So you’ve decided you want to take up Muay Thai or Kickboxing and you have begun to search for gyms near you. It’s exciting to try something new, but where do you start and what do you look for in a gym? If you are new to martial arts or the last time you look a martial art you were in the little dragons karate program, you probably have a lot of questions and are not sure which are the right ones to ask. So how do you go about finding the right Muay Thai gym?
What is your reason for wanting to learn Muay Thai?
Get Clear About Your “Why”
I suggest that the first thing you ask yourself is, “Why do you want to take up Muay Thai?” Take some time to sit down and write down your reasons. Do you want to lose some weight or increase endurance? Do you want more confidence? Are you just interested in self defense or do you want to learn to spar and have plans to compete in the sport one day? If you don’t have specific reasons that’s ok too, sometimes people want to start a martial art simply because they want to try something new. Maybe you know you should be active to be healthy but clocking thirty minutes on the treadmill at 24 Hour Fitness followed by a half-hearted trip to the free weights area surrounded by grunting people wearing headphones just isn’t doing it for you anymore. That’s a good reason too.
Do you remember that feeling when you were a kid at the top of a snowy hill on your sleigh, and you were scared to go down it, but you did it, and it was terrifying and glorious at the same time after you got to the bottom you ran back up and kept doing it again and again for hours? No? Okay, well maybe you lived in a warmer climate and there was some big rock your friends dared you to jump off of into the water and you were so freaked out, but finally you did it, and it was so much fun that you told everyone about it and maybe started to recruit other people to do it, and maybe you teased your friends who didn’t want to jump.
Well, that’s kind of what sparring Muay Thai is like… kind of. At least that the best analogy I could come up with today.
Post Muay Thai Sparring Smiles with my team at F5 Fitness
I will say that learning to spar is one of the hardest things I’ve accomplished in my life and also the most rewarding. I’ve written before about why it’s okay not to spar if you don’t want to and still train Muay Thai with pad work, but I wanted to write about why you should along with the mental and physical benefits of sparring Muay Thai.
Obviously, sparring makes you better at the sport of Muay Thai, but what can it do for your life in other ways?
I was not a likely fighter. I was twenty-four, soft, nonathletic and felt pretty uncomfortable in my skin, let alone a boxing ring when I first started Muay Thai. I did, however, have one thing going for me; I was ridiculously disciplined. I would show up to train every day. I worked hard. I did my road work. I didn’t complain (much). This discipline was enough to develop skills and techniques that would make me a good fighter. But that was it, I was just okay, not champion material yet. To be great, to be a champion and a professional I needed one more quality – Conviction. The conviction for me took time to develop. Due to my lack of previous athletic skills I was used to seeing myself as the same girl that was picked last in dodgeball and who sat the bench at varsity basketball games. These views of yourself take time to change, but eventually with enough hard work, self-discovery and winning fights my confidence improved. I started to go into the ring thinking, “I got this!”, instead of “What the fuck am I doing in here?”
There are three qualities that make a great fighter:
Discipline, skill, and conviction.
Now that I coach fighters I find I am often thinking about these three qualities. In my opinion to be a champion you must excel at all three. Of course, desire is the fourth that all fighters must have, but I leave that out, as it’s evident that the desire must be present or the fighter won’t even want to fight.
There are some good fighters out there that excel at just two of the above three qualities and are merely average or sub-par in the third. They can skirt by for a while, but eventually, they get beaten by those that have mastered all three as they rise the ranks.
Not every day of practice has to be your best day
Yesterday during my 9 am kettlebell training while trying to press the double 16 kg bells over my head and struggling it struck me that this was not going to be an easy day. I got a little frustrated because these were the same bells that I knew I could press 75 times in one session and yet I was struggling to get these measly six reps in a complex. I was having an off day.
But then I remembered one of my favorite phrases – “Let it be hard.” I finished the session, even if that meant push pressing the last two reps of each round and while I was walking home (yes people do walk in Los Angeles, I am proof), I thought about all the different strategies I use to get through hard sessions. I used these tactics to make it through grueling Muay Thai sessions when training for fights and I still use them today.
Let It Be Hard
This one is my favorite as it encapsulates all aspects of mindset. Training is hard. If it were easy, it would not be worth it. If it were easy, you would not make progress. If it were easy everyone would do it, and you would not feel the same accomplishment from your achievements. When you hit a snag in your training or are just having a bad day remind yourself that hard = good. Embrace the hard. What can screw with us about a training session being hard is what we think it means about us. Maybe it’s hard, and it wasn’t hard last week. Maybe it’s hard, and we think we should be progressing faster. Maybe it’s hard, and it’s not hard for the person next to us. But what you have to realize is that all that means NOTHING. Training is about progress; training is about getting just a little bit better every day. Sometimes that means our strength, stamina, power or endurance improves; other times that means our mindset is challenged and we improve mentally, or we learn a new technique, and we improve our skills. Progress is not always measured in numbers, reps or time, sometimes it is mental, sometimes it is subtle. When you feel that your training is hard, let it be and know that you are improving in some way. Hard is what gets you better.
