Sensei James Burrells has kindly written a report on a typical day of Thai boxing during his recent six month training trip to Thailand. Be sure to read on as the article makes fascinating reading plus there are some excellent photos of the beautiful Thai landscape and beaches. The photos below show him during a Thai boxing bout in a local stadium.
This summer, after nearly two years of planning I finally got to fulfil a dream of mine, to travel to Thailand and train in the art of Thai Boxing (or Muay Thai to give it its proper name). I took up Muay Thai about a year ago in preparation for the trip but trained casually knowing the real learning would begin once I made it to Thailand.
About Muay Thai
Muay Thai is a striking martial art often referred to as ‘the science of eight limbs’ due to its use of not only punches and kicks but, like Karate, knees and elbow too. Being the national sport in Thailand and being a route out of poverty for many disadvantaged young men you will not get far in Thailand without seeing something related to Muay Thai. It is considered one of the most dangerous, devastating martial arts today as contests are full contact, fought in rounds and in a ring like a boxing match, and fighters wear only boxing gloves, a gum shield and a groin guard. The aim being to knock out your opponent using a combination of punches, kicks, elbows and knees or win by points. Fights are scheduled for five rounds though the judges only begin scoring from the third round onward. Muay Thai training is very intense and, just like I did; boys begin training as early as five or six years old. Muay Thai puts a lot of emphasis on power development, and extreme physical toughness, as a result, Muay Thai produces some of the hardest hitters in the world and some of the most effective, ferocious (but genuinely nice) fighters I have ever met.
Muay Thai Training Camp
Though my training varied slightly over the six months I was in Thailand, a typical day looked something like this. I’d be up in the morning around six or seven o’clock and grab something small to eat then I would either practise Yoga for an hour with the Yoga instructor at the camp or wait until Muay Thai training began at eight. The morning Muay Thai session would last around two and a half hours and begin with some light stretching followed by a long (and very tiring) group warm-up made up of running, skipping and a variety of exercises to improve our physical conditioning and fitness. Following our warm-up we would stretch again but more intensely this time, most of the stretching routine was very similar to the one we all perform at the start of a Karate class. After a while, I decided to drop Yoga from my morning training as I was doing so much stretching and strength training already!
In Muay Thai we wrap our hands before putting our boxing gloves on to protect all the small bones in our hands and provide a protective layer for our knuckles under our gloves. So, when completely warm and loose, we would wrap our hands and shadow box for 15-20 minutes. Shadow boxing is just like doing our ‘basics’ or Kihon in Karate, we would always use a mirror to check our technique and the instructors would walk around correcting our technique. To begin with, the whole class would follow what the instructors were doing but as my training progressed, I would train alone with my trainer and practise all my techniques in my own time. After shadow boxing we would find a partner to work with and, depending on what day it was, either do a long round of light boxing, ‘freestyle’ sparring, or ‘clinching’ which is a type of stand-up wrestling where both fighters try to knee, elbow, over balance and throw each other.
Once this was done we would be taught two or three new techniques or specific combinations by the instructors which we would practise with our partner before beginning the main section of our training. This consisted of 3 x 3 minute rounds hitting the heavy bag, 3 x 3 minute rounds ‘freestyle’ sparring or ‘clinching’ (more intensely than earlier in the session) and 3 x 3 minute rounds hitting pads held by one of the instructors. Believe me when I say that this is no easy task, especially as the temperature at this point was working its way slowly toward the 30-35 degree heat of midday. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have drunk around 3 litres of water by this point!
We would be allowed a few minutes break now, though usually no more than five, then stand in front of one of the many heavy punch/kick bags that hung around the training area ready to perform 300 elbow strikes, 200 jump knees, 100-200 front kicks. After this we would perform some type of strength exercise such as holding the weight of the heavy punch bag at arms length for 2-3 minutes and a balance exercise such as walking the length of the training area a number of times on our tip-toes whilst raising our knees high up to our chest. The session would finish with 100 push-ups and 300 sit-ups or other exercises for the stomach and stretching. Then it would be off to the grill for a much needed protein shake and another bottle of water before showering and getting some lunch!
Typically, due to the heat, not an awful lot goes on at the camp between midday and four in the afternoon. Some people who are maybe only taking part in one or no group sessions that day arrange to have a private training session with a trainer of their choice. This was a great way to work one-to-one with a trainer and really refine your technique and adopt some of that trainer’s personal techniques and tricks. Once I had been in the advanced class for some time, I began training exclusively with a trainer who I had regularly sought out during class. We became firm friends and he went on the train me for my fight at one of the two better-known stadiums in Phuket. Although, he was not so ‘friendly’ during my training leading up to the fight!
At four o’clock in the afternoon the second Muay Thai session of the day would begin and we would repeat everything we had done in the morning session. As if this wasn’t enough we were expected to run at least once a day, usually up to 10 kilometres. This became easier as I began to train along with my trainer, I had more time to fit in any running I needed to do, sprint training (great for kicking) and weight lifting.
Though the camp taught mainly Muay Thai I had the opportunity to train with two instructors who taught the older Thai martial arts which came before Muay Thai as we know it today. One, which I was very interested in, was an art called Krabi Krabong, which teaches the use of two swords simultaneously and was used on the ancient battlefields of Thailand. I had some lessons in the basics and foundation techniques and became quite competent.
After six months of tough training, I’ve taken my fitness and technique to a new level, learnt lots of new skills, made a lot of new friends, both Thai and Western and look forward to the day I can head back to Thailand for more painful training!