Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport. Phuket is a hub for professionals and amateurs alike. Jen Diamond tells us what to expect from inside the gym.

For 10 years I was too scared to try a Muay Thai class, in fact I was too intimidated to walk within a 100 metre vicinity of a gym. I finally took a risk and now 3 years on I have not looked back.

My shins are toughened however multiple bruises; sore ribs and neck strain are never far off. But (and it is a big but), I can at least now co-ordinate my body (very slowly at times) to do what I want it to do. Every class is still a huge physical and mental challenge. With so many types of punches, knees, kicks and often fight stopping elbows, this ancient martial art will keep you on your toes, forever learning something new. Muay Thai is never boring, it is a daily challenge.

Fellow classmates stem from all walks of life and all attend for different reasons. Our local gym hosts professional and amateur fighters of every nationality. You may be sparring or practicing technique with teachers, nurses, vets, naturopaths, and university lecturers. Some stay for a few days while others put in months of preparation, taking advantage of the excellent tuition. There are plenty of opportunities to fight here in Muay Thai or return home to take part in Muay Thai, K1, Kickboxing and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts); reputedly the fastest growing sport in the world, with Muay Thai an integral element (and perhaps the most entertaining).

To work with Muay Thai champions who want nothing more for you than to master a thip (a front kick) is very humbling. Muay Thai is often thought of as a brutal, aggressive sport but it is soon apparent the ideology of the sport is built on respect! There are no big displays of aggression and after winning a fight these professionals are too busy checking on their opponent and thanking all the trainers and their opponent’s trainers too.

A Wai Kru ceremony (a form of ritual dance) is performed before every fight to give thanks to parents, sacred objects and most notably their trainer. It also acts as a calming exercise before going to ‘work’. Similarly at the end of a session a trainer will like nothing better than to put on a Thai love song and have a sing along. There might be the occasional trainer who is more interested in checking his hair in the mirror but that will be the exception.

Be prepared for a warm up (often skipping), followed by some shadow boxing and then at least three, three minute rounds with a trainer one to one. Some time on the bags, perhaps some technique work and then only as you advance will you take to sparring. Those three minute rounds can feel like an eternity as you try to put into place what you have been learning and to breathe at the same time. Any worries are completely forgotten after just one round. After three rounds it is hard to remember what day it is.

Physically Muay Thai works you anaerobically and aerobically, it builds up strength, flexibility, balance, posture and heaps of co-ordination. Sweat will fly over you and your trainer as you huff n puff in the humidity. At the end of a session the class and trainers come together to give thanks. It is a privilege to work with professionals who remain patient and helpful even when you have made the same mistake for the twentieth time. You can also bring your children to learn, and the trainers will be all over them, wanting to help, the love of children in Thailand definitely extends to the gym.

My advice is to get down to your local gym and watch a session to see what you think, then gauge if that gym is for you. My local is situated next to a flower shop a few Soi’s away from my home and is operated by the trainer and owner. Prices are reasonable, facilities are more basic but the training is top notch.

Phuket attracts many of the world’s top fighters coming to brush up their Muay Thai skills and visit the beach. With gyms all over Thailand you can take your gloves on every domestic trip and be accepted as part of the MT community.

Additionally the huge rise in popularity of MMA means you could be training with its biggest names in the world. Some of the big potatoes here on the island offering world class facilities in many types of martial arts include: Tiger Muay Thai, Phuket Top Team and AKA Thailand where many professionals train for championships such as The UFC, Invictus, Bellator, and The One Championships. Check them out; you will be blown away by who is here on our lush island.

Have you got your Muay Thai on!

Photos courtesy of Phuketking Muay Thai