I grit my teeth and hit “publish” and the familiar, yet never an easier sensation of excitement and anxiety consumes me. It’s a feeling similar to entering the ring to fight. I don’t fight anymore, I retired in 2011 from fighting Muay Thai, but writing, something I have done all my life is a constant reminder of what I love about fighting.
Fear. We all have it. Fear will never completely disappear. We just have to find a way to own it, to cut through its thick air with a knife.
My fighter Emily fought last weekend. We had just finished the last round of pad work to warm her up. She was greased up and ready to go, the first glistening sweat on her brow, her second wind getting ramped up, her mouth dry and her eyes full of feeling.
As I talked her through some mental visualization techniques to keep her energy focused, I was reminded of what has been missing in my life these past few months: fear; or more specifically stepping through fear.
I still remember the first time I got hit really hard in the face. During a Muay Thai pad work session my coach hit me square in the nose with a Thai pad and I froze. As I felt the blood trickle down the back of my throat and tasted the salty liquid. It took me a minute to register that my coach was yelling at me, “Hit the fucking pads, Roxy! Keep your hands up.” I suddenly came to and returned fire with a jab cross kick and at that moment I had several realizations…
1. The guys must be going easy on me in sparring cause this was more pain than I had ever felt before
2. Getting hit sucks
3. I was angry about it
4. I really wanted to hit my coach at this point, but knew that was unacceptable
This article was originally published August 18th, 2011 for Muay Thai Authority. I have posted it here with some minor revisions.
Every athlete is looking for that extra edge in competition. If we can be just a fraction of a step ahead of our opponent in one area of athleticism that gives us an advantage. In a sport where all it takes is one punch to make a champion that advantage could be cardio, strength, speed, agility, skill, experience, reach or size.
Muay Thai, like other combat sports, is divided into weight classes. Theses weight classes are supposed to level the playing field so that opponents are equal in size, but with new modern techniques borrowed from other sports like wrestling and MMA, Muay Thai fighters are now using weight cutting to gain a serious size advantage over opponents.
Some may say that weight cutting is cheating; others claim that it’s just a matter of discipline and sacrifice. I say that it’s a question of science. But like any other science experiment, if you make a mistake it can cost you a lot – in this case, it can cost you the fight.
It’s easy for me to get nostalgic about my early days of training. When I discovered Muay Thai, it quickly became my sole passion. It did for me what true loves does for most people. It captivated me, thrilled me, challenged me and made me want to be a better person. Not everyone may feel this way about a sport, but everyone that becomes a fighter or even becomes good at Muay Thai feels at least a little like this at some point and remembers it well.
I started Muay Thai in the spring of 2002 in Philadelphia when I was 24 years old. I was dating a guy who trained, and he wanted to teach me, Muay Thai. At the time I was bartending in the city after graduating from college. I hit up Bally’s to work out a little on occasion, but had little clue about fitness other than what I gathered from playing basketball in high school and reading Shape magazine – and I had never taken a martial art in my life.
I wrote this article in July of 2010 when it was printed in Caged360, an online publication no longer in operation. I have re-issued it with a few changes and updates here.
Conditioning for Fighters
When I first started fighting 10 years ago I got up every morning and ran 3-5 miles. I did this because a) I wanted to keep my weight down b) I wanted to have good cardio c) my trainer told me to. After my run, I would have breakfast,sometimes take a nap, then train again around 4pm for a couple of hours. This was my routine 6 days a week, with sometimes a longer 5-6 mile run on the weekend.
My cardio routine looks very different now. Today I know that although the long runs I did in the morning may have done something for my character, they did very little for my goals of maintaining a healthy fight weight, staying strong and improving my fighting cardio in the way I wanted it to. Plus my knees hate me today. When I first started Muay Thai I didn’t have the health & fitness knowledge I have today. In my naive fitness days I was always hungry (living on a high carbohydrate diet), never satisfied, always worried about making weight and definitely not as strong as I could have been.
“But running is good for me, right?!” “It makes me fit and improves my wind!” Well, not exactly. Let me explain.
This picture, taken three years after I started training; my cheeks still look chubby, and it reminds me of being new to the sport 🙂
Do you remember all your fears about the first day of a new high school or college? Worrying if you could find the right class room, wondering if you were overdressed, under-dressed, or had picked the right image to present yourself to your new classmates. You nervously checked your schedule, trying to figure out where to sit, or if you were in the right place at all. Looking around the room, wondering who would be a good person to talk to and become friends with, trying to figure out if you were cool enough to be their friend. Well thank God that’s over for me, and for most of you, but I like to remember that feeling because it can be a little like the first day of school for people when they walk into a Muay Thai gym for the first time.
If you have been in the fight scene for a while, you forget what it was like when you first started. For a newbie, instructors, fighters, and other students are intimidating. Muay Thai traditions are completely foreign. You don’t know a Thai pad from a kick pad, Thai oil smells funny, three minutes of jump rope feels like an eternity, and you have no idea how to take 180 inches of fabric and somehow with what seems like 37 different twists and turns, wrap it neatly around your hand without either cutting off your circulation or having the whole wrap fall apart after the warm-up.
At my gym, I try to make beginners feel comfortable and explain to them all the things they will need to know before they move on to the mixed level classes, but I will probably always fall short. It’s so hard to remember all the things beginners don’t know because it’s been so long since I was one.