Training in Thailand: A muay Thai Journal
Part 5: Tuff Gym
In my last article I wrote about my experience in Bangkok on King's Birthday weekend. The King's Birthday, which takes place on December 5, is celebrated throughout Thailand in grandiose fashion. The Thais love a good party(who doesn't) and are always celebrating something. Each celebration seems to continue until they are ready to celebrate the next. They even celebrate three different new years-the Western new year, Chinese new year, and Thai new year or Songkran. This is all tied into the concept of Sanook, which is a big part or Thai culture. The term means to have fun, and the Thai's try to incorporate this into everything that they do, even when hard at work or sweating your ass off at the mauy Thai gym (my trainer, Lam, works me on the pads until I'm hunched over the ropes, gasping for air, and begging for water, then he will ask “enjoy?”). I think we should take heed in the West; be a little less serious and have a little more fun!
I should say this as well: Thai people love their king. He is worshipped as a hero and held in very high regard. His picture is everywhere, in schools, shops, on giant streetside bilboards, in homes and in offices. So when it comes time to celebrate the man's birthday, no expense is spared. The whole of Bangkok was full of yellow and white ribbons(these are the colours of the King), florescence lights, and giant images of the man. As part of the celebration several mauy Thai events are held in the King's honour, the most important of which is the King's Cup Tournament. I was hoping that I would get to see this event, but no one seemed to know when it was taking place. No matter though, I did get to see one the smaller shows.
As I said in my last article, myself and a friend had been offered the opportunity to try a training session at TUFF Gym free of charge. I never would have found the gym I had not called the manager and let her speak with the taxi driver. It is quite tucked away and not near central Bangkok, which seems to be the case with quite a few gyms in the city. The gym itself was small but looked very clean. All of their equipment-their ring, heavy bags, gloves, focus pads, etc.-all seemed very new. Like Sityodtong, this was an open air gym with a canape to block the sun and keep out the rain. The floor was matted, which is a nice change from Wat Lam, where I have to train on concrete and pieces of carpet. Of course, this was not your typical hardcore, bare bones muay Thai gym. This was one which tried to attract westerners. If you check their website, all of their prices are in American dollars, whereas most gyms advertise their prices in baht. Even the name of the gym is an English word!
Many people who come to Thailand to train avoid gyms like this, as they want to experience “real” muay Thai and train the some way the Thai's train. I have this attitude myself to a certain degree. I want the real experience as well. But I have to say, in all honesty, I loved TUFF gym. Its impossible to deny that the training you get there is top notch, as the trainers have credentials equil to or better than those at almost any other gym in Thailand. I can say that with confidence, as their head muay Thai coach is Orono Wor Petchpun, one of the best muay Thai fighters of his time. The man has fought and defeated the likes of Buakaw Por. Pramuk, Yodsenklai Fairtex, John Wayne Parr, Damien Alamos(who recently became the second falang ever to win a Lumpine title), and even Saenchai Sor. Kingstar! Orono was Lumpine champion, Thailand champion, WMC champion, and currently holds the It's Showtime title in the under 65kg catagory. This guy's career is legendary!
Upon arriving at the gym we introduced ourselves to the manager, a very nice lady who just so happened to have studied in Canada! She introduced us to Marcelo “the Latino,” who teaches Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes at the gym and who had a muay Thai fight that evening. We were also introduced to Kru Laem, the other muay Thai coach at the gym. Laem is a successful amateur international boxer as well a muay Thai practitioner. It was him that took us through most of our training that evening.
We started our training session with a light run and some general warmup exercises. We then went over muay Thai basics. Laem seems to have a knack for breaking down techniques. We worked on footwork, basic kicks, punches, elbows and knees. Although I had known these techniques for some time, I felt more confident in them after Laem had explained them in meticulous detail.
While we were practising with Laem, a man rode up on a motorbike wearing only a pair of muay Thai shorts. I didn't recognize him at first, but when he got a little closer I realized that it was Orono. I was a little star struck. To my disappointment, however, he turned and walked into the house adjacent to the gym. We continued to work on technique with Laem, then I worked the heavybag a little while my friend did some padwork.
While I was working away, Orono returned from the house and began to put on a belly pad and focus mitts, then he got in the ring and called me to follow him. I was a little nervous, but very happy that I would get to work with Orono. I did three pretty easy rounds with him, but it was a lot of fun. The man is hilarious. He always wears a smile and likes to joke around. To get an idea of Orono's demeanour check out videos of him sparring with Saenchai on youtube. This attitude is a perfect example of Sanook.
After I finished my rounds with Orono, I worked the heavybag a little more, then we did some cool down exercises. When we were finished we both showered at the gym and got ready to leave. We were asked how we would get home and told them that we would take a taxi to the bus station then head beack to Chachoengsao. The gym manager asked us if we would like to come with them and watch Marcelo fight that evening. Of course we said yes. We had to first wait a little while for the owner of the gym(who also owns TUFF Muay Thai gear company as well as a popular website for ordering gear from overseas) to show up. So we waited outside and chatted with Marcelo, Laem, and the gym manager, while Orono was inside watching TV. Eventually the owner pulled up and me and my friend were to told we would go to the fight with him and Orono, while the others rode in a separate vehicle.
Now, Bangkok traffic is normally ridiculously bad, but during the King's Birthday weekend it gets even worse, especially if you are driving to a muay Thai event in the centre of town. So of course we got stuck in traffic-for a long time. I didn't mind though. I never would have imagined that I would get stuck in traffic with one of the best muay Thai fighters around and the owner of one of the most famous muay Thai gear companies in the world. Its like being back in Canada and getting stuck in traffic with Sidney Crosby and the owner of RBK.
When we finally made it to the venue, which was essentially a ring and canape surrounded by food stalls, Marcelo, Orono, and the others went into an enclosed area behind the ring which acted as a changing area and prep point for the fighters and cornermen. Because we were not allowed to follow, I decided to try out the food at the stalls. I cant remember what I bought, but I do remember drinking a Chang beer, which is a popular beer here, probably because its cheaper than some other brands like Singha. Chang beer actually tastes pretty terrible, but its strong and the price is right.
Most of the fights that night, including Marcelo's, featured farangs versus Thais. Marcelo's opponent looked kind of old and out of shape. Marcelo, on the other hand, is very tall with an athletic build. I thought Marcelo would smash his opponent easily, but the Thai proved to have good technique and the fight was a close one. The Thai would try and avoid Marcelo's strong punches by using movement and clinching any time Marcelo got too close. From the clinch it was clear that the Thai had the advantage, as he was able to throw Marcelo to the mat on several occasions. But Marcelo soon found a solution; everytime his opponent clinched him, the Brazilian would drop elbows to the top of the Thai's head. This worked well, as Marcelo was so much taller and able to get some momentum behind his elbows. The fight went all five rounds. I had no idea who won, as it looked like a very close fight to me and because I am not entirely familiar with the scoring system in mauy Thai, but it was Marcelo's hand that was raised at the end of the fight. I was very happy for him.
After the fight we found the guys from the gym and said our goodbyes. It was too late at this point to go back to Chachoengsao so we hopped on a motorbike taxi and got a ride back to Kaoh Sahn road where we stayed for one more night. In the morning we went one street over for some breakfast, then met up with some friends at MBK, one of the biggest shopping centres in Bangkok. By this time I was exhausted. Being in Bangkok for any more than a couple of days seems to sap the energy from me. All of the people, the traffic, the heat, the smog, the noise, it all takes its toll after after a few days. So after spending some time walking around MBK we returned back to Chacheonsao, where I finally had the opportunity to relax and reflect upon a great weekend.
By Matt King