A few weeks ago I didn’t know much about Muay Thai other than it’s some kind of martial art similar to kickboxing. Today, after two weeks of training in Muay Thai, I could punch you in the face, kick you in the ribs, and tell you all about it. (Just please don’t hit me back, I haven’t mastered the whole blocking thing yet).
How does a girl like me come to find herself training in one of the most badass martial arts out there? It was simple, really; just another case of shrugging without forethought and saying, “well that sounds cool.”
About a month ago I met a girl in Bangkok who had trained for six weeks at a Muay Thai camp in a small town in northern Thailand. As she described the training I was fascinated and found myself wanting to try it. Mostly, I just wanted to get in shape—the fighting was secondary to me. “But the training is just friendly fighting, right? Like, people aren’t going to punch me really hard in the face?” Oh, it’s mostly friendly, she assured me. Then she showed me a picture of her face, black and blue from a heavy elbow.
And a month later, here I am, wearing gloves.
I’m at Charn Chai, the same training camp she went to, located in the lush jungle town of Pai, Thailand. The town is quaint and I ride my scooter around whenever it’s not dumping rain. The jungle is constantly reminding me that I am in her territory; I’ve found a millipede and a cockroach in my bed, been shat on by a gecko, lost more than one food item to an army of ants, chased frogs from my room, and am a walking chew toy for the merciless mosquitoes.
We train every day but Sunday in an open air gym, dodging the army of dogs that seem to run the place as we jump and kick and punch. I was overly ambitious on my first day and went to both the morning and afternoon training sessions which, after four months of travel—four months of drinking and eating whatever I please with very little exercise—turned me into a decrepit old woman the next day.
I also made a less than stellar first impression on the head trainer when, unbeknownst to me, my shorts ripped in the crotch and he had a very unfortunate view of my lady parts when my legs were up in the air for sit-ups. Subsequent eye contact has been minimal.
We start each day with 10 minutes of jumping rope. It’s strange how the things we do for fun as children can turn into pure torture as adults. Those ten minutes usually seem to be the longest of my life.
After some light stretching, we wrap our hands and put on some gloves. Most of the group will work on technique; this means we partner up and a trainer gives us a combo of kicks and punches to practice with each other. While people work on technique a few at a time will swap out to do pad work. A trainer holds pads and calls out things like, “Jab! Punch! Elbow! Right kick! Knee!” Unless, of course, you get the guy who only says, “Bop!” and it’s a complete guessing game as to what he really wants you to do. (He will then jab you in the throat and laugh maniacally and you will have no idea what’s going on).
Once the first hour has gone by we head into conditioning and spend about 30 minutes doing bootcamp type exercises and generally groaning and sweating profusely. We kick the bags literally 100 times, knee them another literal 100 times, and then do other things far more times than seems humane.
Eventually we circle up on the floor for ab exercises (the same location of my infamous flashing incident). We do things like sit-ups and planks and can’t stop until each person around the circle has counted to ten. Most people count it like the words one through ten are “wontethrefefisesevenayniTEN” but some asshole always has to count extra slowly and enunciate every damn syllable; at those times I hold my plank and will the mosquitoes to descend on every thin skinned part of his body. Meanwhile, the trainers walk around with sticks whacking us if we stop, if we aren’t going fast enough, or just because they feel like it.
Finally, we sit in a puddle of our own sweat to stretch and miraculously, it’s over. Then we may or may not reward ourselves with brownies…
It’s hard to believe my two weeks here are finished. Training in Muay Thai has been a fun and interesting experience, and even though I have no intention of ever fighting it was cool to meet people who do fight and hear about their journeys. It’s an intriguing little window into a facet of Thai culture that I never would have otherwise seen. But now it’s time to board a plane for some much deserved relaxation on the southern islands!