Muay Thai Kickboxing In Thailand
Study for Self-Defense or Just for Fitness
A Muay Thai Kickboxing gym
Face neon red. Legs trembling. Toes blistered. Body soaked in sweat.
"I've got a horrible headache. I think I'm dehydrated...and my legs are killing me."
Kristin had completed her first Thai kickboxing workout. For two grueling hours she trained at Sorvorapin Gym, located in the heart of Bangkok's backpacker zone.
Sorvorapin Gym evokes the gyms of Stallone's Rocky films: Inside the open air structure black mold creeps towards the tin roof. Sweaty feet shuffle back and forth on a ragged carpet. The "incense" of body odor, pollution, and lemongrass hangs in the air as 70s disco (Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive") blares from overhead speakers punctuated by a cacophony of "hoomphs" thuds, grunts, and growls. No saunas at Sorvorapin. No motivational posters. No snack bar. No chrome machines. No peppy personal trainers in spandex. No air fresheners, air-conditioning, or stylish decor.
Fun, Fitness, Fighting
While many people study Muay Thai kickboxing for self-defense benefits, large numbers of foreigners embrace the sport for fitness rather than its martial qualities. Training delivers excellent health benefits: greater strength, fat loss, increased endurance, increased quickness, tremendous flexibility. As the sport increases in popularity worldwide foreigners are flocking to Thailand to train in the sport's homeland. Some study for a week or two while serious fighters may spend years honing their skills.
A number of gyms in the Kingdom welcome both serious fighters and those interested in a less-than-intense experience. Gyms assign a personal trainer to work one on one with each student. Instructors tailor the routine to the goals of each fighter (fun, fitness, sport, or professional).
While the sport offers powerful self-defense and health benefits, many cite cultural reasons as their prime motive for studying Muay Thai in Thailand. Chris Moses spent two months in a gym in Chang Mai. He trained three times a week but had no intention of entering the ring against an opponent. Rather, he trained as a means to a deeper experience: "It was fascinating watching and talking with the Thai fighters. Muay Thai is more than kickboxing; it's a unique part of the country's culture." Through training, Chris befriended Thais he would never have met on the tourist trail.
Kristin trained for similar reasons, "Honestly, I hate to exercise. The thing I liked most was working with the Thai instructors, meeting other fighters, learning about the sport, and going to professional bouts. I got a deeper understanding of Thai culture by doing this instead of just sight-seeing like a typical tourist."
A deep camaraderie often develops between fighters at a gym. Social events facilitate this. Students attend professional matches together and support fighters from their own gym when they face an opponent in the ring. These events offer opportunities to form lasting friendships.
A Typical Training Regimen
Most workouts consist of six thirty-minute segments: warm up, shadowboxing, bag work, pad work, clenching, and conditioning.
Kristin's warm up began with ten minutes of jump roping. She smiled and laughed through the routine stumbling and tripping as other fighters cut the air. Her trainer then led her through a series of callisthenics and stretches.
Step two is shadowboxing in front of mirrors. This is where students learn proper technique. Kristin's instructor taught her the basics of stance, jab, punch, front kick, knee kick, and roundhouse kick. For 30 minutes she practiced these in combination in front of the mirror. As she did so, the trainer paused often to correct her technique, adjust her position, or demonstrate an important point.
Kristin engaging in Muay Thai Kickboxing
After fine tuning basic techniques the fighter moves to the third element of training--heavy bag work. This is where the student learns to make contact.
After the bag comes pad work. The instructor dons long pads on his arms, chest and legs. As the instructor shouts out commands, he moves forward and back, left and right. Now the student learns to execute the techniques against a moving opponent.
Clenching practice is the next stage of the workout. In professional Muay Thai fights, a great deal of the action takes place when the fighters clench their arms together.
To simulate this, the trainer wears a thick chest protector. The student clenches arms with the teacher and practices knee kicks against the pad. Clenching is tiring work.
The workout wraps up with conditioning work. This consists of basic strengthening exercises such as crunches and push ups, followed by cool-down stretches.
The average time for a full workout is three hours. However, most gyms caution new fighters to start slow and rest often. Kristin, for example, quit her workout after two hours. Enjoyment and safety, not machismo, are the driving tenents of most gyms.
Muay Thai Gyms in Thailand
Muay Thai is popular throughout the Kingdom, so gyms are found in every town. To learn more about specific gyms, see the websites listed below.
Generally it is best to contact the gyms to find out the rates and training schedules before planning your trip and signing up, as the prices are increasing with the rising popularity and are subject to change. Editor's note: we have seen recent estimates of 20,000 baht (US$700-US$800) a month with food and lodging a month, but no doubt you can find cheaper arrangements in Thailand if have contacts and know your way around. There are plenty of blogs speaking of the experience, but we cannot endorse any of them.
Sorvorapin Gym is located in the Banglumpu section of Bangkok. For more information see Sorvorapin's website: thaiboxings.com.
Fairtex Muay Thai Fitness Camp is on the outskirts of Bangkok, and offers a more comfortable and upscale experience. Facilities are clean and modern. The camp offers a variety of packages for foreigners.
In the south of Thailand, in close proximity to the more touristy beaches and resorts, is the KYN Muay Thai Gym along with many other gyms.
A list of additional Muay Thai gyms in Thailand can be found at www.thaiwebsites.com/muaythai.asp, for all budget types.
For those who prefer the mountains in the north, Siam Number 1 Gym is in Chang Mai.
AJ Hoge is a wandering freelance writer and the editor.