"Body lean back!" "Hmpf!" Thwack! My conversations with Nok were rather short and repetitive though I have to admire his patience. After a week of intensive training at a Muay Thai Camp in Thailand, I was finally leaning back enough to get some real power into my Thai kicks.
Muay Thai has a fearsome reputation as one of the most powerful martial arts. Watch any Muay Thai match and you'll see two fighters, with perfect Bruce Lee physiques, delivering strikes with bone-crunching power. Even more impressive is their ability to take these hits without collapsing in a quivering heap. With this image in mind, I was a little apprehensive about a full week of hardcore training at a Muay Thai camp.
We watched professional Muay Thai in Bangkok. Read more here.
Cat Joins Our Training
Early Morning At Muay Thai Camp
The morning class was everyone's favourite. Gathering in the gym, we could feel the cool sea breeze coming in over the bay. The glowing display on the thermometer informed us it was a comfortable 26°C.
We took our time, carefully wrapping and taping, donning gloves and shin guards, and warming up for the work ahead. Even the cats joined in, stretching out on the mats as they enjoyed the morning sun.
After our warm up, it was time to get to work. We shadow boxed, adding in a few rounds of pad work to hone our technique before moving into the ring for some sparring. Despite the light-hearted, friendly nature of the sparring, it only took a few kicks to make us really appreciate the value of our shin guards.
Hlukhin, the gym's owner and former Muay Thai champion, had plenty of advice for us. Arms raised in a fighter's stance he bobbed around like a marionette demonstrating the importance of confidence. Stepping back is not the Muay Thai way and being able to take a hit is almost as important as blocking. When it comes to blocking and anticipating your opponent's moves, Hlukhin's advice was very simple. "He do left. He do right." How hard can it be?
Taking A Break Muay Thai Style
Next, we worked on our clinches. Unlike most striking styles, Muay Thai includes an element of grappling. This essentially involves grabbing your opponent's head and pulling it down far enough to knee them in the face. The clinching was extremely hard on our neck and back muscles. It also resulted in some spectacular bruises. However, it did give us a nice break from hitting each other for a while.
The Open-Air Gym
After some exhausting rounds on the heavy bags, we finished out the class doing one-on-one pad work with the instructors, sharpening up our technique and combinations. This is when I had most of my conversations with Nok.
Once the class ended, we gingerly stretched our aching limbs and rehydrated. It was only 9am and already the thermometer was showing 32°C. As each person got up to leave, they left a human-shaped puddle of sweat on the mats, the tropical equivalent of a snow angel. Hot and tired after a hard workout, there was only one place to go, the swimming pool.
The Swimming Pool
Our Muay Thai Camp
We trained at KYN Gym, on the tiny island of Koh Yao Noi, between Phuket and Krabi. As well as having a lush tropical garden, with the all important swimming pool at the centre, the gym was right by the beach. It was certainly a far cry from the gyms we'd seen on busy roads in Bangkok and we were happy we'd made the effort to get away from it all.
A Hearty Dinner
Despite the idyllic location and the overwhelming urge to sit on the beach with a Mai Tai, we were keen to get the most out of our week at Muay Thai camp. We followed a strict routine of eat, sleep, fight. There were training sessions twice a day and dedicated kitchen staff ensuring we were well fed in between.
Doing two classes a day, we earned some impressive bruises and developed a few new muscles. We greatly improved our Muay Thai but I'm still not sure I could take a decent kick without collapsing in a quivering heap.
View From The Gym
Top Tips for Training At A Muay Thai Camp in Thailand
Protect Your Feet: At the end of our week at Muay Thai camp, our toes were shredded. Plasters fall off easily so they need to be taped in place. Take plenty of tape and plasters with you as the local shops have very limited supplies.
Keep Clean: Cuts and grazes can easily get infected in the tropical climate. A thorough shower after each training session is a good idea.
Check Your Insurance: Most travel insurance doesn't cover Muay Thai training as it's a contact sport. Check your policy carefully and get additional cover if necessary.