Boxing

Muay Thai-Part 3

At the beginning of March, Anders and I were staying at the gym after the afternoon session because we were off to watch Chewey (one of the younger boxers) in a fight in Bangkok. He was fighting at Rajadamnern Stadium, which is the “Wembley” of Muay Thai boxing. We had normal training sessions but felt very lazy and only managed to run a short distance before running back with little Mook. She had come out to follow us on the motorbike with Lunglit and decided to accompany me on the way back. Even though she could pack a good punch and did so frequently, she was really sweet that day and kept picking flowers for me. After the other guys left I had a shower, which was in a small room at the back of the kitchen. There was a big tank like structure full of water and a smaller bucket which I used to pour the water over me with. I have got used to the Thai way of showering, and I quite enjoy it, but that first time I shared the bathroom with a dead cockroach and two dead fish that were for dinner! We had dinner and Ewan (Wan senior’s friend and business associate) took us back to his house, which was a short truck ride away and we stayed there for the night. We watched an hour of Thai TV and then went to sleep on the floor with only a cover and a duvet for comfort.  Apparently I snored and both Anders and Ewan found it very funny because, in the morning when Ewan explained to us that he had opened his door in the middle of the night, wondering what the noise was and thought it was Anders who was the one snoring.

 

Me and Anders
Me and Anders

The following morning we got up at 3am and went back to the gym to pick up Wan (senior), Maue (another young boxer) and Chewey. We arrived in Bangkok about 6am and Chewey weighed in and then went to check into a hotel, that the family had arranged. We were to spend the day there because Chewey wasn’t fighting until the evening. However, when we got there I had forgotten to take my passport so they wouldn’t let me into the hotel. Wan and Ewan stayed at the hotel, and Anders and me left with Chewey and Maue and basically walked around for the whole day. Actually thinking back, whilst writing this, Chewey was fighting that evening and he had been instructed by Wan and Ewan to look after us all day, while Wan and Ewan slept in a nice cosy bed. We went to a nearby temple and sat a while watching the fish in a small lake and then we walked a bit further to Dusit Zoo. We wandered around looking at the animals, had something to eat and then sat down in a shelter by the lake. We had a really good laugh with the youngsters, we kept getting Maue to say the word “shorts” but he couldn’t get his tongue around the “sh” and kept saying something like “chartsh”. Maue was a very funny kid and was always making me laugh, and even though he was only 15 at the time, me and him ended up getting on really well and having a real laugh together. We stayed in the zoo all day long, and even had a couple of hours sleep having been up so early.

Me and Maue
Me and Maue
Me and Chewey
Me and Chewey

Earlier that morning, when Chewey was weighed in, Anders and I put an order in to have some custom made shorts done, with our names in Thai and the name of the gym we were training at, which is traditional in Thailand.  When we arrived back at the gym later I found out that my name had been spelt wrong- apparently my name was now Jim!

Custom Made Shorts
Custom Made Shorts

The first fight started at 6.30pm, there were 10 fights and Chewey was no. 9. The atmosphere in that stadium was electrifying; the trainers from both the red and blue corners were going crackers, egging their boy on to win. The art of Muay Thai is spiritual as well as physically powerful. Before the fight begins, the boxer comes into the ring, adorned with a mongkon headband.  They then move along each side of the ring, bowing to each corner and perform the Ram Muay ritual, which is a dance like ritual and done with a series of gestures and movement to the rhythm of ringside music. Each of the movements represents a spiritual prayer to hopefully overcome your opponent. This ritual is done as a mark of respect to the trainer and to the parents, and at the end the trainer is the one who removes the mongkon from the boxers head. We enjoyed watching the fights leading up to Chewey’s and when he came into the ring with Maue, who was his coach for the fight, we cheered as loud as we could. After a valiant effort, he unfortunately lost.

Chewey being encouraged by Wan and Maue
Chewey being encouraged by Wan and Maue

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During the whole 8 weeks training the days were mostly the same with some random excursions thrown in.  I loved the whole experience and something that I will remember for the rest of my days. I wholeheartedly recommend anyone thinking of doing something like this to go for it. You won’t be disappointed, and you will leave with some very special memories.

