Muay Thai

My office is currently doing an informal 'sport swap'- trying out each other's sports . We are a surprisingly active bunch for such busy folk.  First up was one of the guys in my office, who does Muay Thai and mixed martial arts. On Monday therefore I agreed to head to Muay Thai with him and one other PhD; also a newcomer to the sport.

We rocked up to The Griphouse's Muay Thai Fundamentals class at 8pm- not really knowing  what to wear, what would be expected of us, or how scared to feel. Muay Thai is the Thai national sport. All I knew in advance was that it is a fighting art; one rumored to work very well with very little ceremony. It allows the use of boxing, elbows, knees and kicks and therefore has quite the brutal reputation.

After signing in; we nervously queued in a narrow corridor under the decaying ceiling and bright lights. The Griphouse isn't bothered about decor but has plenty of fighting space (for video tours check out this or this). The class before us was obviously advanced- everyone who came out looked like they were either carved out of marble, or grew up scrapping in alleys. Quite terrifying. Our class was decidedly less solidly built; composed of skinny guys, fitness girls in capris, and many totally average bodies.

The gym smelled exactly like a Bikram studio. What do I mean by that? Well, it smelled entirely of other people's sweat. You just have to get used to it fast. It was a large room, with padded floors and piles of boxing equipment. There was also a ring in one corner for the advanced guys. The odd bleep roared through the air, which is their indication to switch positions. The rest of us listened to Guy the guy- the very friendly, very Scottish, trainer.

Image from the Griphouse website

The first thing to do was to warm up. It was hella' a warm up. Jacks, high knees with forward punches, butt kicks, lunges, single leg deadlifts, squats, and burpees for 10 minutes. No breaks. No mercy. Just do it. Guy definitely kept it on the cheery side of things though- no bootcamp insults here. Then we grabbed a partner. Despite coming as a three, we all somehow got an unknown partner. I was fine with a guy who had only been to a few sessions. My experienced colleague got someone a little less experienced than he was, but not dramatically less. My fellow rookie got the love child of the hulk and Jackie Chan. This guy had blood on his shirt. This guy was built like a brick shithouse. He wasn't from the Griphouse; but he sure as hell shouldn't have been in a fundamentals class!

The first practice was the jab cross- a single punch forward with the left hand, then a more exaggerated counter balanced punch with the right (your left foot is forward on the mat, so your right hand has more momentum behind it when you punch. See a demo here). One person has mitts, the other pads to block them. Your hands always return back up to protect your face.

We did several minutes of that, then added Muay Thai roundhouse kicks (demo) using the left leg. You need to draw the left leg slowly away from front first; as in classic stance your left leg is in front of you- the demo shows it at 1:20 but as a switch. Our instructor said it was better to do it quietly and slowly, as a fast switch means your opponent will notice preparation. These kicks sting your bare skin like a bitch. The closest approximation I can make is it feeling like a belly flop onto water, but on your foot and shin. Slap! The aim is to use your upper body to drive the momentum; along with the pivot off the hip. Listening to the noise some of the more talented attendees were making when they connected with the pads was both inspiring and scary- it sounds like whiplash. We then turned these into a combo- jab, cross, then kick.

We then swapped. The role of the pad holder sounds easy but your shoulders are already wrecked. I needed to keep stretching mine out! The kicks also practically reverberate up your bones if they are well placed. I felt very bad for my colleague under the onslaught of the accidentally chosen martial arts master. He later ended up with bruises all up his arms. I had a taste of this when Guy came to demo the kick to me- the difference in force between him and the amateur was astounding. He actually told me at the end of the class that there is very little strength variation. Its all technique and how much power is therefore actually transferred.

We then switched again and did a jab hook set. This hook is deliberately extended, as its intended to reach an opponent without being close to them. We then did a set of right kicks, exactly as the left above. Most people find this easier as there is no draw back and right legs are often more powerful. We created a c-c-c-c-c-combooo of these, as above, for the third and final section.

Lastly was the warm down. Ha. Ha ha ha. Not a warm down. It was a burpees/push ups set. You do burpees whilst your partner does push ups then switch. Its 20 burpees, 15 burpees, 10 burpees, 5, in a descent style block. With push ups in between all, for however long it takes. By the end I could not even do push ups on my knees.

I really enjoyed trying this sport out. I love meta boxing classes- this may be a great full-body progression. I also enjoy being aggressive if I am honest, its half the fun in sprints. The trainer was fantastic. The class was incredibly busy but he never stopped moving around people, giving technique advice, demonstrating and correcting. I think I spoke to him 5 or so times, which is impressive in a class of over 40 people.

By Wednesday my shoulders ached; I had a bruise on my foot from kicking the pads foot first instead of shin first; I had a bruise on my calf from where my partner accidentally kicked me. And I loved it. So much so that I went back on Thursday! A similar deal but with different punches, a more ab focused workout, and more of a focus on combining moves. A series of mid-quad kicks ensured I will be bruised there too!


Have you ever tried a martial art?

Do you like aggressive sports?


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