Stickman's guide to Bangkok
Learning Muay Thai In Thailand
By High Tree Climber
I have decided to post an article about my Thai-boxing experiences in Thailand because there are now a huge number of foreigners who come to Thailand to train. Muay Thai is getting more and more popular in the west, for both spectators and participants. With my contribution I wanted to show that there are many different ways to train that in Thailand. This is only a very short review. There would easily be enough information on the subject to fill a book, but my aim here is to give a small insight to anyone considering going to train.
So why is Thailand so popular for training? And what makes it such an unforgettable experience to train muay Thai over there? First of all, muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand so it is obvious that it is very popular. Despite the growing popularity of football (especially the British premier league), muay Thai is still the most popular sport in Thailand. There are about 60,000 full-time boxers in Thailand of a population of more than 60 million.
There are hundreds of boxing camps all over the country. Most of the boxing camps in Thailand are outdoors. Training outside with fresh air (except in some places in BKK) compared to sticky indoor gyms is a real pleasure. The style of all the different camps varies a lot. It starts from the very basic countryside camp, which sometimes doesn’t even look like a boxing camp, and goes up to very well equipped camps with one or even two rings, 10 – 15 heavy bags, free weights, lots of kick pads, gloves, shin guards and all other stuff needed.
It is not rare to see 3 – 5 full-time trainers in those camps. All of the boxing teachers (kruu) in Thailand are former champions. So you can believe that they really know what they are teaching. They are proud and happy to talk about their victories. Take your time and listen to them and let them show you all their pictures...
I have trained in 4 different camps and also visited the same number. I have pent about 6 months doing just that in Thailand. I have trained in the poor camps of rural Thailand and also in the more upmarket places. For me the absolute best experience I have had was in a camp in a remote village about 5 bus-hours north-east of Bangkok. In that village are no foreigners to meet except the ones that got lost on their way to Chiang Mai or from another road. Most Thai-boxing camps of that kind are relatively reluctant to take on foreign trainees, only in special cases where you can prove that you can conform totally to the training system, and most of all an ability to learn the Thai language. The best way to get into such a camp is if a Thai friend who can make contact and introduce you, even if you can speak Thai already. Then once your friend has asked them for permission all you can do is hope they’ll let you to train there. In my case I had to do some shadow boxing and reaction tests which included blocking to see if its worth it for them
to take me on.
I can clearly remember the crowd of locals enjoying watching me on my first raining day. I think the information went through the whole village within hours. Once you are in and as long as you are willing to train hard and respect their rules, it shouldn’t be a problem to stay there as long as you want (but first please make sure that your Thai friend has arranged the cost and other details to avoid any potential misunderstanding). I didn’t have to pay anything to train in that camp. My teacher was so crazy about muay Thai that it was his heart which decided to teach me this fantastic sport. He also treated me like his own son, he always gave me his best nuk muay (Thai boxer) to spar or clinch with. The trainer and his whole family welcomed me very warmly every time. And the younger nuk muays showed a lot of respect to me as their elder.
English is of no use out there, don’t even try to say something in English. One really needs to start learning some Thai. At this time my knowledge of the Thai language was just beginning so my girlfriend had to come with me to every training session in the first week. After the first week I knew the basic vocabulary of essential words which I needed for the training. By the way, my ex-girlfriend didn’t like boxing at all at this time, and now she
really likes it and is an expert herself. So don’t feel too sad for her if she nags around in the first week when she has to attend all the training sessions.
The positive aspects of camps in rural Thailand are the following. If you are lucky, the trainer and all the students will like you and treat you as a member of the family. You will get a lot of attention and a lot of personal teaching. Your boxing skills will improve very fast. Your kicks are going to be very hard, because that’s what they focus on. Furthermore it’s the best place to study the language while training, coz there is no other language to talk. You are able to get a great view into the life of Thai families living around there. You can see and learn things you never would on normal travel excursions in Thailand. Please keep in mind, the better you behave in such a camp and the more they like you, the better the chance will be for another foreigner to get accepted into such a camp.
There are also many foreigner oriented boxing-camps in Thailand, especially at places where most foreigners go (e.g. Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai, even on Koh Samui).
Getting accepted in these camps is very easy, even if you are a total beginner. It’s very common that the manager is an expat too. So it’s no problem at all to get the information and to get all your questions answered before you begin your training. The teachers are Thai and some of them are quite good. Most of them do speak some basic English. These camps have their own webpages and will be well known amongst boxers. The good thing there is that you can meet boxers of all levels and from all over the world. Some are just there for a week or two, while others stay on for several years. I did notice that the atmosphere in most of these money orientated places is not so good. You won’t get much attention as long as you don’t fight for this camp. The teachers focus on their fighters especially on their Thai-fellows and not on the short time trainee. The reason for that is simple, the fighters of a camp are responsible for the image of the school within Thailand and that is what finally counts.
I think that the best boxing schools in Thailand can be found in Bangkok. I visited two camps of this kind. Those are the places where you can find the top-ranked Ratchadamnoen / Lumphini Thai boxers. There are two ways to get accepted in these places. Either you pay them enough money or you are good enough to fight for them. And you really need to be very good to get their interest. They won’t let a foreigner damage their reputation. It is also much easier for you to have a friend who can get you in. Here they are not prepared to take foreigners and they really don’t need us. English is very rarely spoken here. I am sure that there are many farang-boxers who would dream about training in such a camp. Then here you are training with the best Thai boxers from the world and some teachers are best known here as number ones and are regarded to be the best pad-holders in Thailand if not in the world. I have seen some holding pads that is unbelievable. My friend spoke to the managing staff there and they were willing to take me, but I decided against it coz I wanted to train in the fresh air countryside rather than the dank smoggy air of the city.
The training schedule varies from camp to camp. Most fighters train twice per day. Often they start between 6 or 7 in the morning with a run and finish the training at around 9 or 10. 2nd session starts at 4 or 5 and ends at 6 or 7. Most fighters train 6 days in a row and take then one day off. Some take a day off only every 8 or 9 days. Of course in the week of the fight the schedule does change. If you are not used to such intense training, start slower and take a rest more often. Most do know but some are not aware that training on such a high level will weaken your immune system. So you really need to be careful not to get sick all the time, especially in Thailand where the weather is hot and humid. Also be careful with the seafood at street-stalls. And beware of ice cream that is sold in the street, it might have been melted and refrozen (but that should not be in your diet anyway!). It is really worth it to read the health chapter from a guidebook if you are a greenhorn in Asian countries. You really don’t want to be sick when training in a boxing camp, coz such incidents really throw you back.
I don’t want to mention nor recommend a specific boxing camp in here, coz I don’t want a flood of foreigners going to the camps I used to train. As I said, the foreigner oriented camps are very easy to spot in the internet anyway and there is loads of information to get from these sites. If you want to train in rural camps, far away from the farang scene, then it’s going to surely be a very special experience. But try to find out places with your Thai friends on your own. Training and living in rural Thailand is only recommended if you are a bit familiar with the Thai culture.
Keep your hands up
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