Muay Thai- Part 2

I got used to the intense workouts because in the weeks that followed I managed to run 10k most days, as in I didn’t stop or walk as much. Those of you who are into running know that it is much harder to stop then start, stop then start again, so it’s best just to carry on, even if it is a slow jog. I had quickly come to the conclusion that the boxer boys don’t take to girls training as much they do with guys, which is, I guess, pretty standard as Muay Thai is predominately a male sport and in some provinces they don’t even let females train. Anders and Seb were getting far more attention than I was, in that they always used to get to train on pads first and for longer and they used to get massages to each aching limbs. Not that I was expecting that, being in a society where it is offensive for males and females to touch each other in public, but this was serious Muay Thai training. I was sure I wasn’t doing perfect kicks or punches but they tended to leave me to get on with punch bag training. I decided that if it carried on I would say something the following week to Aek as I wanted to get as much out of the training as possible and wanted to learn everything there was to learn. One of the guys, Seb, (20 years of age) left training one morning because it was all too much for him. Anders, who was suffering as well, was 24, and then there was me who, at nearly double their ages, was still going for it, even though I was aching all over.  I am so competitive, and I really wanted to push myself in order to gain a sense of achievement by completing the full 8 weeks training.

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 My fellow boxers and I had been invited by the family to go and watch Lunglit fight, so we stayed at the boxing camp after our afternoon session. They made us dinner of rice and chicken but the family didn’t eat with us, apparently due to the fact that Lunglit had to be weighed in the next morning. We were in bed by 7.30pm which we didn’t expect it to be so early, and had to share a bedroom.  Chewey and Maue, two of the younger boxers, found it hilarious that we were all sleeping together in the one room and kept coming in and laughing until they retired to bed in the boxing ring.

The reason we were in bed so early was apparent the next morning when we got awakened at 3.00am. At 3.40am we all piled into the truck, me inside in the back seat and the boys in the back of the truck, headed for Bangkok. When we arrived there were already a few people at Songchai Boxing Stadium. Lunglit weighed in and he was over by a few kilograms so he spent the next hour running round the building in a sweat suit. Another weigh in, still over, so he went into the sauna. Eventually his weight was ok and we got back in the truck and made our way to Suphanburi, which is where he was actually going to fight.

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Because we were with the family, who are actually well known in the world of Muay Thai we were allowed into the cordoned off area, where the boxers where getting ready by being massaged head to toe in deep heat.  We watched the first 2 fights and then it was Lunglit’s turn. When we were wandering around, we came across a temple and in there we decided to pray for Lunglit to win his fight. But obviously no one was listening to us, because he lost. We didn’t know whether to say anything, like “oh we are sorry you lost” or something like that so we didn’t say anything but he seemed ok about losing. You win some, you lose some right? He still got paid for his efforts though, something around 60,000baht (around £1200).

Me and Lunglit
Me and Lunglit

We left Suphanburi and went back to the training camp for some food and then we were off again to watch another fight, this time Chewey and Maue and Ap (pronounced ape). Whenever you get invited to go on these random little jaunts with Thais, you never quite know what it going on, we didn’t even know we were watching more fights, but these types of experiences are what makes traveling all the more memorable. It took about an hour to get to the fight location, we had to pick up Chewey’s family on the way and we arrived about 9pm. Basically we were in the middle of nowhere and outside the fight arena, I say arena- it was a boxing ring with a makeshift wall of tarpaulin, there were stalls set up selling food and drinks. The reason why it was in the middle of nowhere has actually just occurred to me while I am writing this. Gambling in Thailand is illegal, the cost of which will get you a hefty fine or even a prison sentence and there was plenty of gambling going on amongst the boxing camps, betting on their guy to win. We were in the minority in that arena and we heard people saying “farang, farang” (“foreigner, foreigner”) and staring at us. The thing with the Thais is, especially in more rural areas, which are not on the so called tourist trail, they don’t get to see a lot of foreigners, so what they do is stare and sometimes it is a little disconcerting. But, they are just interested in who you are and where you are from, so it is best just to take it in your stride and smile at them. 95% of the time you get a wonderfully huge smile back, which is typically Thai. However, at first we did feel a little nervous as most of these people were drunk, on cheap Thai whiskey and kept glaring and saying stuff to us which we mostly didn’t understand. But we knew that the family we were with would look after us so we started to relax a bit and enjoy watching the fights. By the time that Chewey and Maue fought, we had been standing for 3 hours and if you include the early start and long day we had already had, our ankles became swollen. But we thought that we couldn’t complain as 1. we were experiencing something not many tourists would, and 2. we weren’t the ones who were getting the crap beat out of us.  Ap won his fight and the prize money was 60,000 baht, to be shared out amongst the family. This is how they make their living, no one works as such instead they train to compete in Muay Thai fights which provides the income for the family. Maue won and so did Chewey. Both kids were pretty good fighters and easily over threw their opponents and at least they earned their keep. We left at 2am and got back to Singburi at 3am after spending an excellent 24 hours with the boxers. Up to that point that was actually the best day that I had spent in Thailand so far.

