Muay Thai is a combat sport and is the National sport of Thailand. It is also called “the art of eight limbs” because it combines fists, elbows, knees, and feet. As an English volunteer teacher in Doi Saket district I spent my evenings in Doi Saket with Kim, another volunteer English teacher. We always introduced ourselves to all the shop owners we met around the market. The reason is that Thai people are very friendly, and we wanted to make as many friends as possible in Doi Saket. On one of these occasions we befriended two young women, Kwang, Gift, and their mother at their family’s grocery shop. Kim forgot his notebook in the shop, that is why he had to come back the following day. While chatting with them he learned that their father used to be a Muay Thai fighter and was now training a few young men for free. They offered us to be trained at their gym. In exchange Kim offered to teach English to the youngest sister Kwang, whose English was weaker than her sister’s.
That is how we started training three to four times a week in Doi Saket. Kwang and Gift’s family owns a huge house surrounded by a wide domain including several traditional guest houses, farming activities and a gym with bags, gloves, weights and even a boxing ring. Even though we were a bit shy at the beginning, our Muay Thai teacher and his family made us understand that we were now part of the family. We call our teacher “Pa”, which means “Father”, and his wife “May”, which means “Mother”. We are trained by our teacher, but also by his four students, all younger than us (they are aged from 15 to 19, while Kim and me are 21 and 23 years old). Pa’s friends are visiting him daily and, along with the employees of the domain, they usually stay around the gym to watch the training and give us very useful advice.
More than just learning Muay Thai, we truly feel that we belong in this big family. The daughters always make a small detour to chat with us while we train, and sometimes even bake cakes for us. Our teacher and his friends are always smiling and patient, debating about how to improve our boxing and then trying to guide us with simple Thai or English words. The other fighters we train with are very talented despite their young age. One of them has fought more than 70 times. It is a privilege to learn with them : they are always training very seriously and being very warm and respectful with us, even though I am a complete beginner.
All our training sessions start jumping for several minutes on a tire laid on the ground. We punch the air in front of us while holding small weighs in our fists. After this warm up we usually do pull ups, push ups, sit ups and lift weights in order to build our strength, as physical strength and endurance are a very important part of Muay Thai.
As a beginner I have spent most of the first trainings hitting bags in order to learn different moves : kicking with the shin, usually as high as possible, hitting with the knee while holding my opponent’s neck, punching with one hand while protecting my jaw with the other and relaxing my shoulders to hit with my elbows. I have also learnt how to stand with my legs straight, my upper body bent forward and my fists held high on the sides of my head. I have trained to protect myself by lifting one of my knee and up to my elbows. I can create a wall with my upper arm and my shin in order to protect my head, neck and ribs.
When I started mastering these moves I was invited to enter the ring and practice with the other fighters. After exchanging a few punches, we practice clinching, grabbing each others neck and trying to free our elbows and knees to hit the other (lightly of course). We can also try to tire our opponent or throw him off balance. During my last training I also tried my kicks on one of the fighters who was wearing heavy protective gear and tried to punch back every time I kicked, to teach me how to protect myself against counter-attacks.
I am very happy to feel that I am improving day after day. But the thing I appreciate the most about Muay Thai is that it is a smiling boxing style. We learn to relax and ideally to smile while boxing. The family atmosphere of our gym makes this trait of Muay Thai even more enjoyable. We train, fight and have fun at the same time, trusting each other and laughing as we learn together.
I will keep training and I hope to come back to Thailand next year to continue this great experience.
Stay posted to learn more about Thai culture and the experience of volunteers within the Wat Doi Saket project.
Antoine Gratian, on-site intern