This week it is my pleasure to introduce my daughter Elissa, as my guest poster. Elissa is a woman that knows how to look after herself. She's not going to let anyone push her around, and here she tells of almost biting off more than she could chew, but she rose to the challenge and has gone on to competition Muay Thai bouts at home. I think it's marvellous that this sport encourages young women to gain a skill that gives them inner confidence and self esteem.
Needless to say, I don't argue with her anymore....
Arrival. By Elissa McIntosh.
We watched this young Thai fighter kick the heavy, leather bag. The way he swung his leg in a roundhouse kick was like a baseball bat – WHACK!! The perfect combination of power, speed, timing and technique. I stood there and wondered to myself – what the hell have I got myself into? My travel partner and I had been studying Muay Thai for about a year, but we both felt completely humbled watching the Thai’s train that first day. They were a lot fitter and looked a hell of a lot tougher than us, and I had my doubts as to whether we would be able to keep up with them. I started to wonder if I should’ve just headed to Khao San Road and the coco bars instead. Right now I could be drinking cheap cocktails on one of the many beautiful islands…..instead of facing getting my head kicked in!
New type of traveller.
We were part of a new type of traveller heading to Thailand in their droves; bypassing Khao San Road and a drunken fight at full moon parties, and instead heading straight to a fight at a gym. A Muay Thai Gym. The success of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has seen a huge resurgence in interest in mixed martial arts (MMA), and it is now the fastest growing sport in the world. Muay Thai is a crucial part of MMA, and if one wants to know Muay Thai – there is no better place to study than its birth place – Thailand.
Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport. It’s everywhere. There are stadiums all throughout Bangkok and a wealth of gyms to choose from. Some gyms will teach you all elements of MMA, but most will focus solely on Muay Thai. But be mindful - not all gyms have Thai trainers. Because of Muay Thai’s global popularity, many foreigners now teach in Thailand. Personally, I wanted to learn from a Thai, as they start training the moment they can walk. If you want to be good at something, you need to learn from the best.
So I chose Eminent Air Gym, Bangkok. It had a reputation for being an authentic Muay Thai gym with all Thai trainers.
On that first hot afternoon, we were introduced to the owner of the gym, Mr Song Boon, and handed complimentary ice cold cokes. Mr Song Boon tried to make us feel very welcome and soon we started to relax a bit. He introduced us to the trainers, and their families, who also lived at the gym. We were introduced to the handful of foreigners who were training. They were from all over the world, including the USA, Germany, Italy, and England. All were male, but there was one woman, Melissa, from the UK. Melissa had been training in Thailand for over 3 years. We later learned that she was a champion, and had fought many respected Thai fighters. Melissa had also fought on the Queens Birthday, which is a huge honour in Thailand.
Mr Song Boon was very eccentric, but so warm and reassuring – it was soon obvious we would be doted on and taken care of. Mr Song Boon also owns a pool club and a couple of race horses, so there is always plenty to do on the day off (Sundays). Our accommodation was a small, but comfortable cabin a few short metres from the boxing ring. This ensured we were constantly battered with the sounds of the Thai’s training – something which is quite hard to describe. The Thais are completely uninhibited when training, and let loose the strangest growls and blood curdling screams whenever they strike the bags. Inside our room, we had 2 air conditioning units, 2 standalone fans, and 2 ceiling fans. Also, 2 fridges. We were provided with clean towels and room cleaning service daily.
Training commenced at 6.30am each day. We had purchased a package of accommodation, training and food, which meant that our meals arrived promptly at 10am and 5pm. The food was fantastic – traditional Thai food, and always more than enough to go around. The Thai’s had obviously learnt that us foreigners were big eaters, because we never managed to eat all of the food that was put in front of us.
My first training session well. Nervous, I tried to eat as much for breakfast in order to keep my energy up for the day. There is a shopping centre 10 minutes walk from the gym, with everything, including groceries, takeaways, and a pharmacy. We had been there the night before and purchased cereal and yoghurt. The Thai’s usually just roll out of bed and start training on an empty stomach, but I wouldn’t recommend this, especially if you are not used to it.
At 6.30am, the alarm sounded and suddenly the gym sprang into life. It was already very hot outside, but we were eager to prove that we could handle the training. Each morning started with a 6km run, up down the street, dodging stray dogs – some friendly, some not. The morning run is, apparently, optional. But, if you want to train with the Thais and gain some respect, you have to get up and run – every morning. This, as you can imagine, gets harder and harder as your training progresses and the injuries start to accumulate. Melissa advised that a certain Thai trainer had absolutely no time whatsoever for those who didn’t get up and run. Especially foreigners. So we ran. Every morning. No matter how sore and tired we felt.