My Fellow Boxers
My Fellow Boxers

Muay Thai -Part 1

I found out prior to the start of my boxing programme that it consisted of a 5k run followed by boxing training for the first session, between 6am-8am, and the same again for the second session in the afternoon, between 2.30-4.30pm- Monday to Friday for 8 weeks. I couldn’t wait to get started and was really excited about the prospect of doing all that exercise and possibly obtaining a six pack, something that I hadn’t seen since the age of 17, and of course learning a new sport. (The idea of a wash board stomach was appealing but sadly it never came to pass). I did manage to lose a stone in weight during the first 3 weeks though.  I did a little preparation by going for a run with the boys who I would be training with (Seb, Anders and Dean). My god it was hard work in the heat but great to do some exercise at last. I hadn’t done any since I had left the UK and, being used to regular workouts, NOT doing any is a bit of a shock to my system.

Raring to Go
Raring to Go

On the first morning at 5.30am Aek, one of our  co-ordinators, picked us up in his truck to go to the boxing gym for the first time. The journey took about 30 minutes. We passed through small villages, being awakened by the sound of cockerels, and the local Thais preparing to sell their wares at local markets.  This is the coolest part of the day and it was so nice to be out of the raging heat at least just for a little while. The gym was located in Ang Thong, which is a neighbouring province to Singburi, and it was basically a family run gym. The (so we were told) former four times champion of Thailand, Lunglit, lived and trained there, and it was pretty cool to go out running with him and watch him train every day (to be honest I am not sure whether this was exactly true, yes there were newspaper articles and photos in the gym, but whether he was champion of THAILAND remains, to this day, unknown. It was still pretty cool to train with him though.)

The Family Gym
The Family Gym
Our Boxing Family
Our Boxing Family

The first day we started with a gentle 2k run and then back at the gym we were shown some basic punches and kicks which we practised on the punch bags. The whole family are up at 6am and all of the guys there train. It is a “working” gym, in that they train all day, every day for upcoming fights which is how they make a living. It’s the only thing the boys know, they don’t go to school or have friends over. It’s very strict but they don’t question what they are doing, it’s a way of life for them and they seem to love the gruelling regime. There are girls in the family as well and the little girl, Mook, is very cute, although she can also pack a good punch, which I discovered a few times when she “playfully” landed her fist in my stomach. We practised speaking Thai with her and taught her how to count to 40 in English. When we first arrived that morning, a car pulled into the driveway and out jumped some of Lunglit’s brothers with Wan(Pichit), who had just fought in a fight, which he lost and sported a massive cut to his eye. Wan, for some reason became the object of my affection for the next few weeks but was sadly not reciprocated. I got over it eventually, must have been something to do with the heat and several Thai males training, their chest glistening with sweat and wearing nothing but shorts! We trained until 8.30am and then we left in the truck with Aek, back to the house to have breakfast where most people were eager to here all about it. We chilled at the house until we were off again with Aek, at 2.30pm, for the second round of training of the day. It was so much harder to run in the heat of the day but we managed a very good 4k, followed by more boxing, kicking, sit ups and skipping.

Punch Bag Training
Punch Bag Training

Day two- I managed to run 5k of the 10k route. It was just so hot, even at that time of the morning and Aek, who was following us on the motorbike, took me back to the gym. Whilst I was waiting for the boys to finish, I drank coffee and chatted with the rest of the family, in what little Thai I knew. Somehow, even though they couldn’t speak English and my Thai was very limited, we managed to understand each other.  When the boys came back we did more boxing and kicking on the punch bag. In the afternoon, even though I had too much sun and was really tired, I still managed to run 4k and got to do some pad work, with Wan senior. I liked using the punch bag but it gets quite boring after a while. I much prefer kicking and punching onto pads, with someone holding them because they will block you and attempt to hit you, so you get more out of it.

Pad Workout
Pad Workout

 3 days in and I managed to run the full 10k, so proud of myself as that was the first time that I had ever ran that distance. We used to run in a loop, out from the gym through the local village which turned onto a main road. Then through fields onto this really long road where you could see the end, but it always seemed to be the longest stretch of the road, and the end seemed to shrink away into the distance. Turned towards home, passing a local temple and back towards the gym. It was a really nice run. The 4k we ran in the afternoon took us alongside a canal, which the young Thai boys training with us used to jump into sometimes much to our amusement. There is no way on this earth that I could have ran 10k in the middle of the day, even the professional boxers didn’t do it. It was just too hot and any runners who have done this will know that it so debilitating and makes it much harder work.

The Start of our Morning Runs
The Start of our Morning Runs

Having done 3 days of intensive exercise I was aching all over, my muscles were very sore and it was worse first thing in the morning after being asleep and not moving much but it was worth it. No pain, no gain right?

Worn out but Happy
Worn out but Happy