building a second, much bigger camp in Pattaya on 9 rai, to be open this year. The Pattaya facility will boast a full sports complex, an extensive detoxification center and even a four star hotel.

For more information contact:
Fairtex Muaythai Fitness
99/8 Moo 3, Soi Boonthamanusorn, Theparak Rd.
Bangplee, Samutprakarn
+66 2 755 3329

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