After that first morning run, we went back to the gym and I had to change my clothes. The heat was so intense, I could literally wring the sweat out of my singlet. That’s why it is essential that one brings powdered rehydration drinks with them – take these during and after training. Also bring plenty of changes of clothes – shorts, singlets, and a good pair of running shoes.An ipod for those 6kms morning and afternoon runs is essential too. A first aid kit is also essential: on our first day, I accidently gave my sparring partner a black eye, so an ice pack is handy. Bring loads of deepheat – you will need it...and plasters....
Then after the run, it was weight training. We did this every second morning, with the other mornings filled with rounds on the Thai pads with trainers. A round of training on the Thai Pads is intensive hard work and a real cardio workout. So weight training is seen as somewhat of a reprieve. We were shown how to do each weight exercise by a Thai trainer who spoke very little English, but was very enthusiastic and attentive. We soon picked up the gist (idea) and were even complemented by the Thais – apparently we were “strong girls”, as interpreted by Melissa.
Completing the weight training, we were delivered fresh tea and coffee. We were told to take a rest, and that the next training session would start at 3pm – which was a relief, because it was apparent that the temperature would get up into the mid 30’s during the afternoon.
Siesta from midday. This would be our routine for the next two weeks: run, train, eat, sleep, run, train, eat sleep..... It’s really too hot during the afternoon to do anything other than sleep and because the training is so intense, you really don’t feel like doing anything else.
We did six rounds on the Thai pads, after which I was shattered, but feeling exhilarated. I had proven that I could train as hard as the Thai’s... well, nearly. After my six rounds, I was ready to call it a day. “You –the bag!” my trainer tells me. So I spent another 3 rounds punching and kicking the leather bags. The leather bags in Thailand are extremely tough compared to your standard gym bags. After that first session, my shins were so bruised I thought I would never be able to kick another bag ever again. My trainer saw me rubbing and cursing the bruises; and although he couldn’t speak much English, he quickly managed to communicate to me that I needed to harden up. I was not to show pain or fear on my face – a good lesson, but a hard one to practice. I limped off to my cabin and smothered my shins in deepheat. Months later, when I finally did step into the ring for my first Muay Thai fight, I recalled this lesson. Your opponent will take advantage if you are looking tired, and will certainly try and end the fight if you are in pain. That’s not to say the Thais don’t look after you – they do. For example, when it got up to 36 degrees one afternoon, they were constantly reminding us to put sunscreen on. They even suggested we run on the treadmills in the shade, as opposed to the street, to keep out of the midday sun.
At night, I hobbled to bed and was lulled to sleep by the sounds of the Thai family next door as they prepared their evening meal. There is always a lot going on at the gym and the gym has a welcoming family vibe to it. I fell asleep listening to the sounds of the Thais singing their hearts out along to MTV – something that they did each night, and would make me giggle. To this day, I miss hearing them sing at night. There are also a myriad of animals that live at the gym (Mr Song Boon’s wife loves animals). There is a beautiful rainbow lorikeet named Tee Gar, which just loves people. I miss waking up to him throwing his toys around his cage and demanding attention.
On your day off, Sunday, there is a wealth of things to choose to do. You can join Mr Song Boon in his pool club, or at the races. You can explore the markets, or take a taxi into Bangkok and spend the night in a luxury hotel. We chose to do the latter, and managed to find a great Thai Massage for just $20NZ an hour. This is complete bliss and a real reward after hard training. We also went to Lumpini Stadium, an absolute MUST for Muay Thai fans. One of our trainers was competing that night and so it was a real honour to see him fight, and win, in front of such a massive audience. Lumpini fighters are the best in the country.
After two weeks of training, my shins had actually toughened up, and I no longer bruised after kicking the Thai bags. And I am proud to say, that I got up and ran every single morning. And every day my trainer taught me something new. Whether it be a new technique; defence move; counter attack; or simply how to pay attention when in a fight (my trainer would suddenly say “LOOK!” and point over my shoulder. Naturally, I would look and then he would slap me around the ears. I soon learnt to never take my eyes off my opponent). We went over and over the same combinations everyday, and soon enough they became like second nature. As my technique improved, my trainer would praise me with a resounding “OOOWAYY!!”. I loved hearing that after each time I nailed a roundhouse kick OOWAAAY!!!!...... OOWAAAYY!!!